One of the most treasured gifts of God to me, is the knowledge of a better life exceedingly early in life. In addition, to giving me this gift, I am grateful for the burning desire to aspire, plus a strong and purposeful heart.

There is a philosophy upon which I have built most of my pay-it-forward programs, “You do not aspire for higher than you know exists.”Growing up in the ghetto side of the military barracks, I saw how young boys became recruits like their fathers, and young girls became soldiers’ wives like their mothers. I’m still amazed at how I made a choice to end differently even as a kid – better than my parents – a choice that came with series of daunting prices to be paid, including the consequences of daring to challenge my parents against giving me away in marriage to Emeka.

Today, I would have been Mrs Ngozichukwu Emeka; a school certificate holder, lost among soldiers’ wives and the barracks life, facing abject poverty and with no future ambition. But I chose to be better. I chose to be more, and I dared to challenge right from my secondary school.

Me being the model daughter and student academically and in character to my dad was like winning the United States’ Presidential election. At my graduation ceremony and prize giving day of June, 1998, I headed home with a bag full of prizes and awards which I’d bagged. My dad had a copy of my examination result in his pocket, to show everyone he met, declaring how his daughter got series of prizes and expressing his pride in having a secondary school leaver.

Wait for it…

My 7 distinctions were about to be wasted in the gutters of an army barracks. To set the records straight, I would like to say that it will be unfair for me to blame him for having such a mindset and not thinking about a higher education for me. With no meaningful education, and his circle of friends, who did not know better, it is expected. In fact, knowing how my parents struggled to pay my school fees and they deserve to be celebrated. Especially my mum who suffered intensely, selling tomatoes under the scorching heating sun of Jos city, to put food on the table for us.

You might be wondering…

How did a poor soldier’s daughter land in this prestigious military school?

Well, there is no stopping a person with guts. In the end, the daughter of a poor soldier did get admitted into this prestigious military school meant for kids of generals and wealthy civilians. The next problem became sustainability.

Where would my fees for the next six years come from?

Our school fees were categorized into three levels: The children of the civilians, were billed the highest fees, while the children of military officers got billed one third of the civilians fees.The few children of soldiers like us got billed the least fees, which was a quarter of what the military officers paid.

Little wonder, it was a common practice to have ‘adopted’ fathers, brothers, uncles, or other relatives. Several civilian parents went out of their way to look for just any soldier or officer, close to a relative or friend, that could act as the ‘fathers’ of the students. This was to outsmart the system and pay less fees.

In retrospect, I now see how parents went out of their ways to teach their children corruption, I call this ‘corruption from the cradle’. Today, all these school mates who went through this system are now highly placed citizens of Nigeria.

Indeed, our problems as a country, started as little droplets of water. Today, we’ve sunk deep in an ocean plagued by corruption. What a country!

Despite being placed on the least fee billing level, my parents were perpetually in debt all through my secondary school. It was a biting vicious cycle that made me an emotional wreck. As a child, I was constantly afraid of losing the better future I saw tbrough the window of education. I fasted so much while praying to God for an intervention that I always looked malnourished at the end of the school break while my classmates returned looking radiant.

If my fees alone posed this major challenge, can you guess the situation with provisions and toiletries?

Still, I survived.

While in school, I experienced culture shocks seeing as I came from the slums where basic needs were a luxury. Being one who internalized a lot and socialized almost at zero level, I kept them all to myself and battled the shock alone. I had to grapple with the shocking elements of the huge disparity between my reality and the realities of my peers. I remember hearing freshers comparing the flights they took to Jos and what was served on board their flights. I was surprised, eavesdropping and asking questions, because, where I came from, aeroplanes only existed in heaven and all we did, was come out to wave at them when they fly above us.

While still at school, I had to condition my mind to the little ‘garri’ and sugar my parents could give. I cried to God every day in prayers trusting that somehow, my parents would find help with my school fees. Till date, no one knows the psychological trauma this caused me.

I remember one day in January 1996, while I was in my first year in senior secondary school, my dad came home, threatening to stop my education because it was causing a financial strain. Apparently, he had been advised by a friend to take me out of school since he always had to borrow to pay my fees. He did not carry out his threat eventually, perhaps due to my excellent performance at the end of each school term.

Again, somehow, I finally crossed that stage of secondary school education.

Then came the uncertainties and my worst nightmare…

If secondary school was that tough, making a mention of the university was out of the question. I waited for words on the next steps for my education and found none.

Not long after, soft-spoken and respectful Private Soldier Emeka, caught the admiration of my parents. I noticed that my parents were toying with the idea of me marrying a soldier to take some of the burden off their shoulders.

I mean, I was a well-behaved barracks teenager, in her prime. It was only natural to have suitors begin to kind up, and handsome and respectful Emeka, was part of them. For a barracks standard, this should not be any news at all, after all, it happened all the time.

But something was different about Emeka’s approach.

Unlike other young soldiers who came to me directly to declare their intentions, his strategy became one of my worst nightmares. While it was easy to turn down every other soldier’s proposal, Emeka had my parents on his side, and eventually, my marriage to him was all they could see. Each time I talked about going to school, my parents would who would pay my school fees. My dad told me clearly, that he had drawn the curtain on my education.

For one with aspirations for higher learning in order to change her economic situation through education, I wanted more than becoming the wife of a private soldier.

I wanted more than staying in the barracks and continuing the chain of poverty.

I wanted more than getting pregnant and becoming the uneducated mother of poor disadvantaged children.

I wanted to have a voice, to be financially included, gender equality, to be a “Mrs” , but surely not “Mrs Emeka.”

I was desperately hungry for more, so I chose and dared to challenge the status quo.It was obvious that my aspirations did not match my reality. I had no relative in sight that I could run to. I was alone, with no role model, newspapers, books, or electronic gadgets to get information from. So, aside choosing and daring to challenge, I needed to figure things out for myself.

Series of events took place afterwards. For an eighteen-year-old choosing to dare her parents and figuring out a course for her future all alone was a tumultuous journey. My parents ostracized me; I went for days without food, presentable cloths, or shoes, and had to process my emotions all alone. Although, I had my parents to battle with and my days were filled with agony, I had seen the light ahead of me and I was not ready to give all that up for any momentary possessions.

Every obstacle met me with a stronger resolve.

Here I am today, barrack girl turned CEO of a growing company making giant strides in her home country. A sought-after speaker, who has spoken to millions of people on local and international stages.I am alive and thriving!I am not only graduate, but I have also gone in for post graduate studies. A dream that was withheld from me. I have numerous certificates and awards to my name.

Today, I have seen how choosing to challenge the status quo has paid off.

I am alive and thriving!

I am not only graduate, but I have also gone in for post graduate studies. A dream that was withheld from me. I have numerous certificates and awards to my name. I am an entrepreneur and Nigeria’s foremost advocate for domestic workers’ rights. I have not only been gainfully employed, but I have also created a structure that has successfully placed thousands of people in employments. Known as the HR Maven, who provides professional advice to business owners and numerous employees on achieving efficiency and peak performance.

I have designed a couple of pay-it-forward programs that are transforming lives; my Maid2Made program, seeks to transform the lives of poor young village girls through maid service. I have also designed the Breakthrough Model for youths in the barracks. A model I use in all the programs on my barracks project, with the objectives of challenging young people to dare to break away and change the course of their lives from poverty cycles to meaningful transformations.

I eventually got married to a Surgeon, and we have two lovely children.

I am not there yet because it is a continuous process of growth.Truth is, there cannot be an end to the challenges that come our way. Neither can I say that I have gotten all that life has to offer, but I’m certain that choosing to take my life and channel it in the direction I was instrumental.

Some people have found life easy; they do not know what it means to go hungry, they have people to call when they face hardship, some never need to wrestle with anyone to get what they want. But for some like myself, with no one to call for help, we do not remain as spectators and let life toss us about.

We do not accept illiteracy and poverty. We do not accept the lemons that life throws at us. We have the power to change the trajectories of our lives’ journeys. I want to challenge you to make your life your major project.

Do not sit back and wait for life to happen to you.

Get up! Take charge! Choose to challenge!

Make lemonades of those lemons! Change the direction you want your life to go! All of life is available to those who dare and choose to challenge their setbacks.

If I succeeded, you too will!

About Mrs.Ngozichukwu Etuk

She is a brilliant Fellow of the Vital Voices Women Global Leadership, a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultant, a graduate of the estimable university of Jos, Nigeria, a certified life coach, management Consultant, and an Alumnus of the Enterprise Development Center of the Pan Atlantic university.

She advises businesses and companies on how to use the resources at their disposal for upscale and become more innovative and profitable. She has spoken at Companies’ meetings, conferences, annual meetings, church gatherings, associations and corporate events both at national and international Levels.

As a HR specialist/Coach, she has helped many young minds to create and chart fulfilling career paths, little wonder she is called Nigeria’s HR Maven. She has received numerous recognitions, awards and scholarships for her great works, the recent being the LEADS Africa’s Patriotic Amazon Award and the ‘VVGrow’ Scholarship.

Mrs.Ngozichukwu Etuk deeply loves God and is happily married and blessed with two beautiful children. Her hobbies include reading, travelling, writing, meditating and helping people.