James Okina, the once-upon-a-time street kid now helping hundreds of street kids access education

Can you tell us about yourself?
YO! First off thank you for this opportunity, I am truly humbled to be featured on this bulletin. Well as you probably know by now my name is James Okina and I am one very proud Nigerian, I am a Christian and I love adventure, fun, sports and music! In my spare time I watch documentaries and read memoirs. I am currently an undergraduate studying to get a degree in Business Management at the University of Calabar, Nigeria. When I am not busy, I try to spend quality time with friends and family. I am passionate about people, politics, good governance and my stance as an egalitarian makes me pursue and advocate for the rights of children particularly street children in the most persuasive ways possible.

Can you tell us what Street Priests is about and what motivated you to start Street Priests?
The first few years of my life was very smooth and was characterized by the decorum and tranquility of the average Nigerian family, my mother, a primary school teacher with a fairly decent salary and my father a businessman combined together earned enough to keep the family going on a moderate economic path. Growing up, my mother would rather I read story books than spend time with the neighbourhood kids. In 2006, sweet descended on the path to bitter. My father got involved in local politics, things began to spiral out of control at home.
Things grew worse and in 2007 my parents eventually separated. Amidst the mixed feeling, the little James was consoled by paucity of fight and the fact that the separation left me at my mother’s. The latter was more temporal than I could imagine. Less than a year into my superficial season of rest, my woe intensified. My father came calling for my custody and that of my elder brother, as he began legal proceedings for divorce. This period was no doubt, one of the most traumatic seasons of my life. A trauma that affected virtually every aspect of my existence, my grades in school dropped very rapidly. It became clear to me that all it takes to get a child to regress from being first to last in school performance is just a divorce.

The three years that followed my parents’ divorce were turbulent as I was without parental guidance. I skipped school, I became a shoplifter and did a lot of terrible things. The transition from home to street was as fast as taking in air for survival. However when I met a young man who mentored me off my straying path, the thief, cheat and miscreant in me gave way to a better James.
When I got back on the right path, I had a deep craving to be known for something greater than my circumstances, I wanted to rewrite my story by adding value to other people even though I was very young but I was willing to take the risks to do anything that would be worthwhile so due to my interests and strengths at the time I started a marketing outfit with a group of friends to help companies sell their products and I failed woefully because I had no training. In spite of this, my determination did not dwindle. Empowered by the awareness that training precedes implementation of ideas, I got a job in a local company as a marketing staff and I began to read managerial books, take classes and attend seminars. I did not only do well in this company but all this training became of vital importance when three years later, I met a street kid called Joshua and all I saw in Joshua was my horrific experience, as deep calls to deep, and I could no longer hold my bad experiences from been duplicated in the lives of the future. This determination was expressed in my founding the “Street Priests Incorporated”,

Many young people have many noble ideas but they often feel handicapped by finances. Can you tell us how you as a teenager have managed to keep this capital-intensive project running? What advice do you have for teenagers who feel handicapped by finances?

I would like to say first and foremost that finance is not a problem and never would be, I know this sounds a little awkward but let me explain; The currency that actualizes ideas, however big or small is not money but the will and grit to birth it. Once your desire is strong enough there is nothing powerful enough to stop you! Instead you would see that all the materials, resources and people you need to bring that idea to life would gravitate towards you. This has been the way we have been able to get work done and keep our game up. For those who want to know how they can get their projects off the ground I would like to say, there is a lot involved in bringing an idea to life but money is not the first, you must be willing to learn and grow. Many young people do not bring their ideas to life not because they do not have the ability to, but because they are overwhelmed by it. Refuse to be dismayed irrespective of the challenges, rather nurture that dream and like a flower it will blossom.

Recently, BBC covered your work at Street Priests? How did that make you feel?
Initially, I did not grasp the full implication, I just thought it was another article but then as messages began to pour in from around the world then it hit me. I felt glad that our hard work was getting some recognition on such a platform, some doors also opened up as a result so it did feel good and encouraging.

What would you consider your greatest achievement so far?
Hmmmmm, well I would not lie to you, the thing I am most proud of today, is the person I have become on the inside, by that I mean my thinking processes, my language & my temper and to put things in perspective, six years ago I couldn’t make a complete statement without talking vulgar, I cursed and I was not proud of myself, I wanted so badly to make a change and that is what has happened. I consider this to be my greatest achievement – Conquering myself.

Was there ever a time you failed in achieving a set goal? If there was, what did you learn from it?
Yes there has been many times, I even highlighted one earlier. Well if there is anything I have learnt, it is that there is no such thing as failure if we will build our character with each experience and take down notes that I believe empower us for greater challenges. So if anything it makes my skin tougher.

What motivated the name – Street Priests?
I was expecting this question Lol. The ideology behind the name is simply this, we live in a time where everyone blames the government or clergy for anything that goes wrong but never hold themselves accountable. So we decided that if everyone could be a self-acclaimed priest on the streets then the world would definitely be a better place.

Asides StreetPriests, are you involved in others projects? If yes, we would be glad to hear them.
I am involved in quite a number of other things, I am a volunteer facilitator at an after-school academy called iKapture Networks. I am also a photographer/cinematographer so every once in a while I am unto something in that direction. I also speak very regularly particularly in High Schools and that is a Personal Project I hold dear, because I feel I owe kids out there who are just like me the job of firing their ambition, in the past 3 years I have spoken to over 20,000 High School students within and outside Calabar.

James doing what he loves; speaking to young people

If there is a decision you wish you had taken earlier what would it be?
Hmmmmm, well I have no regrets in my life, I wouldn’t lie to you. I got born again at age 13 and it was a turning point in my life. Since then Jesus has been on the wheel and I don’t think I could have done anything better or gotten where I am today by my own decisions.

How do you successfully juggle academics with everything you are involved in?
Lol! I try! I try to schedule work, finish tasks on time and do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. I do not meet up all the time but I try to pick up from where I left off.

How did your parents react to StreetPriests at the onset?
My Dad is late now well even though I was still living with him at the time I started he was never around so he didn’t know so much about Street Priests till his death. My mum on the other hand was being very cautious in the beginning, but as time went on she joined in and began to help out with everything, she is a teacher and has taught some of our kids, she also gets involved financially. So yeah she really helps out.

What do you wish parents should start doing to encourage the creativity and passions of their children/wards?
Thank you for asking, I believe parents/guardians play a huge role in bringing out the best in their kids. First off they should recognize that times have changed and times are still changing, things are not how they used to be and if they see a child already revealing some traits unique to a particular field, they should not only encourage them but look for individuals who excel in that field and place them under their tutorship.

What are your plans for the future? Is it likely that Street Priests goes beyond Calabar or even beyond Nigeria in the near future?
We have a lot going on already and in the next few months we are set to make dramatic increase in Impact. Yes we plan to expand into other states and countries within the next one year and we are already putting structures in place for that. We have a long-term goal that we are working very hard towards and that is to educate at least 2 million out of school children by the year 2027.
What is your advice to readers of the TeenAchiever and other teenagers like you?
My advice is quite simple – Get up and get going! It is time to bring those dreams and ideas to life! Maybe we have all been waiting for you, yes! The world waited for Henry Ford & Mark Zuckerberg, They are also waiting for you! So get started yesterday!

This video will show you a glimpse of what he does at Street Priests Inc. Watch here

Connect with James!

Facebook: James Okina
Twitter: @jamesokina
Instagram: _jamesokina

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