Courage in Humble Beginnings   Leave a comment

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As a boy on the streets of Nigeria, Rocky Peter Ajoku had to eat food from trash cans. He drank water from pot holes and broken pipes. Today he’s an American musician. Brad and I saw him featured on American Idol last year. When Brad found him on Utube a while back, he suggested I feature him as one of my “courageous ones.”


Rocky’s young life involved a great deal of child labor. Born in Oklahoma, he moved with his mother to her village in Nigeria when he was two. His mother became unable to care for him and he ended up on the streets, supporting a younger brother, scavenging for food. Music was a comfort for him. “It gave me hope,” he said.

Later their abusive uncle enslaved them to work on his farm. After four years, Rocky reports:

I left his house. Then I served random strangers as an indentured servant. I used the money I made to pay for middle school. By freshman year of high school, I was completely independent and worked in farms and construction sites to raise money for school and food.

Rocky also convinced other street children to teach him to speak English. In his late teen years, he successfully immigrated back to the USA.

Now you can get all exercised by the cruelty of child labor and say this should never happen. In principle, I agree. But then reality sets in. This was a young boy with few options, who overcame poverty by working so he could afford an education and a plane ticket to his country of birth where he had a chance to pursue other, better options.

Rocky says one of his greatest ambitions as a boy was to save up his money and buy a wheelbarrow. A boy with a wheelbarrow could bring water or other goods to the markets in a town, and build up his own business. In economic terms, Rocky sought to increase his capital — human capital through education and physical capital with a wheelbarrow.

In the direst of circumstances, Rocky never gave up. He wasn’t waiting around for someone to come save him. He was saving himself, day by day.

Don’t get me wrong. Child labor is cruel and we should find a way to make it unnecessary, but I admire that he didn’t give up and he didn’t wait around for some government agency to “rescue” him. And, I think making the activities he used to get himself out of those circumstances illegal does not help the solution. That just would have limited his options to begging in the streets.

Rocky Peter’s problem growing up was poverty. His solution to that problem was work. For all the unfairness of that situation, there is a whole lot more dignity in wheeling a barrow full of water to a construction site than there is in begging and eating out of garbage piles.


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