By Eseoghene Tialobi
James Okina’s foray into social work stemmed from his not so pleasant personal experience. In his own case, he began Street Priests to make lemonades out of lemons for other people.
Street Priests is a youth led organization founded in 2015 to create a platform for everyday people to take up the responsibility of finding solutions to the problems faced by street children. With the alarming statistics of about an estimate of 100 million street children said to be living on urban streets and cities around the world, James knew how life could be for street child especially having battled with a sense of belonging when his parents separated at his tender age of nine (9).
At the core of ‘Street Priests’ work is the fundamental idea that everyone is a priest on the street and contributing their quota rather than pointing fingers at government parastatals and other responsible institutions. The mantra around their work is: “If each one reaches one, together we would reach all.”
A key impact metric for this non-profit is seeing that this street children get off the street and transforming their potential into assets for society. More so, the journey gets more interesting and fulfilling with some of these children coming back as volunteers, and about 10% out of 3300 reached children get back to school and get back home.
Understanding that young people want to be a part of what is successful, Street Priests tells its stories and impact to get more young people involved. Funding for its operation and projects are gotten through crowdfunding, fundraising concerts, yard sales, charity shops and a community of donors who give monthly donation with hundred percent of the revenue going back into the work. For them, the goal is to always help young people and engage with the community.
For James, the highlight of Street Priests is seeing children who could have been dead, maimed, or lost have a chance at life again. In his words, “It isn't easy but it is everything to me!”
Taking it further, he describes involvement in any social cause as a fundamental part of our humanity and not just charity. He also believes that young people can actually pursue both a financially rewarding career path and still be involved in social work. For him, talent and skills are mediums for solving social problems.
If given an opportunity to advise and ignite a fire in other young people, here is what James would love to share:
“I would say get out there, do something, you don't have anything to lose. You are a young person, you have time, energy and you have zest, but you won't have this forever. So, get out there and do something you are passionate about. You will fail again, again and again but what you need to do is get up again and again and do what you are passionate about. You probably will not have a second shot at that and you don't owe anybody any apology. At the pinnacle of our life is what we did for other people, what we did in terms of caring and helping those who would never be able to repay us. It is very important as young people to understand that the future in which your children would live in would be created by you. So, I would say, get up and go!”.