Find out why this man typifies the strength of the human spirit

Ahead of his participation at TEDxNYUAD, one man shares his story of surviving terrorism and finding success

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The distressing images that we see on television on a regular basis leave many of us numb to the daily horrors of war-torn countries. But for the people living there, terror is a reality.

Growing up through the Boko Haram insurgency with limited resources at his disposal, Abu Dhabi resident and NYUAD staff member Emeka Romanus Nwadike knows what it means to overcome obstacles.

Eager to share his story and let others know that you can succeed despite your circumstances, he is one of the featured speakers at the upcoming TEDx talks at NYUAD on 8th April.

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Growing up in Kano state, Nigeria, Emeka and his seven siblings lived in poverty and didn’t have the opportunity to go to a good school. He studied in a building that had no doors, windows or chairs and fashioned his own school bag out of a salt sack. Teachers would come to class around five times a month, just to show face.

His father worked hard as a real estate manager to put food on the table for his large family, while his mother started her own business.

“We were quite poor at that time,” Emeka explains. “When I was getting to primary five, my mum started a business and things began to change.

“My dad had sickle cell anaemia. He was kind of educated but didn’t have the opportunity to get a good job.

“My dad said that I’m clever, intelligent and academically-sound so he’d do everything he could to make sure he could see me through school.

“My dad believed in me; he knew I have a strong heart and I’m courageous.”

Shortly before his father passed away, while Emeka was studying electrical engineering at a polytechnic college, he was given the responsibility of looking after his younger siblings and seeing them through school as much as he could. His father’s death was tough on the family and proved too much for his mother.

Emeka's mother

Emeka’s mother

“Things really turned bad for my family,” Emeka says. “Within three months, everything was crumbling. My mum lost her business… The shock from losing my dad affected her so much.”

Eager not to place more burden on his family and create a brighter future for himself, Emeka began taking small jobs like carpentry and waiting tables in order to finish his schooling.

Life however, was about to get even darker.

In 2009, Boko Haram formed, and continued to grow stronger, eventually moving into the area where Emeka lived in 2012. Following attacks, the military would be the only presence on the street, with people staying indoors for anywhere from three hours to three days.

As incidences increased, many people fled or closed their businesses. Emeka lost his job managing a bar and many of his childhood friends and family members were killed. Emeka himself narrowly escaped a bombing on public buses.

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“What you see on TV is just 30 percent of what’s really happening,” he explains. “When the news tells you 100 people died, it would actually be like 500. The thing is that at a point, we got used to it. You think your family isn’t affected [until] something happens. But everyone continues with life. It’s really terrible.”

Ready to travel and escape, Emeka spent his entire savings to get a passport and travelled to Turkey only to discover the agent that offered him a job was a fraud.

Despite the setback, Emeka pushed on and found his way to Abu Dhabi where he eventually found a job as a cleaner at NYUAD in 2014. While working here, he received news of his mother’s death.

After spending all his savings to go home to see family, Emeka returned to Abu Dhabi and was promoted just a few months later to his current role in NYUAD’s athletics department as a recreation assistant.

Speaking proudly of his family, Emeka also tells us his younger siblings are finding jobs in the Nigerian capital or continuing their education.

“Things are beginning to get better for me since I got the new job. That’s why I want to tell my story,” Emeka explains.

“I want people to know that whatever you are passing through in life today, if you keep strong and have courage, you will make it tomorrow.”

TEDxNYUAD is free, but ticket reservation is required. To find out more about the upcoming speakers or book tickets, visit: tedxnyuad.org, nyuad-artscenter.org

WORDS Rachael Perrett
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