Victor Jakpor was comfortable. A native of far-flung Nigeria, a country in which tens of millions of people struggle to earn less than a dollar a day, he was living the American dream in Tempe.
Jakpor came to America to study finance at Arizona State University in Tempe and graduated in 1992. By the early 2000s, he was married with two children and working in corporate America. A trip home, the first in 20 years, reacquainted him with the dire poverty that plagues the West African nation.
“I saw how desperate the situation is,” Jakpor said. His aunt sat him down for a talk. “The kids aren’t going to school,” she told him. “They’re out on the streets selling.”
“She challenged me,” Jakpor admitted. “But I felt I had nothing to contribute. The last thing I wanted was to go back.”
After returning to the U.S., he attended a conference about hunger at his church where one presenter asked participants to write down what they would do to make a difference if time and money weren’t an issue. Jakpor wrote about alleviating hunger in Africa. As it would happen, three other attendees wrote of a similar desire to help Africa, the presenter told him. “God was nudging me,” Jakpor said.
And that’s the short version of how Jakpor eventually founded Mission Africa in 2006, a faith-based, non-profit organization working to address extreme poverty in Nigeria.
“You see a 12-year-old child who looks like he’s 8,” Jakpour said. “It’s malnourishment and it impacts their growth and their ability to learn.” Mission Africa’s goal is to help children become educated and villages to become self-sustaining.
A Saturday-afternoon gathering at the Synergy Team’s Real Estate and More in Tempe offered area residents an opportunity to learn more about the efforts of Mission Africa. The South Tempe office opens its doors to provide a community hub where area residents, organizations and entrepreneurs can gather. Jakpor, a financial advisor, often partners with Jasson Delacroce and Ryan Dowell, real estate agents who founded the firm.
Tempe resident Kim Steele, president of the board of Mission Africa, traveled to Nigeria with the group last October. Witnessing first-hand the difficulties and deprivation of Nigerians, she said, changed the way she saw Tempe and life in general. “The trip was such a blessing and I intend to go every year,” Steele said, adding that she looked at life differently upon her return to the U.S. Her eyes filling with tears, she said she wishes more people could make such a journey. “We are such a people who take advantage of what we have. The people there are so appreciative for every single thing.”
A 20-minute video at the Mission Africa reception explained that in spite of its vast oil wealth, Nigerians are, for the most part, poverty-stricken.
“Nigeria is sixth in the world for oil production, but not a drop of its riches has reached the overwhelming majority of Nigeria’s citizens,” the film’s narrator explained. Jakpor appears in the video outside a dilapidated school building, empty because it’s market day.
“They need a lot of help, that’s for sure. There’s no reason why we should allow kids to come to school in these kinds of conditions,” Jakpor said. The basics, like electricity or text books for children, remain the stuff of dreams for many.
Little by little, Mission Africa is making inroads. Early on, they focused on getting schoolbooks for the children, working with three schools in Amukpe village. Now they’re expanding their mission to improve the quality of the food. Without better nutrition, kids struggle to learn, Jakpour said. They’ve also set up a sewing program that employs village women to sew school uniforms and other garments so they can support their family.
“It’s so easy to get content with life here in America,” Jakpor said. Mission Africa helps him—and those who partner with the organization—to get out of their comfort zones and stretch to help villagers thousands of miles away in Nigeria. “I believe we are here in this world to make an impact,” Jakpor said.
And the impoverished of Nigeria have a few lessons to impart to Americans, he added. “Yes, people struggle there, but there is joy,” Jakpor said. “You see how happy they can be even when they struggle so much.”