Recently, while at Warri, I watched a most exciting and soul-lifting movie titled ‘Pay It Forward’ which helped to shape my understanding, brought a watershed, turning point in my life and gave me a new insight into the meaning of the word ‘hero’. The movie is about 11 year-old Trevor. His social studies teacher Eugene gave his class an assignment to formulate and put into action a plan that will transform the world for the better. Unlike other students in the class, Trevor’s plan is a charitable pyramid scheme, based on good deeds. He calls his plan “Pay it forward”, which means the beneficiary of a favor does a favor for a third party.
Trevor does a favor for three people, asking each of them to “pay the favor forward” by doing favors for three other people, and so on. His first good deed is to let a homeless man named Jerry live in their garage, and Jerry pays the favor forward by doing car repairs for Trevor’s mother. Trevor’s efforts appear to fail when Jerry relapses into drug addiction, but Jerry paid his debt forward later in the film by talking to a suicidal woman out of jumping off a bridge. The pay it forward chain continued throughout the movie.
Trevor’s school assignment marks the beginning of the story’s plot, but the opening scene in the film shows one of the later favors in the “pay it forward” tree, in which a man gives a car to Los Angeles journalist Chris Chandler. As the film progresses, Chandler traces the chain of favors back to its origin in Trevor’s school project.
Chandler finally identifies Trevor as the originator of “Pay it forward” and conducts a recorded interview in which Trevor describes his hopes and concerns for the project. Trevor was later stabbed while defending a comrade against a group of bullies, and he consequently dies at the hospital. This news is reported on television, and Trevor’s teacher and mother are soon visited by hundreds of people who have participated in the “pay it forward” movement, gathering in a vigil to pay their respects to Trevor. It was a most fascinating film.
Now, outside this movie story, when someone mentions the word hero, people envisage a Superman. You might envisage a knight in shining armor riding into the sunset with a beautiful woman along side. Some people picture the skinny models who strut around in clothes and always look beautiful in vogue magazines. Other people envision the CEO of a top company, making over twenty billion a year. Some might even imagine a notable actor, a famous footballer, their pastor or even their leader. But since watching that film, ‘Pay it forward,’ when I hear the word hero I don’t picture any of those things anymore.
When I hear the word hero, I look past all the fame, and fortune. I look past how beautiful my heroes are, or even how ugly they might be. My heroes have no memorial named after them, no tree planted in their name, as a matter of fact, they rarely get a “thank You” for the work they do every day. My heroes aren’t the kinds of people who have had their 15 minutes of limelight. My heroes are the kinds of people who aren’t recognized in our everyday lives, because what they do is in some unusual way common, yet at the same time uncommon.
Everyday heroes surround us, individuals who offer their time, talent, experience and hard work to benefit those who aren’t so fortunate. One thing they all have in common is the ability to make positive personal connections with others, connections that turn into larger changes in our world. My everyday heroes include a group of people who are fighting injustice; people who have coped with posttraumatic stress disorder and vow that others should never have to experience that despair alone; cancer and HIV survivors who are reaching out to those who have just received a cancer or HIV diagnosis; and individuals who once suffered from mental illness who are providing support and advice for those who are struggling and feeling isolated.
I am talking about an everyday, yet unsung hero, one of those average people who do good things for others and make a difference in the world. It could be someone who cooks meals in a derelict Nigerian village kitchen, someone who rescues stray children, someone who teaches little children in a hamlet, or someone who builds houses for the homeless. These good deeds aren’t something that can only be achieved by saints or supermen, but rather, something that each of us could do if we so choose.
My heroes are the kinds of people who do the little things in life. The people, who hold the door open for you, say “Hello” to you, gives you tiny smiles or even just a little wave that can make or brighten your day. My heroes are the kind of people who do their deeds not out of how much recognition they might get, but out of the kindness of their heart. No thought is involved in the things they do, they do them just because that is the kind of person they are, sweet and kind to everyone. My heroes are the kinds of people who do the little things in life, because it’s the little things that count.
My belief is that everyone has a story. Some people have overcome some great odds before the point where they got to be standing there to speak with you. Some of these people have taken on major challenges and overcame them. Yes, everyone has a story to tell. But you need to be there to listen to it. There have been a lot of heroes over the past. People think that you have to be strong to be a hero. (That’s not true.) There are a lot of heroes just like you and me. The truth is that heroes really don’t have to be SUPER HERO!?
I have a hero. His name is Mr. Igho Okoro. When I lost my dad in the 80s, I had to go stay with him. He fought in the civil war and he survived! He is healthy and lives a good life. After his experience in the war he fell in love with my aunty. They got married and are now living in Abraka, Delta State. They have eight wonderful children. They go on family trips and are having no trouble at all surviving the rest of their adventures in life. When I was very young and up till now, he plays with me and tells me that he will teach me this or that. We would try to make the best fun out of the years to come. He is getting older and he is hard of hearing. I believe in him and I have trust in him. I hope he will live and be active for a long time. He is my hero. He has saved a lot of lives. He saved a man from been electrocuted. He also had to take basins of water from the first floor of a burning building to the third floor to save a family whose lives and properties were in danger. He helped me with my playthings when they were broken. After he fixed them he took me riding the next weekend. Sometimes we had to get up at four o’clock in the morning to plow. We usually go and get a coffee. He treats me like one of his own.
Most times, during raining season, he made fire in the fireplace. We went swimming, hunting, fishing, and riding. Once a year we went on a father-and-son canoe trip with our friends and relatives. He was more than a father and I love him and he loves me. When you are hurt or sick he was always there for you. If you are mad and need a little talk, he is right by your side. He knew how to play and what to do to make little children happy. He was also very funny. Sometimes, he would pretend he was a lion, a vulture, a willie-willie or a vampire! How I love those childhood years of merry-go-round!
He teaches us all kinds of things. He is helpful when I need him. He is always honest, truthful, and kind. He is brave. He is indeed one of my favorite teachers. He showed acts of respect, responsibility and most of all he cares about everyone. He will always take care of you when you are sick or injured. He will make sure you’re secure and warm if you stay at his house. He’s willing to take you where you need to go, and get you there on time. He will always keep his promise or go out of his way for you if you ask. If you need someone to cheer you on at a football game, he will always be there for you. This man is a person of integrity and high moral rectitude. Of all the things he is good at, he is best at giving you advice. He knows pretty much of everything that happened ever since the1930’s. He has many good qualities, but I think caring for people is his best.
Now, last two years, my friend Ejiro and I were in a hurry to somewhere in Abraka, and from the blues, we saw a lady that was hit by a vehicle. She was unconscious. No one was there to help her. And so, Ejiro quickly rushed to her side, carried her to the nearby park, board a bus and took her to the hospital. All these were done against my protest. The following day, when we went to see her at the hospital, she had regained consciousness. Then, in the course of our conversation, she mentioned her surname. It was the same with mine! On further inquiry, I realized much to my chagrin that she was my cousin sister that I have been longing to see. I almost couldn’t help it. That single incidence changed my view about life!
Since then, when I look back at my life, I can say I am also a hero. My father died when I was barely twelve years old. I saw my mother cry. I know what hunger means. I know what it means to be a smart, intelligent student and not being able to pay for school fees. I know what it means to hawk in the early hours of the mornings before preparing for school. Today, I know what it means to give to the less-privilege ones around me. Last week, I gave half of my clothes to a friend who was complaining bitterly of what to wear. Not too long ago, I enrolled some three students for exams. Just two days ago, I offered to train a little girl who is not in any way related to me in school. Yes, I did it, out of my meager salary! I am a hero too!
In the course of my life journey, I have come to the conclusion that the problem we see in Nigeria today can be overcome by our strengths, the civic duty and resilience of the Nigerian people and their willing commitment to help their fellow brothers and sisters. I am even more hopeful about Nigeria’s future than I was a decade ago, because in every part of the country I have seen good people striving to make Nigeria a better place. When a human hand reaches out for help, so often another hand reaches out to give that help. My late father always said that each of us could make a difference. And he said that it was not IQ or intelligence or, for that matter, money that defined whether you made the best mark in your society. He believed in Martin Luther King’s words, that everybody could be great because everyone can serve. So I certainly grew up influenced by the idea that one individual, however young, small, poor or weak could make a difference.
I believe it is time to celebrate the best in Nigeria, and — by celebrating it and enhancing it, and by encouraging many more of us to participate in it – we can build the good society where each of us asks what we can give and all of us can make a difference. I’ve got one more left but I think I’ll continue. Hopefully one day when I need help ‘Pay It Forward’ will come back to help me!