It was an immense honor to have been asked to be the Keynote speaker at the recent Uzuakoli Development & Cultural Association convention in Sacramento, California. Here is the speech:
Once upon a time, there was a very tall man. He was so tall everyone called him “giant”. Those who knew him from birth say he was as big as a two year old when he was born. At first, everyone admired him and wanted to be like him. He was big and cute and smart and perspective.
When he started primary school, he was taller than students several grades ahead of him. Some parents did not want their children to play with him because they feared he might use his size and strength to hurt them. He never did because he was was a gentle giant.
Soon people misconstrued his meekness for weakness. Growing up, some of his mates mercilessly teased him because of his size. Others exacerbated the cruelty because he would not fight back. Even adults joined in. The same stature that people adored him for became the reason for him being ridiculed. All along he kept his cool because he could see beyond the road ahead.
When the time came to get married, this handsome, kind, powerful, meek giant asked for the hand of the shortest woman in town. This fully grown woman stood 4 feet 5 inches in heels. She was more like 4 feet without. She was pretty petite. Everyone was baffled, some thought it was mere rumor that this hunk of a man was engaged to such a short and skinny lady. Those with taller daughters had assumed they were shoo-in to become his in-laws because their daughter would make a “befitting” wife.
When the wise and respected elders called a special meeting to find out why their giant made this choice, he reluctantly but respectfully honored the sermon at the largest village square. He stood up, bowed, and greeted everyone, including the homeless, poor, and little children who came to see him. He asked his fiancée to come stand by him. She was barely half his height, a fraction of his imposing size. Some giggled as they stood up in this loving but odd-looking embrace.
He said to the anxious and now quiet crowd: first of all, this is a private matter between himself and his lady whom they decide to spend the rest of their lives with. He said he was so honored this beautiful woman agreed to take his hand, and not the other way around. He said, because of his height advantage (from God), he could see farther than most people. He stated the basis of marriage should be love, not fortune, height, looks.
Moreover, he said, he had taken enough teasing for their future children. That by choosing his lovely wife-to-be, they would have children who are not as tall as he is and they would not be subjected to the cruelty he endured growing up. You see the Giant was looking a head and preparing for a better life for tomorrow.
My sisters and brothers, I told you this story (that I made up) to ask you to take your family's retirement future very seriously. We all have come a very long way from our villages and towns in Nigeria to risk living in poverty during our retirement in a foreign land. It is challenging enough most of us married and started having children rather late (due to factors mostly beyond our control) and commenced buying homes even later and at the wrong time. This will not be our parents retirement as we know it!
It is unbecoming to rely on others to wake-keep for our final flight to Nigeria for those who want to be buried there. Some of us may think that we should live for today and not worry about tomorrow because no one knows what would happen; or if we would even get there in the first place. Should they continue to socialized their problems while they privatize their benefits? Until profit-sharing parties start out-pacing wake-keeping events, we, as a people, are headed in the wrong direction.
We could have said the same thing about going to elementary and secondary schools and universities. Yes, no one knows tomorrow. But let us think positive that God will let us live long. It's up to us to make the best of that longevity. Even if we don't get there, we can have something to pass on to our children so that their roads are a bit easier than ours.
It is scary when one reads statistics of 60% of workers having less than $25,000 in retirement, that is not even a drop in the bucket, it is a spit in the ocean. To preserve one's capital in perpetuity, one would be lucky to generate $5,000 per year for every $100,000 in savings. Let me repeat: To preserve one's capital in perpetuity, one would be lucky to generate $5,000 per year for every $100,000 in savings. You think you can live on $50,000 per year (or $4,000 per month)?, you better have $1 million in reserves. Can you afford to maintain homes in Nigeria and here on $50,000 per year? If not, start saving more today.
Financial literacy and application is not just essential, it is critical. It fosters independence, dignity, resourcefulness and quality (if not, also quantity of life).
Like the gentle giant, you can be abundantly blessed and still face your own growing pains. You need to rise above it all and still do what is best for your family now and tomorrow, not just take the easiest route.
And as the “sandwich generation” we have to help our people back home while preparing for our own retirement. These are tall tasks any way you slice them; however, we must meet them because "to whom much is given [by God] much is expected".
Consider the following:
Paying off or paying down your mortgage before retirement. Borrow below the maximum you can afford, in the first place; don't borrow and buy to impress others. It might sound Sisyphean at first, but if you focus, you will be surprised how quickly you take the mortgage yoke off your neck.
Paying down and paying off your credit cards. Charge only what you can pay off when the monthly bill arrives.
Staying married. The grass is rarely greener after a divorce. Beware of what you tell others about your spouse and those who urge you to kick your spouse to the curb.
Maxing out your 401K yearly contributions and more importantly knowing where you are investing that money. Knowing your expense ratios as well as your returns. Never raid your 401K before time.
Buying real estate only when the market is down (like now)for passive income stream.
That village mansion (without resale value) is not prudent investment unless you truly intend to live in it, not just be buried in it). If you must have a village mansion, let your other investments easily pay for it.
Saving every penny you can while investing in yourself and your family.
Taking one or two vacations everyone year to regroup and refresh.
Exercising regularly, watch your diet and stress. Do it for you and your spouse and your family.
Helping people who cannot repay you. For example, give $1000 per year to 5 women to establish a micro lending program in your village. The result will astound you!
Like the gentle and wise giant, save for your own good and for the good of your family today and down the road.
It is truly an honor to be with every one of us here today. Yes, every one of us. This is a home coming for me as well. Why, you ask? Well, I may have been born in Alayi, 12 miles north of Uzuakoli, I am just as part of you as you are part me of me. As some of you know, my formative years were enjoyed in Uzuakoli as a student in the acclaimed Methodist College. Like everyone fortunate to be schooled or born there, I did not just pass through Uzuakoli, Uzuakoli passed through me.
Some of my closest friends are from Uzuakoli
I have visited every ama in Uzuakoli
I have lived in Uzuakoli as much I have in Alayi
Above all, the love of my life, my wife, is a proud daughter of Uzuakoli. So I can truly say that we're birds of the same feather. We go way back! I am humbled beyond words for this gracious invitation.
Under the umbrella of the Uzuakoli Development & Cultural Association (UDCA) USA, the sons and daughters and friends of Uzuakoli (Abia State, Nigeria) held an epic convention in Sacramento, California on Saturday June 22-23, 2012. The themes of the convention to raise one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) were to build a community pipe borne water system and to promote community health care in Uzuakoli. When completed in the next few years, these will be two worthy programs capable of helping the residents, not just the citizens, of Uzuakoli. These projects will help the living help themselves.
Chuks U.C. Ukaoma and his family reside in Austin, Texas. He's a Senior Market Manager for Drees Homes, U.S.A.