Ghana-born Eric Agyeman was the only African pupil at Ringwood Primary School in the late 1990s.
He was bullied by his peers and now refers to his primary school days as “challenging”.
“It was a learning time for me to understand who I am,” says Agyeman who is now 26 and lives in South Morang.
But rather than becoming withdrawn, he rebelled. He began smoking, mixing with the wrong crowd and chalking up school suspensions. “I was an all-round troublesome teenager.”
His dad saw where things were heading, so he framed a three-week “holiday” trip back to Ghana to visit his sick mother, who Agyeman hadn’t seen for eight years. It was in fact a ploy to give the then-13-year-old a wake-up call.
What he was told would be a three-week holiday eventually lasted seven years.
“He [his dad] said I was going to be there until he saw a change,” Agyeman says.
When he realised his holiday was anything but, he became depressed and attempted suicide a number of times. But in the end he did change. Midway through high school in Ghana he excelled at classes, and he dreamed of being able to help his mother’s family members who were poor and illiterate.
“Something just hit me. I had this desire to provide for my mum and change my family’s situation,” Agyeman says.
The goal later widened to helping other poor people.
In 2009, two years after coming back to Australia, he set up PVBS, short for Proverbs, a social enterprise he uses as a vehicle to donate profits to charities in developing countries.
His latest campaign, “When You Finish, They Start”, involves manufacturing and selling customised year 12 student jackets. For every jacket sold, $15 goes towards a child’s education in Cambodia or Ghana.
“In 2012, I decided to focus all of our [PVBS] energy on one thing that was dear to my heart and critical in fighting poverty, and that is education,” he says.
“In the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world’.”
PVBS has so far helped 900 children.
Students from Northside Christian College in Bundoora have put in their order for PVBS school leaver jackets. The school is one of six in the northern suburbs to have embraced Agyeman’s dream; another is Plenty Valley College in Doreen. Agyeman expects another 12 schools to have signed up by the end of the week. “Being born and raised in Ghana myself I have seen poverty first-hand and so this is my way of helping out.”
By Lexi Cottee 14:28:PM 07/02/2014 http://www.northernweekly.com.au/story/1795870/new-life-from-wake-up-call-for-eric/