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The Walk of Resilience: Eno Okpo and E-enable’s Story

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The Walk of Resilience: Eno Okpo and E-enable’s Story

Overview:

  • Eno’s journey sheds perspective on the confrontation of the human spirit with physical adversity and societal bias.
  • Her resilience in the face of physical and social restrictions shapes her inspiring journey.
  • To assist her community growth, Eno found E-enable to change attitudes surrounding disability.
  • Her journey of empowerment continues through her leadership at Girl Power USA.

What happens to the human spirit when it’s confronted with physical adversity and societal bias? Eno Okpo’s life offers a wonderful perspective on this question. Few stories have the tenacity and fortitude that hers has. Sitting with her, one can not help but be enamored with her sense of strength, her unwavering determination to help others, and her desire for independence. 

At the age of two, Eno battled with poliomyelitis (commonly known as polio). An infectious disease caused by poliovirus, it can leave victims crippled, as it did to Eno. However, polio left Eno with the inability to walk for such a long time. That not only shaped her physical resilience but also her outlook on life. Not confronting her disability as a victim, she is proof of what resilience can do to the human spirit. “Adversity didn’t define me; it refined me,” she says. 

Overcoming Physical Challenges

It all began with a nightly ritual. 

“Before he tucked me to sleep, my father would come to my room and say, ‘You will walk, you will run, like every child,’ and then he would massage my legs,” explains Eno. She recounts where she got her strength to continue believing that one day all of this physical difficulty would pass. This ritual between her and her father laid a foundation for Eno’s resilience. She believed and visualized that though she lived with certain physical challenges, it didn’t mean that they should hold her back. They say a race is won in the mind before a runner ever sets foot on a track. The same is true for success in business and definitely true for Eno who is walking today. 

But at that time, her two legs were completely immobile and felt like rubber. Eno recounts, “My classmates had to put their hands around my knees; otherwise, my legs would be going side to side.” Eno had to be resourceful in crafting her own shoes and clothes, as there was nothing that would fit her well. 

Everything changed when her father passed away when she was 9 years old. Eno was confronted with extreme loneliness. Her mother’s relocation, and her six siblings having to take care of themselves, left her hours at home to support herself. Alone in her village without any neighbors, she found herself having to cook and take care of herself. She also had to deal with the impacts of polio—particularly a curvature of the spine that left her with unbearable pain until 2021. In 1992, she was able to finish her education in a boarding school. This was possible due to the financial support of her mother and a friend of her father’s.

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Growing through Resilience

She found herself to be the only physically challenged student at the school, and the transition was not smooth. Bullying became an unfortunate reality. It wasn’t the comments from her classmates that left her scarred, but the lack of empathy from the adults running the school. “The bullying had a devastating effect on me,” Eno recalls. She remembers requesting the school cook to help in bringing her food to her room. Doing so led to Eno facing punishment and humiliation from the vice principal who often treated her differently. 

But Eno was resilient. Having spent those hours by herself in her home, she was able to grasp onto her ankles and move her legs. She was determined to overcome her physical limitations. Being hunched over like that had repercussions, as it affected Eno’s back, but she was able to move around on her own. She didn’t have a wheelchair, nor had she seen or even heard about a physiotherapist. It wouldn’t be until her late thirties when she finally saw one. 

“If you feel like you have to always depend on people, you need to break out,” Eno explains. One of the stories that drove Eno was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s. Learning about the man ruling the US from a wheelchair, she thought to herself, “I’m going to be more than this.” It’s what motivated her to keep improving. And in 2018, when she went to physical therapy, she was able to start walking. Currently, her right leg, which used to be 8 inches shorter, has been reduced to 2.5 inches. Years of determination and visualization techniques she held onto for so long paid off. She gave herself the ability to self-heal her legs and her back.

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Empowering Others through E-Enable

For Eno, there is a stark contrast between community and dependence. In her country, Nigeria, there is a mindset of promoting dependence for those with disabilities. In the West, more effective support systems are in place. Whereas in Nigeria, Eno observes a tendency to view individuals with disabilities as helpless. She finds this perspective disheartening and sickening. To change this mindset, she started E-Enable in 2007 with the mission to educate communities on disabilities and change attitudes toward them. She was given countless opportunities to leave Nigeria and move to the U.K. to be with her family. But the belief that she could be a change to communities kept her where she is. 

“We are promoting positive and independent living among women and girls with disabilities, other vulnerable women, and children,” the E-Enable website states. Starting her non-profit on the recognition of the needs of people with disabilities was not an easy hurdle. Challenges such as skepticism over the project, an unsupportive transport system, little to no funding, and a lack of employment were her greatest barriers. With just a dollar at hand, she went on state television to garner support for her small organization. That turn garnered interest in her NGO becoming a turning point in its journey.

For Eno, the emphasis lies in helping people gain a mindset focusing on abilities and talents rather than their limitations. She encourages individuals to identify one thing that they excel at and work towards those dreams. For the parents of those with disabilities, she encourages fostering an “I can” mentality in the children. “I remember a young woman whose father was afraid of what would happen to her when he was gone. She went on to become my best student. She now makes and sells cardigans to support herself. “Knowing that I contributed to her self-sufficiency and that she is doing well gives me inner peace,” Eno stated in an interview

E-Enable finds ways to offer assistance beyond immediate needs and prepare women to be independent, no matter their circumstances. Examples include the Educational Skills Center, where women can access education and skills development programs for free. Or the Mother’s Heart Project, which gives a helping hand to poor mothers with children.

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Girl Power USA: Nurturing Leadership and Empowerment

Eno’s journey with Girl Power Talk shows the power and impact of mentorship, collaboration, and a shared commitment to empowerment. During her participation in the Global Good Fund Fellowship in 2019, Eno found support through her mentor, Bobby Henebry. He is a global speaker, entrepreneur, and a dedicated advocate for uplifting people worldwide.

Eno was facing challenges with her website—the person who had built it had linked all payments back to them. Shocked, Bobby went to his long-time friend Sameer Somal, co-founder of Girl Power Talk, to help solve the theft issue. Sameer was able to resolve the problem by rebuilding Eno’s website and managing it for free. 

Recognizing the importance of her online presence, Girl Power Talk featured Eno in their People We Admire series, elevating her visibility. Sameer kept an eye on Eno’s work and saw the perfect timing for collaboration at the establishment of Girl Power USA. The collaboration resulted in networking sessions, leadership workshops, and financial support for E-Enable. One initiative was the sponsorship of a luncheon session in Nigeria, promoting the inclusion of differently-abled women and girls. Girl Power USA supported the Smile of a Child project by sponsoring scholarships for girls and covering Eno’s office rent. These initiatives show their commitment to empowering change-makers like Eno. 

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“While Eno’s life has been a series of hardships and tragedies, including the loss of her beloved father and fiancé in a freak accident, the tenacity with which Eno has been building her whole life is the only reason she is not only standing but carrying everyone else along with her,” reflects Frankie Picasso, Executive Director at Girl Power USA. 

“Did she suffer from depression?” continues Frankie, “Yes! But we know the best cure for depression is to literally help others. This is why at Girl Power USA we say ‘come to get your glow on’, because when you give, you literally glow.” Frankie also mentions she’d love to market Eno’s smile and laugh on an app. “You feel better just hearing it.” 

Conclusion:

Eno Okpo’s story shows that change can come through grassroots efforts. E-Enable is committed to societal change, bringing greater attention to those with disabilities, and providing them independence. The mission is to create a future where inclusivity is a societal norm.

Girl Power USA