John Utaka: My Background Inspires Me To Help The Less Privileged
In an exclusive interview with Nigerian freelance journalist Emeka Umejei, soccer star John Utaka talks about his charitable work and his future plans.
John Utaka is Nigeria’s soccer ambassador, carving niche for himself in the international soccer arena. Renowned for his goal-scoring abilities, Utaka has decided to give back to society.
The Soccer prodigy who commenced his career with the Enugu Rangers is concerned about the plight of the downtrodden. In an effort to make a difference for the less fortunate, he has launched the John Utaka Foundationwith a mission to bringing succor to the less privileged of the society. The John Utaka Foundation has been launched in Ghana and Nigeria and the London version will follow in the coming months.
In this interview with journalist Emeka Umejei, Utaka describes his work and the need to make a difference in the effort to improve lives.
Q: Let’s talk about the forthcoming Launch of John Utaka Foundation in London.
Utaka: It is actually a fundraising dinner where friends and well wishers can come together to show support for the foundation’s aims and objectives.
Q: The foundation has also been launched in Nigeria and Ghana, what has been its impact?
Utaka: The foundation in Nigeria and Ghana has quickly gained success in terms of acceptability and a "need to be" because there is a need for all to realize the realities of the state in which a lot of people live. Poverty is a reality. People are hungry, people are suffering. We have to focus more on reaching out directly to the grassroots throughout the initial stages of our projects. Reach out, listen and connect with them and introduce sustainable or otherwise direct projects that will develop and improve on their lives.
Q: In Nigeria, you rightly said the essence of the John Utaka foundation is to impact lives because according to you, God has been good to you considering your humble background. Has the foundation embarked on any projects in Nigeria?
Utaka: I started playing football bare feet amidst all the poverty around. If we support them in terms of moral support, provide equipment and accessories, probably a better standard of life, self-development training, education and social activities, I believe more and more people would have better opportunities than the present state.
We have visited 7 states in Nigeria and connected with various communities (such as underprivileged homes, orphanages). There are individuals who have been privately doing good work and we support them.
Q: The fad amongst celebrities is to launch a foundation which often ends up as a tool for self-aggrandizement. How would the John Utaka foundation differ?
Utaka: The John Utaka Foundation is not about an individual. Most members of the team in Ghana and Nigeria are volunteers, not just because of me but because they believe in the ideology. The foundation does not aim at establishing itself as an entity but rather building up a project that will go a long way in communal participation, individual and government supports.
Q: Are there specific areas the John Utaka Foundation would be concentrating on?
Utaka: The John Utaka Foundation is dedicated to helping educate and empower the youth of today within marginalised communities for a better tomorrow. This means providing education through scholarships for young people who cannot afford it; Youth empowerment through the provision of work placements in Nigeria and abroad enabling them to gain accredited training and vocational skills through our international partners; Provision of positive activities and support to stimulate young people's development through arts, culture and sports — from film, football, photography and music; Poverty alleviation through the provision of basic amenities such as water, food and medicine to the less fortunate — which will enable us to reduce poverty and improve health, and providing grants and working in partnership with registered charities which help disadvantaged young people to play a fuller role in the communities.
Q: Most Nigerian international footballers have always concentrated on helping talents in the soccer arena. Why did you chose to differ?
Utaka: Most Nigerian internationals did very well by helping talents in soccer so, we want to help in other areas that will also be useful to the society as well. There are so many hiding talents in the country.
Q: Are there plans to launch the foundation in The Gambia?
Utaka: We intend to help in Gambia and all over the world, wherever we get support and ties with people with similar ideals and passion. Wherever we see the need and capability of reaching out to touch lives, we will.
For example, there are people in America also who wish to launch the foundation and its programme in the U.S. Plans are under way for the France launching too. We have had several invites and enquiries from people around the world on the foundation's web site.
Q: Why are you working with Gambian actress and politician, Fatima Jabbe to launch your foundation? Who is she to you?
Utaka: The whole team and supporters are made up of professionals in various fields and people with passion. For the Ghana launch we had the likes of Michael Jabba, the Nigeria launch were Vanessa and Ronke with Awinde leading the foundation’s works. The upcoming launch in London which is coming up on the 6th May will be gracefully organized by Fatima. I feel honored to be working with such professionals. We are a team.
Q: You have been described as a very stylish man. What does style mean to you?
Utaka: Everybody is stylish in their own way. I have always liked fashion.
Q: What one fashion item can you not do without?
Utaka: I like leather jackets.
Q: If given another opportunity what one thing would you like to change about yourself?
Utaka: Nothing, I thank God for everything.
Q: What do you consider the greatest mistake you have made in your life?
Utaka: I don't think in that light. I just learn every day of my life.
Q: Since your transfer from Portsmouth to Montpellier HSC, much has not been heard of you in the National team?
Utaka: I will always honor my country whenever I'm called for the national team.
Q: You are known to have been very responsive to national call ups. How do feel that your country appeared to have abandoned you when your career had a slight tilt?
Utaka: I don't feel abandoned, every coach has his own choices and I accept it. I believe future is bright.