From Okoro to US

"It is difficult to assimilate what a person has to go through."

My name is Collins Okoro, I’m a baker from Gent.

I opened my bakery shop 10 years ago when nobody expected me to start it.

Against all odds I followed my goal and I am now a father of three children and a business owner. I was born in Nigeria and was raised by a business owner. My father was an owner of a printing company that I could have taken over, but things happened differently. I had to run away from my lovely Nigeria because of the political issues and insecurity. Leaving your home isn’t easy and people underestimate it, it takes a lot of courage and determination.

My first impression of Belgium was not that good actually. The cold weather was the first thing that threw me off, as the temperature is different in Nigeria.

In terms of social contact at first, I didn’t feel a difference because everyone was doing their own thing. However, I started looking for people that could help me adapt and integrate. I started my journey in Brussels and moved from city to city. Afterwards we moved to Westende, from Westende we moved to Deinze and from there we finally moved to Ghent.

My first step towards professional growth was learning the language. It’s a very important aspect because I didn’t notice the hostility of the environment against migration until I understood Dutch. The next step after learning the language was looking for a job which wasn’t easy. I searched in different ways but couldn’t find anything for two years, until I met this baker in Eke-Nazareth that gave me a chance. From there I started wondering if bakery could be something for me while working there. The satisfaction of happy clients motivated me the most to start my own bakery.

So, in 1996 I started doing a bakery course at Syntra in Oudenaarde and I also started a business administration course for 2 years in Sint-Denijs-Westrem.

My journey as a baker hasn’t been easy, nobody believed in me from my former bosses to my family members and even my father in law. They all thought that it was unrealistic for me to start a bakery shop. Now I’m here, nowadays being a baker is not that easy and we don’t make a lot. We have to work hard but the clients are happy and we are too. We’re happy to be able to provide a wide product range that they’re happy with.

When I hear about migration I think about my past. When it is difficult to assimilate what a person has to go through. But we have to keep in mind that nobody leaves home for his pleasure. I ask myself sometimes if I would have been happier if I stayed in Nigeria. The world has changed in a positive way, the world that I’m seeing now is better than 20 years ago. When I’m walking down the street, I see more diversity and happiness. People with migration backgrounds have more opportunities despite all the systematic obstacles.

I would say, whatever you do never give up! You will face obstacles through your journey but don’t give up. You have to know for sure what you’re doing. If you don’t see potential in something don’t do it but if you do, keep going! The message to the Young Collins out there would be to never give up!