While Sam Acho is well known for playing in the NFL, his commitment to others is equally impressive. Heading into his fourth season with the Arizona Cardinals, Sam leaves no doubt that the world outside his window matters to him. Start simply with his email signature that reads “Sam Acho NFL Line Backer/Humanitarian”.
A father is a man who expects his son to be as good a man as he meant to be.
~ Frank A. Clark
“A lot of my passions lie in helping and serving others. That’s mainly because of how I grew up and the way my parents raised me, my brother and my sisters,” says Sam. “That’s why there’s that NFL linebacker piece in there, which is a part of who I am, but maybe an even bigger part of who I am is the humanitarian aspect.”
Sam’s parents, Sonny and Christie Acho,were born and raised in small villages in Nigeria. They immigrated to the United States before their children were born but have made improving the quality of life for the people of Nigeria a priority.
“They never forgot about their roots. They would always go back to Nigeria and visit family and friends. They would see the huge disparities of lifestyle between lives of Americans and lives of Nigerians. They wanted to do something to help and to give back and that’s how Living Hope Ministries was started.”
“Since I was two or three years old, [my dad] would go back on medical mission trips that he had started with doctors and nurses. They would give free medicine and free medical care to people in the rural villages in Nigeria. I would go back [with them] to just visit family because I had a lot of aunts, uncles and relatives back there.”
Growing up Sam says his big concerns were passing the test to get his driver’s license and making friends at the new high school. However, all that changed when he turned 15 and went on his first real mission trip with his father to Nigeria.
Outside the make shift medical center Sam vividly recalls “a malnourished kid who looked like he was 10 or 11 years old. Just skin and bone. He had a pair of shorts on, no shirt and tattered sandals. I remember talking to him and asked, ‘How old are you?’ He said, ‘I’m 15.’ I looked him in the eye and understood that this was the reality of a 15-year-old boy living in Nigeria.”
“He has maybe one or two pairs of shorts, maybe one or two pairs of shoes or sandals and a shirt that he wears every single day. He will weigh 60 or 70 lbs. because he doesn’t have food. He doesn’t have water. That’s when it really hit home and I understood the disparity between life in America and life in a developing country.”
Let’s freaking go!
~ Sam Acho
Why should people help in other countries when there are needs at home? “There are needs everywhere,” Sam says and he doesn’t advocate ignoring the needs at home but cautions “don’t ignore the needs abroad.”
People sometimes use geography as an excuse to not do anything. To those people Sam says, “Let’s freaking go. Now is the time. LFG for short, but let’s go.”
“It really just takes making a decision to find a way to help. If it’s not in Africa, maybe it’s in your local community. Maybe it’s in your neighborhood. Maybe it’s taking in a foster child or adopting a child from the United States. Maybe it is in Nigeria. Maybe it’s going on a mission trip or supporting an organization helping one of the communities in need. There’s so much that can be done.”
Train up a child in the way which he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.
~ Proverbs 22:6
“Focused, driven, and wise. Those are the three words that I’d use to describe my dad,” Sam says. “Nothing is going to stop my dad from accomplishing his goals. I got a chance to see and learn that growing up. That might even be what brought about the ‘Let’s freaking go.’”
“He’s the wisest person I know. If you look at the decisions he’s made, before he does something or goes about a task, he counts the cost [in relation to everything that’s important to him]. My dad has all his priorities in the right place. His faith in God is first, then his family comes second, then work and everything else comes after that.”
“I remember being a kid growing up and playing little league football and basketball and all these things. Although, my dad would work and provide for the family,” Sam says his dad would never miss a game. It didn’t matter whether it was a basketball game, a track meet or a football game. He might not be there right on time because he was working, but he always would be there.”
“One of the biggest ways that I can show my dad love is just by talking to him. Talking to him about my day, big issues in life, about family, football and the stuff that I’m struggling with. I seek his wisdom and council. That’s not just on Father’s Day but on a daily basis.”
“I challenge anybody on Father’s Day, and everyday, if your dad’s around to call him and to spend time with him. There might be little disagreements that you had, well, get over them. Life is short. There’s not enough time to sit and be angry. Don’t waste that time being upset. Forgive them and move on.”
When you learn, teach, when you get, give.
~ Maya Angelou
Earlier this year Sam’s family and connection to Nigeria increased when he married his wife Ngozi Ebichi. “It’s such an amazing thing to be married to someone who grew up in the culture. As much as I could think I understand Africa and I understand Nigeria, I grew up in Dallas.”
Since his wife and parents grew up in Nigeria, Sam believes they have a deeper understanding of the struggles and what it takes to make a lasting impact. “We’re not interested in going in once and helping people, we’re interested in making sustainable change and teaching people there how to create their own change.” The best way to do that is to give people the resources and teach them the skills they need to help themselves and their people.
His family’s focus with Living Hope Ministries has been on the medical side, basically treating the illnesses after they have been diagnosed. He says their biggest goal is to open a fully functional and staffed hospital in Nigeria. On any given trip Sam says, “We’ll have surgeons remove hernias, ophthalmologists remove cataracts and dentists pulling out teeth.”
Nigeria has many health concerns in a country that over a million children under five die each year. Thirty-five percent of those deaths are a result of malnutrition (UNICEF).
“We know that a lot of these medical illnesses could be prevented if people had access to clean water or more and better food,” says Sam. “As far as the nutrition, we try and teach people as much as we can and help them learn different methods to survive. But in all reality, the idea of nutrition, the idea of clean water, more than anything, is a big task that will take more than Living Hope Ministries to tackle.”
The International Medical Corps. is working in Nigeria to help prevent and treat acute malnutrition in children. To date they have screened more than 41,500 children for malnutrition and treated more than 1,460 children with severe acute malnutrition. By training health staff and local volunteers on prevention and treatment of malnutrition, they are helping Nigerians to become their own first responders.
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
“There’s always a way to make an impact no matter what you’re doing. I would challenge people and say let’s freaking go. Use whatever you have to make an impact on those around you,” says Sam. “You don’t need more right now to help. Just use what you have, even if it’s a little. Use it, and you’ll be amazed. You’ll be shocked on what kind of impact you can make.”
So now – Let’s Freaking Go!
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