Chattanoogan: Chinyere Ubamadu

Monday, February 18, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

When meeting Chinyere Ubamadu, one would never know that she came from another country or ever had any problems communicating, as she speaks with a perfectly clear and very American vernacular.

Chinyere (pronounced like ‘Shanary’) was born in Nigeria and raised partly in West Africa. “We had settled in Boston and Dad finished his doctorate at Harvard. Education has always been a strong part of our lives,” Chinyere says.

In 1979 parents Obinna and Pauline Onyeagoro brought their seven children to the states right after the 1978 blizzard. “One of my uncles had died in the blizzard. He left a window open and died of pneumonia. We came just months after, and the snow was still there. We flew in by helicopter because planes weren’t flying into LaGuardia,” Chinyere recalls.

She was raised learning the Queen’s English and had a very strong accent. “My peers were not very kind in my attempt to speak English,” Chinyere admits. “I remember children making fun of me because I couldn’t speak properly. I spoke English but not conversational English and that was a tough thing. When kids don’t understand something they make fun of it.”

“While in Nigeria, we had moved to the city and had a regular house but a lot of the kids here thought we had lived in huts. There are people who live in those kinds of conditions, but the city Abuja is the capital and it is sort of like New York. We lived in the suburbs in a place called Aba for a little while, and also Enugu. As a little girl, I was more of a reader, I liked to read,” Chinyere says.

After attending Emerson College in Boston having majored in mass communications and also taking voice and articulation classes, Chinyere’s first job was as a news writer with WDIV TV in Detroit, an NBC affiliate. She worked with Mort Crim and Carmen Harlan.

“They were a wonderful team; I wrote copy for them and worked there for about a year,” Chinyere says.

She then worked in Albany, Ga. for a Fox affiliate but was living in Knoxville and commuting back and forth.

She had met her husband Ben while at a wedding in Washington, D.C. “He is from Nigeria as well but we never knew each other,” Chinyere insists.

“He came to the states as a 10-year-old. His dad and my dad are both educators and they had both come to the states to get their doctorate. That was the thing to do. His family settled in the Midwest in Macomb, Ill. four hours outside of Chicago. He teases that he was a little boy from the Midwest and I was a big city girl,” Chinyere laughs.

Ben worked in the automotive industry and, as the two began building their careers and a family; their schedules became very hectic.

“I wanted balance with my work and my family. I wanted to use my skills in a career but family was important to me too,” Chinyere says.

After moving back to Detroit, Chinyere was able to find a job as a reporter in Lansing with a CBS affiliate.

“We never saw each other,” she admits. “I decided it wasn’t worth it and maybe I could do something in marketing and PR.” Chinyere transitioned to that field and worked at the Detroit Medical Center for a number of years.

The family moved to Chattanooga in 2005 for Ben’s job. “When we moved to Knoxville, he was actually working in Athens, Tn. He was the plant manager for a company and the parent company decided to shut it down,” Chinyere states.

Ben is now at Chattanooga State and is the vice president of economic development and community affairs. The couple has two children.

Chinyere had worked with Ronald McDonald Charities and is now involved in another project called Kid Book Kamp.

“I am passionate about working with children and not just my own children, but children in general. That is one of the reasons I joined Ronald McDonald house charities a year after we came,” she says.

Chinyere transitioned out about eight months ago to fulfill her true desires. “It gave me an opportunity to explore how I can have an impact - not only career-wise but personally. I have been doing some soul searching in finding my purpose,” Chinyere explains.

Her childhood interests of education, storytelling and drawing pictures have come into play today. Chinyere is satisfying those deep-seeded passions and has found that sought-after balance.

“Growing up in Nigeria, my grandfather mostly spoke our native tongue, Igbo. It is also the cultural group I am from. He would gather us and tell us tall tales and fables. For children, storytelling is how they explore their imagination. I have always been fascinated and one of the reasons I went into journalism was to help tell stories in different ways,” Chinyere insists.

"Where I am at right now, I wanted to figure out a way to do that and have a balance in my family and my work. I want to be there with my children. I am really excited about what I am working on right now,” she says.

WTCI lists a number of summer camps and is working with schools who are interested in the Kid Book Kamp Program for after-school sessions. Some of these schools are Montessori, St Nicholas, Bright, and public schools such as Orchard Knob. Classes are offered at community centers, YMCAs, after school programs, day care centers, private and public schools, preschools and a host of other locations in the community.

“They are really excited about the program and figuring out a way to make this possible for all children,” Chinyere says.

The program is set up for those who are able to afford having a one-on-one session for this camp, but it is also built for groups of children and for the children who have learning disabilities and need that one-on-one attention; for them the program is available in a different format.

“It is so exciting because of the fact that it allows children to be young authors. Kids’ imaginations are amazing. It is giving them a way to explore their creativity on paper and to have a finished product that is shelve-able. They can actually sell or share it with family and friends and then take it a step further and have their own book business,” Chinyere expresses.

As E-books have made their way into the homes of children, Chinyere has researched the importance of children ‘creating by hand’  as well as what technology brings them in way of possibilities.

“People will say, ‘Oh, just do an iPad. I think it is great that kids are so into technology and I think they should know how to do it, but let’s not lose the fundamentals of taking something in your hand and being able to create. There are so many studies done where there is a connection that your brain makes when you actually hold something in your hands,” Chinyere maintains.

“It gives children an opportunity to unleash their imagination in a very creative way, using fundamental tools. When you look at the studies that show how the brain works in terms of learning better, a synaptic thing happens with the brain when you are holding a pen or pencil and using fluid motion to get something on paper. Technology has its place, but we need to figure out a way to maintain the fundamentals as well and not lose that,” she says.

Children will have simple Crayola markers and be able to illustrate those images for their book. They will be able to write it within one week and, after they finish their story, they will get their book in the mail within two weeks. 

“I am working on books with my kids right now. My mom always told me, find something you enjoy that you would be willing to do for free. Working to where I would give 250 percent, I just missed out on some of my kids’ life. I give everything I have because I believe in it - and I believe in the ability for children to be young authors and what it is able to do for them,” Chinyere says.

“I have written my first children’s book through this process, I want to write a memoir about coming to America and explore what that means to me for an African American, and what it  will mean for my kids as a first generation here in America - their lives are completely different. We are planning on taking them to Nigeria and they are asking all kinds of questions.  There are parts of that country that are progressive and other parts where time has just stood still; it will be interesting to see how they relate to all that,” Chinyere says.

“One of the things people ask is if I have ever been on a safari. I have never been on a safari - Nigeria is more industrial. I had never seen a lion until I came to America, but I did see snakes,” Chinyere laughs. “I was a seven-year-old living in our house in the city and there was a colorful snake hanging over the door - I was traumatized! But I have learned ways to conquer that fear,” Chinyere asserts.

“The book I wrote is about a snake that is afraid of a little girl and how the snake conquered its fear. I am working with an author, the founder of Kid Book Kamp, Laurel Donnellan. She wanted to help her nephews become authors so she worked with them on their book and getting it set up to sell. She thought, ‘I know a lot of parents who would love this idea’ so she created a process for doing that,” Chinyere says.

Another passion for Chinyere is the outdoors. “I am an outdoor enthusiast- Chattanooga is the place to do it – it is just breathtaking!’ she says.

“I have hooked up with the Meetup groups, Chattanooga Hiking as well as TNWILD and had a great time on hikes. I am also into yoga. I believe in movement. I am an Earth Day child – don’t know if that has anything to do with it, but I was born on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. I feel connected with nature and I am most at peace when I am outside. Being outdoors has done a lot in the planning skills for kids also. I want to work and help out an organization that organizes hikes for children,” Chinyere says. 

Sharing the importance of movement with children has brought things full circle for Chinyere. To be outdoors in the beautiful surroundings of Chattanooga and to educate children, sharing reading and drawing and creating has brought purpose to her life.

“For a child to see their imagination come to life in a book is a thing of pride. And to be able to read from their book to their parents and friends and say, ‘I wrote this’ or to give it as a gift – it is just priceless,” Chinyere says.

To learn more about Kid Book Kamp programs in Chattanooga, or discuss how to bring Kid Book Kamp to your school or organization, please contact Director Chinyere Ubamadu by email: kidbookkampchattanooga@gmail.com

jen@jenjeffrey.com

 


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