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Family trip inspires TWU graduate student to aid homeland

9/28/15

‘Operation Owina’ to benefit Nigerian school

Photo courtesy of Blessed Onaiwu

TWU graduate student Blessed Onaiwu teaches in a Nigerian classroom last summer.

The TWU music department will host ‘Music to Hear: Operation Owina Benefit Concert’ at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30 in the Margo Jones Performance Hall, located on Pioneer Circle on TWU’s Denton campus. Featured performers include the TWU Concert Choir and TWU Chamber Singers, with special guests, Denton High School’s Chorale, Chamber Singers and Encore. Donations of school supplies or a contribution to the Operation Owina fund will be collected in lieu of admission. For a list of needed supplies, visit www.facebook.com/operationowina

DENTON— A class project turned into a labor of love for Texas Woman’s University master’s student Blessed Onaiwu.

A trip last year to Nigeria, her family’s homeland, caused Onaiwu to miss the first day of her Psychology of Music class at TWU. Her professor, Vicki Baker, said she could make up the missed day by doing a photo and video presentation on the use of music in Nigerian society.

“Little did we realize it would lead to an international service project,” Baker added.

That project, Operation Owina, seeks donations for the school where Onaiwu taught for one week last summer. The experience — and the journey to get there — had a profound effect on the future educator and sparked the mission that will continue when she returns to the country in November.

Onaiwu was born in Nigeria, but moved with her family to the United States when she was 9 years old, eventually settling in Frisco. When her family visited Benin City, Nigeria, last year, her father showed her the house where he was born.

“There was a broken down school across the street,” Onaiwu said. “I was shocked to learn that children still go there.”

She also was surprised to learn that music was not taught in the school.

“They only have the core classes,” Onaiwu said. “There are no arts courses to help the students’ emotions come out.”

Onaiwu, who is working toward her master’s degree in teaching, with an emphasis in music, wanted to help the students. She and Baker sought permission for Onaiwu to teach music in the school, with the professor writing a letter of introduction and recommendation to the Nigerian Ministry of Basic Education.

That’s where their plan hit a roadblock.

“They wanted me to teach at a more affluent school, but Benin City is my community,” Onaiwu said.

After two weeks of dealing with governmental red tape, Onaiwu finally was approved to teach at Owina Primary School. However, her teaching time was reduced to seven days.

Preparing for the journey

Knowing that the school would have no books or instruments for teaching music, Baker helped Onaiwu contact music companies and ask for donations. She received musical instruments, books, CDs and lesson plans. Because the school has no electricity, they purchased a battery-powered CD player.

They also developed lesson plans, with easy songs and movements for the younger children and more challenging songs for the older ones. Knowing they wouldn’t have enough instruments for all the children, Onaiwu and Baker devised plans to have the students make their own instruments from the materials they could easily obtain. Baker said the students created some remarkable instruments, including flutes made out of the green shoot of a plant.

Culture shock

Onaiwu was surprised to see her classroom for the first time.

“The room was so dirty, I had to clean it out,” she said. “I had to get rid of the trash in the room. There was mold on the floor, so I got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed.”

There were no bathrooms, and with no electricity, the only light in the room came through the window and doorway. There also were no fans to cool the room from the summer heat.

Onaiwu was assigned to teach 50 students in the American equivalent of kindergarten through fifth grade. While the school serves approximately 370 students, Onaiwu said, not every child in the city attends classes.

“Some parents don’t want to send their children to the school because they don’t believe it will benefit them,” she said. “They believe the children may as well stay home and work.”

Learning music

The students who did attend Onaiwu’s class were enthusiastic, excited to learn to play instruments, sing songs like “Hokey Pokey” and “Looby Loo,” and dance the Nae Nae.

“I think it proves that music is the universal language,” Onaiwu said. “Many of the students already knew how to play music. They said they had always wanted to learn, so they taught themselves.”

Photos and videos of the music lessons can be seen on the Facebook page Onaiwu created for the project: www.facebook.com/operationowina

Operation Owina

Onaiwu will return to teach at the school in November and again is seeking donations — this time, however, she would like to take more than musical instruments.

“I asked the children, if they could have anything in the world, what would it be,” she said. “They asked for backpacks and school supplies.”

Onaiwu started Operation Owina to collect the needed supplies. A list of needed supplies is on the organization’s Facebook page.

She’s also collecting paper clips for the teachers.

“I was using a paper clip one day, and the teachers were amazed – they’d never seen one,” she said. “So I’m keeping all the paper clips, pens and pencils I find to take back with me.”

The TWU music department also is helping, with a school supply collection drive running through Nov. 1. A collection box is located in the Music Office, room 104 in the Music Building.

Music therapy students also are making musical instruments for every child in the school.

Onaiwu also wants to take cleaning supplies for the school, and something more for the children.

“A lot of them did not eat all day because they had no food,” she said, explaining that the students usually eat just one meal per day, in the evening. She would like to find a company that would provide snacks for the children.

More than a class project

After Onaiwu returned from teaching in Nigeria, Baker said she could tell that her student had been through a life-altering experience.

“Blessed’s belief in the power of music education to make a difference in the lives of children, regardless of their culture or socioeconomic status, was clearly exemplified by the energy and enthusiasm she devoted to the project.

“As a teacher, nothing is more inspiring to me than to see a student fully grasp the fulfillment and rewards that come from being an educator.”

With that in mind, there was only one grade Baker could give Onaiwu’s class project.

“She made an A,” Baker said.

 

Written by Karen Garcia
Senior Writer
TWU Office of Marketing and Communication
kgarcia@twu.edu

page updated 5/9/2016 4:57 PM