I am Nwachukwu Judith Chiamaka, from Nkwelle Village in Anambra State, I was born and brought up in Jos, Plateau State where I had both primary and secondary education. I’m the fourth of five children.

I visited Nnewi for the first time in 2010, after Secondary School. I came to write my post UTME at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka and stayed with my sister who was then a 2nd year student of Medicine at the College of Health Sciences, Okofia campus.  Failing to secure admission that year, I came back the next year (March 2011) and stayed on with my sister even when she moved to Nnewi Town for her clinical years in Medicine. There I retook the JAMB and Post UTME and while waiting for the admission list was enrolled into a computer training Academy for three months. When admission into UNIZIK eluded me a second time, it was decided that I extend the computer programme to six months to pass time while I waited for the exams the following year. I got my Diploma in Desktop Publishing in early 2012 and took JAMB for the third time. During my stay in Okofia, I had identified with the members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of Nigeria on that campus. When we moved to the ‘town’ Campus I also identified with the group there. The fact that I had had to take JAMB a third time left me frustrated and in a dump. I was almost sinking into despair. I was looking for a place of solace, something to sooth my forlorn mind. I applied for and got a place to do my industrial training for three months but couldn’t complete it because I had to go for yet another Post UTME. I was sure I would secure admission that year.

In the later days of June 2012, my fellowship was invited to hold her meeting at a Youth Centre somewhere in the heart of Nnewi town. I went with them. I can’t possibly remember what I was thinking when I walked into the compound (it looked like a residential building). But I can assure you that when we left there my mind was in turmoil. What I had seen and what I had heard left me thinking it was all too good to be true. When the founder was introduced to us, it was astounding to find that he was so young, more so a priest! He made a presentation and talked about mentorship and partnership. He was reaching out to the members of the fellowship to share in his dream. The message struck a chord in my heart – I always had this dream of working with young people (in secondary school I looked for ways to interact with my juniors and help them out). I was also impressed with the concept and style of the presentation (I actually wondered who had prepared the PowerPoint presentation – it was way past impressive!). So here I was listening to this very young priest talking about working to build and develop young minds and thinking how inadequate I was. I couldn’t possibly help them out financially, with me being an IT student then and earning peanuts as allowance. And who would I be kidding if I signed up for mentorship? Would I be the mentor or the mentee? And so I went home happy to have discovered something like YouthAlive Development Initiative but with a heavy heart because I couldn’t possibly contribute.

During that fellowship we were told about the weekly seminars held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Abubor Nnewichi, but perhaps my fear of going out to meet new people prevented me from going. Finally, in the first week of August, I gathered up enough courage to attend the seminar. Oh what I had been missing! I saw young people having fun, unashamed of who they were and not afraid to show what they had. I really thank God I attended that seminar because on that day, it was announced that a training programme would commence at the YADI Hopeville, the very next week. It was called SD2; Skill Development/Self Development.  The next Monday, 13th August, I came to the office ready for the training – or so I thought. I had intended to just come, sit on my own and then find my way home each day after the programme, but was I in for a surprise.  Once I had filled out the necessary forms for the training I was asked to go and join the others outside. There I saw young people of all ages tossing a ball around. I hadn’t signed up for play! I came here to learn! What could I possibly learn from tossing a ball around and calling people’s names and playing like primary school kids except the fact that perhaps I was clumsy with a ball? It didn’t seem fair to poor introverted me. But soon those thoughts were pushed out of my mind by the effort to memorize the faces and names of people I had never met in my life in order for me to toss the ball to the right person. I actually had fun! I also realized it was a way for the participants to get to know each other. Soon we went into the seminar hall and the training proper started. For five days, we were exposed to self development lectures with topics ranging from leadership and communication styles to self discovery (through a short story) among many others. Interactive sessions and group activities also made up a big part of the programme for each day.

The second week was for skill development. Participants had been required to choose and sign up for whatever two skills they wanted to acquire; in areas like bead making, hair dressing, tailoring, computer appreciation, public speaking and writing. I signed up for the last two but after speaking with Ukamaka, a member of staff, she advised me to choose a practical skill, so I added bead making to my selection. And so we went through a week of training on bead making. Our tutors all through the three weeks were young people like me – and talented too. I was in awe of them. We were taught to make necklaces, bracelets, earrings and ornamental vases with beads. And lest I forget, I and my fellow participants learnt all these without paying a dime for the lessons. All we did was contribute money within the class to buy materials without which we couldn’t learn the skill. In the third week I was challenged by the public speaking class which our facilitator tagged “Fear 101.” After an interactive session, he strategically broke us  down into groups by selecting five people and asking the class to stand behind whoever’s group each individual wanted to be in. That way each person got to choose a group and accept the leadership of the group leader hence ensuring maximum participation and cooperation in each group. After the selection of the groups he gave us a project, to carry out a research and write a paper on fear, focusing on fear of speaking in public. When the paper was ready, he had every member of each group present a part of the paper. That meant I had to come out and present, which I did and really I felt good afterwards. The ground didn’t open up and swallow me. Nobody laughed at me, people actually paid attention while I spoke. It was an experience! But I must confess that the class I enjoyed most during the programme was the writing class. I love books and after reading so much in secondary school, I and my friends would joke that we were done reading other people’s books – it was time for us to start writing our own books for others to read. I think my interest in books stems from the fact that I have a mother who is a teacher. She exposed not just me, but my siblings to books very early in life. My mum made it a duty to borrow books from the school library for us, and I remember hoarding pages of Newspapers, even those I had read before – in case I had nothing else to read. So I also fancied myself to be a writer. I sent in articles for my school magazine and they were accepted. During that writing class I learnt the basic skills. I realized that a writer’s belief is almost always – if not always reflected in his writing. I got to know that for my work to have depth; my characters must have life, a background, a history, a story to tell. And that for my writing to actually make sense, I need to write about what I know. I won’t fail to mention the fact that our facilitator is a budding young writer – among many other things.

At SD2 I made the first friends that were within or close to my age in Nnewi.

During my initial introduction to YADI I got to know that they had published the maiden edition of their magazine: The Youth Advisor. I got a copy and read and I wasn’t disappointed. The quality (both in content and appearance) was outstanding. Towards the end of the SD2 we were informed that we could submit articles for the second edition. I penned down “My Experience at SD2” and submitted. It was accepted and featured in the second edition of the Youth Advisor Magazine. I was thrilled!

During and after that programme I couldn’t stop talking about YADI, Although people had a difficult time processing the fact that I actually attended a seminar and learnt a skill free of charge, they found it to be “too good to be true.”

My name failing yet again to appear on UNIZIK’s 2012 admission list put a damper on my mood. My mum suggested I go stay with an aunt at Amawbia, there she would help me get a teaching appointment to keep me busy even as I prepared for my fourth JAMB. I begged to refuse the suggestion and decided to return to Nnewi. There I would get a job as a school teacher (instead of computer operator)  because I felt it would give me the opportunity to make a little money and still give me time to prepare for my exams. Also I wouldn’t have to quit my fellowship and of course there was the fact that I could attend more YADI seminars. I toyed with the thought of asking the founder of YADI to help me secure a job, but I couldn’t muster enough courage.

On getting back to Nnewi, I began job hunting in earnest. It was frustrating and demoralizing. I would sit alone and think to myself, “Your mates are in school studying and you are here writing JAMB every year.” I finally got a job as a kindergarten teacher in a small school in my neighborhood. The pay wasn’t high but I figured it was because of my O’ level qualification. After a couple of days at that job I knew I couldn’t possibly hold down that job and hope to prepare adequately for that examination. By then I felt my situation had reached the last straw. If I didn’t gain admission after this examination, then my life would have to take another direction! So I quit the job.

But true to my plans, I attended the weekly seminar, joined YADI and became actively involved in the documentary group, YADOC (YADI has a number of sub groups  and members join based on their strengths, talents or area of interest). I participated in the Clean-Up March held towards the end of October 2012 at Awka, in Anambra state. The YADOC members assigned themselves the task of interacting with the participants at the march, to get a feel of the programme and feedback. It involved walking up to total strangers and asking them questions. I did it and I survived. Yay!!!

One Saturday, after the programme, Fr. Jude called me. He said he read my article in the magazine and that the project coordinator wanted to see me at the office. Would I make time out to go and see her? How could I refuse? Monday I went back to YADI Hopeville  and was directed to the office of the project coordinator, Miss Efemuaye Enaljite – the very same lady who taught us most of what we learnt during SD2 in week one and writing class facilitator. She asked me a series of questions and made me an offer I couldn’t possibly turn down. She wanted me to come and work with YADI, as an intern.  The job description was that I would go through series of training and also work in the capacity of her personal assistant. I wasn’t sure I could take on such job but talk about turning down the answer to your prayer! She said I should go home and get consent from my family.

I began my internship at YouthAlive Development initiative on the 4th day of November 2012. There a new phase in my life’s journey began.

During the first few weeks, I stayed cooped up in Miss Jite’s office (I couldn’t get over the fact that I was now working with those people I had looked upon with so much awe during the training. Add that to my nature as an introvert.) But with time I learnt to interact with other members of staff. I was given my first big responsibility during the YADI Christmas/End of Year Party. I was assigned to handle logistics with Miss Jite (most people call her “Aunty Jite” but I try to speak the Queen’s English and so refer to her as “Miss Jite” or “Miss J” for short and it‘s stuck with me). I was also required to handle the account for the party. I felt honoured and yet humbled by the show of trust and confidence in my ability. And so during the subsequent Valentine Party/Talent Exhibition the duty automatically came back to me.  When Fr. Jude’s books were published, the account was also placed in my care. It wasn’t an easy job.

My work as an intern wasn’t just about monetary responsibility (if there’s anything like that), I got to understudy the multi talented PC. Graphic design is her strong suit and I can honestly say that the graphics I learnt at computer academy is nothing compared to what I got here.  I had to see to it that a weekly bulletin printed for St. Camillus de Lellis Chaplaincy, Okofia was ready at the appropriate time. It was actually challenging!

Working at Hopeville gave me a lot of exposure, I had to learn to work under pressure, learnt to be nice to people, plan parties, organize seminars and apply myself to each task at hand. I had to brush up on my public speaking and presentation skills, because our programmes involve Reach-Out to schools, parishes and organizations. I think the pressure of people looking down on me because of my small size was even more motivation for me to work hard at my presentations and not cower before the crowd. I got to meet more people and make more friends.

Judith speaking at a school reach-out programme

Judith speaking at a school reach-out programme

YADI opened up my eyes to a world of ideas. I improved my writing skills and I’m still working on it. I actually won the Fidelity Bank Creative Writing contest in June 2013! I learnt to handle a professional still camera and think I am gradually becoming interested in photography.

I cannot honestly begin to list out all I have learnt. Every day I make new discoveries about myself and the find changes YADI has effected in my life.

The job kept me from falling into despair. The office understands the need for education. I was granted study leave, and I wrote my fourth and final Jamb in 2013. I am currently a first year Botany Student at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka (give the Lord a wiper!).

The people I worked with understand who I am (I won’t describe myself as playful,but I do love cartoons and children’s playbook characters, I like musicals and ‘weird’ songs).  YADI grounded in me the mentality of “You can do it, if you apply yourself !” and let me.  Through the constant support of the people around me, especially the lady I regard as my mentor “Miss J” and my good friend Ukamaka among other people I have come thus far.

I am a passionate Nigerian. Although happenings around get me down and mad, and I sometimes feel helpless, I remember that ‘I Can’ is part of our chant. The little I do might go a long way to change the lives of the people around me. That is the message of YADI; I believe that if young people can actually believe in what they can do for themselves, maybe, just maybe things might get better. I believe that I am a leader of tomorrow, I believe that tomorrow is here now, I believe I can make a difference, because YADI redefined my perspective, YADI taught me that I CAN.

Postscript: Judith is amazing. I think I learnt more from her than she did from me. We will miss her a lot.