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Blessed Onaiwu gives Nigerian elementary students the gift of music

Blessed Onaiwu gives Nigerian elementary students the gift of music

Blessed Onaiwu gives Nigerian elementary students the gift of music
October 15
02:47 2015

Matt Payne | Senior Staff Writer

@MattePaper

Blessed Onaiwu, a TWU graduate student of music education, recalled her students’ smiling faces as they whistled through a recorder for the first time in a dilapidated Nigerian elementary school.

A year ago, Onaiwu discovered Owina Primary School while visiting her childhood home alongside her parents. Her encounter with the students there would inspire Operation Owina, a charity project created with the goal of collecting enough school supplies for all 400 students at Owina Primary School. The project would also introduce music education to Nigerian elementary students for the first time.

“When I opened that box of recorders, the children didn’t really know what to expect,” Onaiwu said. “For a school that’s literally falling down and money is a serious issue, it was like Christmas for them.”

Onaiwu has lived in North Texas since she was 9, after emigrating to the U.S. for her father’s career as a pastor. Despite aspiring to become a defense lawyer and eventually a judge, a single collegiate tour of TWU’s music department would pique what she called a “mild” interest in music and ultimately change her direction toward becoming an educator in music.

“I just love how music feels here. I’ve never wanted to go to any other school, and I don’t know why,” Onaiwu said. “I didn’t think it would be like this. I had my entire life planned out.”

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Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

After completing her undergraduate degree for liberal arts, Onaiwu immediately began work for her Master’s degree for music education. In August 2014 Onaiwu visited Nigeria with her parents and informed the coordinator of music education, Vicki Baker, of her impending absence from classes during that time.

As a supplementary project for her absence, Baker tasked Onaiwu with researching how music was studied in the local schools and how it was regarded in the culture.

“Never has a graduate studies project expanded to this level,” Baker said. “[Operation Owina] has caught even the attention of surrounding countries.”

School board members from Benin and Zimbabwe have reached out to Onaiwu with interests in kick-starting an international organization. Once her goal with Owina Primary School is met, she plans to establish a foundation that will aid several African elementary schools.

“I tear up every time I think about how this project has grown,” Baker said. “How the students call her ‘Auntie Blessed,’ and just looking at all the supplies we’ve begun to gather.”

Back home, Operation Owina has caught the attention of several organizations within TWU’s College of Music, and at the forefront of these organizations is the Student Association for Music Therapy. The organization has held bi-weekly workshops every Thursday since September, crafting homemade “egg-shakers.” They plan to donate at least 400 shakers to the students at Owina Primary School.

Student leader Jamela Brown said the workshops attract at least 30 people a week from several majors at TWU, and the group is only one quarter from reaching their goal.

Upon listening to a presentation Onaiwu made for Operation Owina, the Student Association for Music Therapy was inspired to work toward a goal that shared the same mantra of how impactful the art of music is.

“Being music therapists, we know how critically important music is to everybody,” Brown said. “Even the deaf can make music by sensing vibrations. It’s a potent form of expression, and we love the gift that Blessed has given the students at [Owina Primary School].”

Onaiwu spent weeks with the students at the school. When she left, she was met with cries of disappointment lamenting the departure of their “Auntie Blessed.”

Onaiwu asked the students what the best possible gift she could give them upon her return was. The students were excited by the prospect of new pencils, journals and backpacks.

She was shocked by such a simple request for items essential to any student.

“These kids have to make do with those miniature golf pencils,” Onajwu said. “They had the same excitement my kids get from the latest PlayStation or iPhone.”

As supply demands have increased, Operation Owina has hit the ground running, Onaiwu believes. But her love for music has bolstered her dedication to the project and the children.

“Considering how music has affected me, I was obviously shocked to learn that the students were never formally introduced to musical fundamentals,” Onaiwu said. “They had no way to express the creativity they already have.”

She recalled hearing the students whistle the song “Hot Cross Buns” through their homemade recorders. Onaiwu discovered some of the students went off on their own, gathered pumpkin sticks and punctured holes in them to create makeshift instruments.

“They were so delighted to discover the sound that came from poking three holes through the sticks,” Onaiwu said. “I want to be able to give them that gift and see those big, bright smiles. I want to see what they do with it.”

Featured Image: Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

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