Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

STEM in Nigeria

STEM in Nigeria

Girls in Nigeria are building robots according to an article from CNN. They are part of interest in STEM in Nigeria.

“The girls’ efforts were part of the First Lego League competition which has seen 233,000 children across 80 countries enroll,” I read.

In defiance of Boko Haram’s strictures against girls’ education, a Nigerian woman engineer is advocating programs in STEM in Nigeria, starting with schools in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

She says she was inspired by programs she saw in India where she received her Master’s degree.

She is teaching girls and boys to code. But she’s keeping a ratio of 3 girls to 1 boy in the program to encourage more female participation in STEM in Nigeria.

The bombings and attacks by Boko Haram have caused parents to keep their children at home, she says.

“Despite these challenges, Uzochukwu has persevered. Last year, the charity moved into a dedicated center so kids would not have to come into their school after hours, alleviating security concerns,” the CNN writer Nosmot Gbadamosi said.

I’d like to know more about the founder of Odyssey Educational Foundation, Stella Uzochukwu, and her organization, and perhaps interview her. So I sent an email through the organization’s website. I hope for a reply soon.

Sad Time in California

We’re in Los Angeles following the death of Clem’s nephew Emeka 52 days ago. He was murdered in the apartment building where he lived.

The police have uncovered no motive for the killing. It seems senseless and so, so sad.

At the viewing yesterday we met dozens of people whose lives Emeka touched. Benjamin captured the emotions of many when he said, “Emeka was full of love. He spread love to everyone he knew and encouraged everyone to spread it further.”

I have photos to share with you, but the slow internet connection at our hotel is taking forever, and I need to send! So I’ll include photos for you next time! 

The funeral and burial are this afternoon, followed by a celebration of his life.

I can barely imagine how Emeka’s mother feels. Losing a child is so contrary to the natural order of life. He was very close to her; his passing leaves a huge hole in her life.

Happy Time Too

And in contrast, tomorrow my husband Clem and I will accompany another nephew to the ceremony called iku aka, or knocking on the door, at the home of his fiancée.

She is with her family in a town about 2 hours away. The nephew, Chidi, will be at the funeral today.

He told us what her family has required him to bring tomorrow – 2 bottles of gin, a dozen kola nuts, and 40,000 naira, more than $1,000.

The iku aka ceremony is a little like an engagement party. It’s an event between the two families to seal the agreement between them.

Long ago, the bride and groom might not have met until this day, as in Mama’s story, below. Now the couple have made their decision themselves but want to be respectful to tradition.

“If I came from Onitsha, like they do, I would have had to bring only 18,000 or 20,000 naira,” he told us on the phone, “but because I’m not, the bride price is more than double!”

More of Mama’s Story

In the last post I described the childhood of my husband Clem’s mother. Now I’m sharing part of the her story that is mostly about her marriage. And it reflects the same ceremony as we’ll do tomorrow!

Papa’s father and uncle decided to send a younger cousin as the first emissary to Agulu to explore the possibility of marrying the young woman they’d heard about.

His role was to see the family of the woman and make preliminary contact without revealing their interest.

He returned with news of the family of Okonkwo, a well-known farmer and trader who by Agulu standards had done well. His daughter had indeed become a Christian and had taken the name Grace. She was beautiful, of perfect marrying age, and available.

The same person was then given a specific role – to make the first approach to the girl’s family with a statement of interest.

Going alone would not be respectful to the family he was visiting. And it wouldn’t show sufficient commitment. So he took two other family members with him. They were welcomed, served kola nuts and palm wine, and given assurances that the interest could be pursued.

Her family then sent their own person to do a background check on the Onyemelukwe family in Nanka before proceeding.

When all had proved satisfactory to both sides, a visit for the intended groom was planned. This was the iku aka, or knocking on the door. Along with Papa were his father, uncle, and several other senior clan members with a few wives.

This time the young couple could actually meet. After presentation of gifts, sharing of kola nut, and preliminary speeches on the strengths of each family, the woman was called. She was given a glass of palm wine and asked to take it to any man she finds attractive.

She had been coached to go to the right person! She knelt in front of him, sipped the wine, and gave him the glass to finish.

After this, negotiations over bride price followed. Once these were satisfactory, the marriage date was set a few weeks hence.

For the marriage Papa was accompanied by even more men from his family and clan. The men wore their best wrappers, two yards of multi-colored cotton fabric folded over at the waist to hold it in place. This time many men took their wives. The women had wrappers, blouses, and head ties, each woman wearing a complete outfit of the same colorful fabric.

Everyone involved knew they were entering into a life-long relationship with another family and clan.

More to come!










Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. I loved reading about the Knocking at the Door tradiation. So interesting and well expressed. I especially liked knowing about Mama’s Story.
    I also now know where you are. You probably already know, you were approved at the Annual Meeting at the church, which finished about 1/2 an hour ago.

    • Thank you, Jane. I love writing about the traditions and about members of Clem’s family and village. Such fun! I did know I was elected, because I was given tasks. But you are actually the first to tell me ‘officially’ that I was approved for membership of the board at the Unitarian Church in Westport.

  2. Life is full of sadness and joy, but it’s not often that they happen in the same month – a funeral and an engagement. I offer our condolences to you and Clem and the family, and I celebrate the joy of a new union in the family. Also like the scrolling pictures on your site!

    • Thank you, Judy. I was glad we had the happy occasion on the heels of the sadness! And I’m glad you noticed the scrolling pictures; I was thrilled to get them there, though I really wanted a scrolling header. I hope that’s coming!