Nigerian-born grad has big plans

Most U.S. law school grads go to work for law firms. Some look to land at public defenders' and prosecutors' offices. Still others shoot for coveted clerkships. 

That's all important work, yes. But Nigerian-born Chidimma Nwaneri, who's about to graduate from the University of Tennesse College of Law, has other career goals.

She's planning to return home and start a non-profit that will subsidize girls’ tuition costs. That's her short-term goal, mind you. Longer term, she hopes to start a bording school. 

She knows how fortunate she is when it comes to her education and wants to help other young girls. 

Even though Nigerian law dictates that education is free and mandatory for all Nigerian boys and girls between the ages of six and 15, Nigerian Secretary of Education Adamu Hussaini estimated in 2017 that 10.5 million children in the country were either not enrolled or not regularly attending schoo, according to a story from the school's new service. 

“Illiteracy levels are extremely high and higher for girls because if your parents don’t have enough money they will train the boys, but not the girls,”  Nwaneri told the news site. “I want to ensure that more girls get educated. I just want more girls to have better futures.”

One of the reasons she excelled is because  grandparents were committed to educating their children, she said. Her parents followed suit. 

“That’s how my mom was able to go to university to law school and become an attorney,” Nwaneri said. “My dad was a politician, and so he also knew how important education is. They always instilled that into all of us that we would get our college degree in the U.S. and get a graduate degree.”

Nwaneri and her siblings have taken seriously the opportunity they’ve been given to study in the United States. All four of them left Nigeria after graduating from high school. Her two brothers have pursued undergraduate and medical degrees, while her sister is working to obtain an MBA. Nwaneri graduated cum laude from Tennessee State University in 2014 with a degree in political science.

Her mother has been an inspiration. 

“My mom is sponsoring an orphan through high school and I thought – actually if you look at that it’s not that expensive,” she said.

Her experience in the College of Law’s Community Economic Development Clinic, in which she worked with a client who was starting a non-profit organization in Kenya, has given Nwaneri invaluable experience.

“I know how to start a non-profit now, and in general, I just want to help more girls get educated,” she said. “I want to follow in my mom’s footsteps and create a way for more people to provide sponsorships.”

Legal Clinic Professor Eric Amarante helped Nwaneri develop and modify her ideas for creating a non-profit, the school news service noted. 

“I have little doubt that she will open a school for girls,” Amarante said. “She has realistic goals that are modest and attainable. She certainly has the personality and the dedication to get it done. I think her chances of success are very good.”

But Nwaneri knows her road will not be easy. 

“People will raise obstacles, they’ll say ‘who does she think she is coming from a family like her own and coming to tell us how to take care of kids.’ I will face fathers who will say ‘No, you’re not going to send my kid to school,’” she said. “But that’s not going to deter me.”

“I’m still going to do it.”

 
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