“I have always been able to navigate new terrains and push through hard situations and I find that I continue to call on the same skills."
Come spend a while in the company of Junnifa Uzodike, who is qualified in three levels of Montessori education, and who has developed her own beautiful school in Nigeria. Her energy and dedication to the Montessori philosophy and to the needs of children are certainly palpable in this, our latest interview.
Where in the world did you grow up, Junnifa?
I was born in Abuja, Nigeria which is in West Africa. It became the capital of the country when I was a child. I attended nursery, primary and secondary school in Abuja and left to attend college in the U.S. on my 17th birthday. When I was growing up, it was a new city with not a lot of people and a few developed areas. I enjoyed playing outside with our neighbors and visiting our community farm with my parents during the weekend.
Can you describe one of your most precious childhood memories?
Every Christmas my parents, three siblings and I piled into my Dad's car and drove for twelve hours to our hometown in Eastern Nigeria. My parents were both born in Imo State which is in Eastern Nigerian and my grandparents lived there. We would spend from three weeks to a month over the Christmas break with our cousins and friends, who we only got to see during this time. Our days were spent playing outside, fetching water in pots from nearby lakes or springs, attending traditional weddings, watching masquerade dances, visiting friends and family and eating! We were free to explore with very littlesupervision and no learning expectations. It was the best time.
The peak of this time came on the 31st of December. In the days leading up to the end of the year, we would save all our monetary gifts and ask our parents, favorite uncles and aunties to contribute to our fireworks stash. Everyone would try to get as much as they could. On the 31st, we would impatiently count down to the end of the day. right before midnight, we would gather as a family with our grandma, uncles, aunties and cousins and would sing praises and pray to God, giving thanks for seeing us through the year and letting us see a new year. At midnight, there would be loud shouts, thanks, hugs and celebration and then it was time! My siblings and I would take our stash and head out with our fireworks. It is hard to put the experience into words but I am smiling as I type this. Those were the best days
What do you remember about your earliest school days?
I remember my pink school uniform, swinging on the playground, singing "Now The Day Is Over" at the end of the day, on the gravel in front of my class. I don't remember much about being in the classroom or much else actually about school.
Did one person in particular inspire you during your childhood?
I'd say my Dad. He always spoke positively about my abilities and my future. He believed in my ability to do anything I put my mind to and always encouraged me to reach for the stars.
How does your childhood experience relate to the life you are currently living?
I was encouraged by my parents to be independent and responsible from a very young age. I helped around the house, went to the market by myself and cooked meals for our family from a very young age. I left Nigeria by myself at 17 and had to navigate a new environment and culture by myself and it was that preparation from my childhood that helped me. I have always been able to navigate new terrains and push through hard situations and I find that I continue to call on the same skills.
I also loved teaching as a child. Both of my parents and my maternal grandparents were teachers but I never thought I would become one. I organized a bible club for younger children in my neighborhood during my early teen years and also started a library but when it was time for college/university, I did not even consider education because teaching is not highly regarded. Life did bring me back to where I should be though and again, I am guiding children and building libraries.
Junnifa, please tell us a little more about what you do!
I own and guide children at Fruitful Orchard Montessori School in Abuja Nigeria. I currently guide the children's house but will be moving to the lowerelementary classroom come September. I am also the head of the school and curriculum director for the three levels. Our school is the first of its kind in Nigeria in many ways. We adhere as closely as possible to AMI standards and are blessed to be located in a beautiful area that allows us to incorporate the outdoors and nature to all that we do. We hike, garden, build, cook and just learn in a very rich and natural way. In addition to my work with the school, I enjoy supporting parents through workshops, speaking engagements, social media, e-courses and now, writing a book. I am AMI trained at three levels 0-3, 3-6 and almost done with 6-12 and so I feel uniquely equipped in a way and try to find as many ways as possible to share this gift that I have been given.