Chimamanda – The Academician and Entrepreneur

Aug 10, 2019

Esther Chimamanda Francis with Fides reporter Mercy Hill

By Mercy Hill

In this inspirational interview with an enterprising young lady, Chimamanda, she x-rays her life struggles, failures and victories thereafter. She goes on to advice the youths, especially young ladies, to use their God-given talents to rule their world.

Introduce yourself please?

I am Esther Chimamanda Francis, from Imo state, Nigeria, single but about to be married, a graduate of Medical Lab Science, Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka and an intern with the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba.

Can you tell us about your background?

I am from an extended family. My Dad had two wives, my mum inclusive. We are twelve children in the family and we were extremely poor. Life was not too friendly to us while growing up. My Dad was a hunter and a farmer back then in Kogi state. We struggled through life. As children of farmers, we were also farmers.

For education, we were just opportune to attend a very poor primary school back then in Kogi state, and after primary school, we managed to attend another roadside Secondary School. So, if my siblings and I see children then in good schools, we only dreamed to be like them, to live in houses with fancible doors that give these nice sounds when opened, owing to the fact that our house was just a thatched two room apartment, containing twelve children. It was that bad that when we saw rice and stew on Sundays as lunch, we felt like a feast was being celebrated. Most times we hardly ate food during the Christmas celebration. But thanks to my mum who was so hardworking and enterprising. She ventured into everything that could put food on our table. She was into farming, sales of firewood, anything you can think of. For my Dad, he was a driver, hunter and farmer. Most times, he wouldn't come home for weeks just to cater for us.

It got to a point my mother's farm work yielded fruit, that she made a lot of money from the harvest, so my family invested in  bakery business with two other partners. Amongst the three partners, my Dad was the lowest ranked and then we were maltreated so much because all my father's children worked in the bakery. The maltreatment was so intense that my mum asked for the venture to be sold and the money shared between the three partners. The other partners hesitated, so we had to leave with nothing.

However, we devised an alternative means to survive. We saw another mismanaged and abandoned bakery and my parents began to work there with my elder brother who is late now, (each time I remember him, I weep because he never reaped the fruits of what he laboured for). We all started working in that bakery. Life was just not fair on us, we toiled day in and out. Some of us were not even in school.

As time passed, we continued working hard as staff members. Gradually, we became owners of the bakery. And then we started making huge sales. You can imagine people coming from all parts of Kogi state, even Lokoja to buy bread. Sometimes people sleep all night to get their ticket bookings for bread. Thereafter, we changed the name of the Bakery to Winners Bakery. If you go to Kogi state presently, and mention Winners bread, anybody will take you there. Its that popular. Life gradually became fair, we had to employ new staff and then, we the children, gained some relief and started going to school.

For me, I first gained admission to the Federal Polytechnic, Idah, Kogi State, then we had started seeing some light,due to financial upgrading with the bakery business. I was able to finish my National Diploma and then returned home. Even with the Bakery, I knew I had my individual hustles to do to augment my family business, because we all couldn't have depended on the bakery alone. So, I began selling cold drinks with the refrigerator at home. I sometimes hawked them at the market. Fortunately, I was making good money from that. Most people who saw me then, wondered what a National Diploma holder was doing selling, I mean hawking cold drinks. One of my Lecturers who saw me one day stopped to ask me questions and he was astonished at my eagerness and enthusiasm to help the family and further my education with it. He encouraged me and bought all my drinks that day, I was so happy.

Sometime later, I applied for Direct Entry to UNIZIK. I had to work very hard studying so as to come out well academically, knowing my background. Also I ventured into many businesses while in school. My Mum was so enterprising and she was able to help my Dad and the family, so I picked that enterprising zest from her. In UNIZIK, most people were from well to do homes and their parents did all for them, but me, I had to work, so our expenses did not bring down the family business.

While in school, people wondered how I was able to combine my studies with the businesses I was doing, because I sold soft drinks even without my own refrigerator. Gradually, I started selling female clothes. I started going to Aba, Onitsha, and sometimes Lagos to get baby clothes, female and men's clothes alike.

Okay in practical terms how were you able to manage business and academics?

You would ask me how I managed doing all these with my studies. I did my business during the day and in the night, I studed like my life depended on reading. Another thing was, after each semester I met the senior students who were serious, gather school materials from them, then study them before the new semester, prepare when others will be on holidays and make notes. Then when its a new semester, I then combined my studies with business. It was not that easy as it is said, but then I managed and I was able to finish with good grades and graduated with my mates.Try to pick out the time you study more and how to manage your time, because you can achieve a lot with proper time management.

How would you preview your life adventures?

Hmmmm,I feel I am an individual who is favoured, coming from a very lowly background, worked my way through life, even with the hardship and still able to combine business with the hectic school work. It makes me feel God was involved in my case. Even doing my business, I realised that at a certain point in my life, places that people fail, I thread there. Someone maybe strict and so uptight but immediately I take my wares to them smilingly, they bulge. So, I feel my life is that of determination, hardwork and God's involvement.

How do you perceive success? And how can you rate yourself?

To me, success is achieving your purpose through determination, perseverance and hardwork. I feel I am successful because most of the things I wanted to achieve I am doing that. I had wanted to study Pharmacy, but you know how the system works. You apply for a course, and they give you something else. But even upon graduation, I am still going back to study pharmacy and my husband to be is in full support because he knows my love for education.

I was able to get my siblings out of the streets of Kogi. In school, my business had a boom, so I was able to ensure their enrollment into the university. Three of my siblings are presently in school and one will be graduating soon. Over there, youths just loaf around, some of them have no vision, they only involve themselves in cultism and other negativities.

What is your greatest achievement in life?

Seeing my siblings become graduates and being able to finish school not withstanding our low background.

What about your failures?

I had so many failures, and one of the things that caused most of them was that I trusted the wrong people and I encountered a lot of challenges that if given the opportunity I would want to change that. People took advantage of my being kind and some took away my hard earned money.

What were your dreams like while and after the University?

I had this dream of using my academic exposures to run a business. So, after going back for my second degree, I will set up a business for medical equipment and drugs. Though I am an intern, but I still run big time business. Even people around me sometimes wonder how I do it and I am making it. I will ensure I get contacts of people who could help me with this business. Like I told you, my mum is very enterprising, presently, she gets two truckloads of flour from Golden Penny Ltd and some other companies. So, I would create such kind of links and grow my business.

Any Mentors?

Oh my God, I do have ooo…Fr. Martin Anusi and Fr Chetanna Chukwuneke have been my rock. They encouraged me throughout my school years, even until now. The places I never got it right, they helped to put me right. When I felt like giving up, their words of encouragement kept me going.

Have you been able to impact on anybody?

I have, but my mum, my siblings and friends around.

Between academics and trading which do you prefer more?

I prefer academics more, that was the reason I was able to scale through. People in school were calling me book worm, because I never for any reason gave up on my studies. Though business is moving, but my academics is first. I may be a business tycoon, but I don't joke with my academics.

Looking at your life endeavours, one would be forced to ask how you were able to manage people?

Personally, I don't belittle anybody. I try my best to fit into any environment not minding who is there. I also make friends with the disabled and the downtrodden and I get to receive much prayers from them.

I am not too outgoing like most people may perceive, but I try my best to understand other people's plight and fit my self in their shoes, even in business, I try to blend with whoever I come across.

Your advice for young boys and girls like you?

Be focused and follow your dreams, if you do that, you will get there.

For the ladies, well, let me start with my school where ladies involve themselves with body business. But I think we don't have to do that to achieve great things. Girls have this convincing aura to do whatever positive thing they want to. For example, I used my smiles then to get into places others couldn't thread. For my body, I used it to advertise my wears and when people see them on me, they get attracted and want to buy the clothes.

Sometimes when I do a blend of my clothes with shoes, people book for more than five of same samples before I get home. So, it was my own way of using my body to market my products. Instead of selling it to men. I think ladies should use their own unique ways to use their bodies positively. And I can never remove the place of prayers, and total submission to God.

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