Ever since a United Nations Agency included Igbo Language as part of the endangered languages of the world, many Igbos are rallying together to stem a demise of Igbo Language and Culture. This week there is an international festival going on in Baltimore Maryland dedicated to one issue-The preservation of Igbo Language and Culture. Igbo language schools, programs or workshops are springing up in many places outside Igboland including Accra Ghana, South Africa, Finland, Ontario Canada, Saskatchewan Canada, Tokyo Japan, Asia, Australia, Baltimore Maryland, Detroit Michigan, Boston Massachusetts and many others. Here in this installment, ABW spoke to Mazi Ben Aduba, the Headmaster of Igbo Language School of New England. Enjoy this informative interview !
ABW: Mazi Aduba welcome to ABW VIP interview series. We are glad you have taken out some time to talk to ABW about your Igbo School program in Boston
Aduba Thank you very, very much for inviting me. I am glad to do it.
ABW: Please can you tell us what type of Igbo School program you have in Boston?
Aduba: Our school goes by the name of Igbo Language School of New England because it is owned and operated by Igbo Organization of New England (IONE). Even though the name implies Igbo language, we are trying to teach the language in context of Igbo culture because a language is an embodiment of the believes and lives of a people. We teach Igbo history, culture, religious beliefs, ceremonies, etc.
ABW: What is your position in your School?
Aduba: My official title is Headmaster. As the name implies my most important role has to do with the master (teaching) aspects of the school. Running a school involves a lot more than teaching. You need students, infrastructure (building, classrooms), you need parents and teachers, money and a thousand different things. That heavy lifting is done by Dr. Ejike Eze who is the president of IONE and his executive committee. I am lucky that Dr. Eze is uniquely qualified for this work and is the brain behind the idea. He holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Igbo Language from the University of Lagos (UNILAG), a master’s degree in Linguistics from University of Cambridge (England) and a PhD in Linguistics from University of Ottawa Canada. His commitment to Igbo language and culture is beyond belief. Besides the president I have a very capable assistant headmaster by the name of Chinwe Kate Okoye. Mrs. Okoye is a professional teacher and has taught in Boston area schools for close to 30 years. She knows the ins and outs of public education. When you combine my over three decades of teaching with another three decades from my assistant headmaster and Eze’s intellectual power, you get the necessary ingredients for a well-run school. They make the job of headmaster a walk in the park.
ABW: How long has your school been operating in Boston?
Aduba: We have been in existence for three years during which we have grown every semester. About 100 students have passed through our school. We are developing a core set of students whose mastery of Igbo language is something to be proud of.
ABW: What are the goals and objectives of your Igbo School?
Aduba: Our most fundamental objective is to help raise well-rounded Igbo children who understand and propagate their language and culture. We want them to be able to understand what being Igbo is all about. This understanding would be demonstrated by the ability to speak the language; to understand our culture; to participate in various initiations such as iba mmonwu for the boys, which signify adulthood, and comparable rites of passage for girls; to teach them the long meritorious history of the Igbo and if possible make them proud of their heritage. Our other objectives include preparing them to be contributors to the Igbo community and the broader communities they live in.
ABW: Who are your typical students?
Aduba: We really have no typical student as we are open to admitting anybody interested in learning about the Igbo. But most of our students were born in USA by Igbo parents, some of the parents are both Igbo and some are products of mixed parenthood Igbo/British, Igbo/American, etc. They would be anywhere from K-12. We have four main classes: Junior, middle, senior and advanced. In the advance class the goal is to do all the teaching in Igbo, or at least 90% of the time. This class uses all the modern gadgets in education and meets both formerly on Saturdays like the rest of the school and over the internet over the week. They are usually the sons and daughters of parents who are very much vested in Igbo culture.
ABW: How much progress have your school made teaching your students Igbo language and culture?
Aduba: We have made tremendous progress such as creating awareness in the community so that almost all Igbo parents in Boston area now understand the need to teach their children Igbo language. We have taken them to the Igbo Festivals of Arts and Culture events in Frontier Museum called Igbo Village; they are a fixture in Igbo Day celebrations in Boston where they entertain guests with Igbo dances; They are learning to make various Igbo dishes from scratch such as egwusi soup and garri; and of course the academics. Many can count up to a billion, and can engage in simple conversations in Igbo
ABW: Last year your students came to the Igbo Village in Virginia during the Igbo World festival which I served as the Chairman of the Planning Committee. It was great seeing that number of young Diaspora Igbo children excited about learning Igbo Language and culture. You and your teachers deserve recognition for such work. How hard is it to educate and teach students Igbo language in America?
Aduba: It was a great opportunity for all of us teachers and students and parents. They were delighted to see a real Igbo village which some who have been in Nigeria did not even see. It was good to meet the nze’s and ozor’s from different parts of Igbo. We intend to make more such trips in the future. The planning and the execution of mass movement of children is difficult and expensive hence we could not make it this year but will do so next time. How hard is it to teach Igbo Language in America? Very hard because of some prevailing conditions: (a) We do not have Igbo sections of the city as the Chinese and Hispanics have where most of the other kids live which helps the Chinese and the Hispanics learn their languages more easily.
(b) Until recently we did not have senior citizens in our community. It was usually the stressed out parents and children that live in the household and since it is easier to speak to the children in English which the children already understand the language at home becomes English. (c) The Igbo habit of being more Catholic than the Pope plays a role. Getting the Igbo to speak Igbo has been a challenge and when parent cannot speak the language, the teacher’s once a week effort does not produce expected results. (d) We lack resources. My teachers are not paid; they buy basic school materials from their pockets and until recently would even provide lunch. These are just a few of the challenges.
ABW Recently many Igbos are rallying round trying to stem the demise of Igbo language and culture. We heard that even in Nigeria Igbo parents discourage their children from learning and speaking Igbo while at the same time encouraging them to speak English language What a shameful and ignorant thing for an Igbo parent to do. What do you think about such poor parenting?
Aduba: It is awful but that is beginning to change
ABW: ABW has joined hands with ICOTTH USA to launch a global Igbo Language Preservation Initiative. The first gathering for this purpose, the first of its kind anywhere is taking place at Coppin State University in Baltimore Maryland from August 5-7th, 2016. What are your thoughts about this new festival?
Aduba: It is awesome. And we will like to be part of it. It is unfortunate that it has come so suddenly to us that we are unable to be part of the gathering this year. But will join in the next gathering if we have sufficient notice. Summer events require long planning span as camps, parent’s vacations, and money are all involved. And of course teachers’ time is not unlimited. Such a cooperative effort would be required to ensure the quality of instruction and instructors; to share books and curriculum; to make mobility easier for students who may have to move from one area to another in this transient era.
ABW: in one of my previous conversation with you, you indicated interest in presenting a paper on ways to stop the demise of Igbo language and Culture. Would you complete your paper in time for this event?
Aduba: No. But would next time around.
ABW likes to thank you and your teachers for the work you are doing to educate Igbo Children about their language and Culture. We also thank you for giving us this exclusive interview. More grease to your elbow
Aduba: You are welcome. It has been a pleasure
ABW: Thanks and may God continue to reward you and your Igbo School Children. “Igbo ga adi, asusu Igbo amaka”
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