By Elsie Obadiaru
“Creativity Rocks” ~ Noni Okocha
Nonye “Noni” Ezinwa Okocha is a multi-dimensional personality, the founder and CEO of Yes Creativity Development Ltd. and to her credit, has many accomplishments in her repertoire; certified pastry chef, craft practitioner, food stylist, photographer, fashion designer and humanitarian.
This month of September she is the “FGGC Onitsha Face for Fostering Unity”.
She grew up in Enugu State, Nigeria and attended FGGC Onitsha from 1984, graduating in 1990. At a very early age, she suffered the tragic loss of her father. Her mother, now assuming the role of both father and mother, was single minded in her determination for her four children to excel in all endeavors. If you grew up in Nigeria in the 1980s and 1990s you’d understand that certain professions were highly coveted because of the prestige and the potential financial success that came with it. So on her mother’s urging, Noni initially pursued a degree in Law at the University of Jos for 3 years but later transferred to Enugu State University of Technology where she graduated with a degree in Banking and Finance.
After Noni graduated, she quickly came to the realization that a corporate job was definitely not her calling. Her desire was to explore her creativity, step out of the “box” and separate herself from the typecast of what we as Nigerians have predetermined to be the standard for a “successful and rewarding profession”. She unwittingly became a part of the paradigm shift that would soon celebrate the successful recognition of the Arts in Nigeria.
1998 would see her get married in Enugu, start a family and shortly after, in 2002, she migrated to England with her family. She took to fashion design and approached it with an enviable gusto and within a few months had set up her own clothing label in Hong Kong. Eventually the rigorous travelling schedule would have her choose between continuing with her passion and raising a family, and of course her family came first.
Her new role as stay-at-home mom gave her plenty to do but to fill in any little pockets of time she attended certification courses in various disciplines to expand her creative skill set. These courses covered the whole gamut of the creative arts and Noni learnt how to make skincare products, jewelry, lampshades and candles, and also how to sew and bake. As her kids got older and became less dependent on her she took her acquired skills and returned to the work force.
Initially when she began to amass these skills, it was primarily for personal growth and career advancement but in time it became more apparent that by sharing her knowledge she could sow a seed of change and progress and then watch it grow to empower others. She is a strong believer that if you teach a life changing skill to just one person and that person pays it forward and teaches another person, you would have succeeded in initiating an empowerment ripple effect capable of affecting not just a group of people but ultimately a nation. And this is the backdrop of her empowerment journey called “Empower a Nation”.
For Noni it wasn’t just about how she could give back, it was also about whom to give back to. In 2013 she decided to explore an idea, that was to hold a mini art workshop for young kids, our future generations, and teach them how to make age appropriate crafts in a fun environment. In what was to be part launch and part “let’s see how this will turn out” she enlisted friends and family and hosted the first of (her now famous) Noni’s Tea Parties. It was such a resounding success that Noni on finding her niche went on to host several more of these workshops in England.
Noni’s drive to touch more lives and reach out to a different audience would eventually bring her “home”. In 2014 she went on a self-funded solo trip to Nigeria with the goal to hold multiple art workshops in her home town of Awkuzu in Anambra State and Alma mater, FGGC Onitsha. In Awkuzu, during a 3-day workshop, she reached out and taught “the women”, these were young girls and widows, people who by default, society has limited their chances to progress(succeed) in a worthwhile trade.
In FGGC Onitsha, to a burgeoning and deeply enthralled crowd she spent the day teaching the girls transferable craft skills. She taught them how to make candles, lip balm, jewellery, different types of jams and to bake cookies. This workshop lasted 9 hours and for the entire day Noni had full attendance by both students AND teachers. The school principal was undeniably excited as this was a first of its kind and made a special request to Noni to return as a motivational speaker.
What began as a simple giving-back session evolved into a whole lot more. As a returning alumna she was given the tour of the school grounds and what stood out to her the most, was the deplorable cooking conditions in the school kitchen and the substandard meals served to the students. As a trained chef this was just unacceptable and she took this on as a special project and has launched The School Food Plan in FGGC Onitsha and a growing list of other secondary schools in Nigeria. The goal of the plan is to embark on improving the school menu to offer more nutritious meal options and also introduce the use of safe kitchen appliances thereby implementing safer cooking conditions for the cooks.
Another key Nigerian-based project Noni is working on, is promoting handmade arts and crafts and she is aligning with several state governments to host multiple crafts shows at the secondary school level. Noni recognizes that Nigerian handmade crafts is a dying art and is in the forefront to showcase its relevance through these craft shows.
In spite of all these achievements, Noni in her very humble way is not convinced she’s where she wants to be and is singularly driven to achieve a whole lot more. She is married to a retired soccer player and is the mother to 2 girls (16 and 11 years old) and a 6 year old son.
Federal Government Girls College Onitsha, Alumnae Association, USA/Canada Chapter, Inc, is honored to be associated with this remarkable woman, a trend setter, a go-getter of great charity, who has inspired and encouraged the alumnae to give back to our school.