Chidinma Moses: A life of giving back
by Winluck Wong
This article is part of PRUDE Inc.’s “Living Library” project, featuring Saint John’s newcomers and the diverse stories they bring to the city. It is funded by Immigration New Brunswick.
Whether with family or community, Chidinma Moses learned the value of doing her part from her father. “He was a very selfless person,” she said. And he was the one who taught her to always “give back to [whomever] has given you water to drink.”
Raised in the Edo State of Nigeria, she is the sixth of seven children in the family. And every single one of them was expected to help out at their parents’ businesses: their mother with her catering business; their pharmacist father with his own drugstore.
Chidinma usually worked at her father’s drugstore because she was familiar with most of the prescriptions. “We act as a sales rep for him,” she said. “Meet up with customers…I’ve always loved interfacing with [customers] at that early stage of my life.”
When she wasn’t needed at the store, she would play with her siblings. “There are some games we played as children growing up that, now, when we look back, [it’s still] something we’re talking about,” she said. “Sitting among my siblings and we just start going back down memory lane…for me, I’m just blessed that I had such a childhood where we [could] play.”
They played everything from board games like Ludo or Snakes and Ladders to simply kicking a ball around or building something out of sand. It didn’t matter what they played; what mattered was they played together.
When she sees her children glued to their phones all the time, she tries to urge them to take up an activity together. “Those are the things that would bring the closeness with the siblings,” she said. “We have that bond amongst ourselves. That is important. That’s important.”
Her father had high hopes for Chidinma and her sister to follow in his footsteps in medicine. While her sister eventually did, she did not share the same passion.
For a while, she tried. Most of her course load, in the beginning, was heavily skewed towards the sciences. She even went as far as to enroll in an industrial chemistry program, which she felt obligated to continue as her parents had paid for the tuition. But she found herself drawn more and more towards
math – specifically, its applications in business and accounting. “If you tell me one plus one I might not know,” she said, laughing. “But if you say one dollar plus one dollar, I know it’s two dollars.”
She later realized that the reason she liked working at her father’s drugstore was that she enjoyed its business side rather than its pharmaceutical side. She knew the truth would have to come out at some point. She just couldn’t bring herself to confess to him because she felt it would break his heart. So, she kept trudging along the path he beckoned her to follow.
Then, a few weeks into her first semester of industrial chemistry, the teachers union at her university went on a strike that dragged on for an entire year. It was the pause she dearly needed to determine what it was she wanted to do.
And with that, she made up her mind.
When the strike was over, she secretly switched to an accounting program at a different university and used up her savings to pay the tuition herself. “I had to go,” she said. “I had to pay my way into starting for him to know I’m serious.”
Seeing that she had thought this through, her mother gave her immediate blessing. Her father didn’t give his approval per se, but he seemed to respect her decision enough to not say anything against it.
Before he could change his mind, she took off running towards a goal she knew in her heart of hearts was the right one.
It takes a village
Chidinma blazed through her diploma program and got a job with Guinness Nigeria. She planned to work there part-time while she studied in the accounting degree program. However, her father didn’t think it was a good idea. He felt she wouldn’t be able to focus on her studies once she started making money. This time, he seemed adamant in his stance. She gave in and quit her job to continue her studies full-time.
At first, she was less than thrilled with where she was posted. It was a small village with no electric lights. And she was supposed to teach high school there for a whole year.
But as she got to know the community better, she became emotionally invested in their day-to-day lives.
She helped connect a young boy with a welding apprenticeship so that he wouldn’t fall into a life of crime. He is now a professional welder who owns two gate-fabricating shops.
She will also never forget her neighbor who was pregnant with twins while raising a toddler. The young mother – already struggling to provide for her family – could not afford any prenatal vitamins. “At some point, she lost her babies,” Chidinma said. “It was so heartbreaking.”
She felt an intense desire to do something for the community so that this tragedy never has to happen again. Rallying the youth in the village around her, she created a charity group. With the money raised from the village, they bought a large supply of prenatal vitamins from nearby health centers as well as essential medicine in bulk from her father’s pharmacy at a subsidized rate for the whole community. It was so successful that she later expanded their mission to provide basic household supplies for everyone in the village.
Looking back, she was happy she got over her initial dislike of her posting. She finally understood the impact of giving back. “Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I was so grateful that I was part of that community.”
There was also a reason for her early interest in business and her accounting degree. It was inevitable that she would start her own business one day.
The ketogenic diet was just starting to be popular then and coconut oil is a key part of it. With coconut trees aplenty around her region and a general distrust of imported coconut oil, selling locally produced coconut oil was a clear business opportunity for her.
She built and ran the whole company herself. Every step from partnering with local suppliers to repackaging to store placements. Business went well for years.
At some point though, she realized she missed being surrounded by family. All six of her siblings had left the country and moved to the U.K. Her parents had separated a long time ago and her mother also went to the U.K. to join her kids.
And then she lost her father. “When my dad died, it was really a…huge [blow] for us,” she said. “So that craving to live among family, among ourselves, was high…that was how we decided to say everybody needs to be together.”
She resolved to wind down her business. Packing up her life, she left for the U.K. with her two kids and one more baby on the way.
Reunited at last
While Chidinma stayed with her family in the U.K., her husband continued working in Nigeria to support them. But when he had the opportunity to finish his Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), he asked her if she’d like to start life in a new country together.
Even though this would mean leaving her family in the U.K., she eventually said yes. “It was a huge step, but I just wanted my kids to be around their father, too,” she said. “To grow with both parents together and all of that to help their mental health as kids.”
On August 11th, 2022, they were reunited as one family again, ready to start life in Saint John together.
Not long after, she was discovered by PRUDE Inc. She felt that its Newcomer Women Leadership Program especially helped inspire her to be an entrepreneur again and to carry on her quest to pay it forward in her newly adopted community here.
“To be able to give back – for me, that’s life,” she said. “I learned that from my dad.”