Okonwo (pictured in green at right)
Claudia Okonkwo, ChBE PhD 2020, is featured in a Boston Herald article highlighting her efforts as an ambassador of Umu Igo Unite (UIU), a U.S.-based non-profit organization that promotes cultural preservation, professional development, and civic engagement among the Igbo people of Nigeria.
Born and raised in Nigeria, Okonkwo led UIU's community development efforts in Anambra State, Nigeria.
“In Nigeria, there is a shortage of clean water, and a lot of underserved communities in Igboland are not provided with this fundamental necessity,” says Okonkwo, who served as the 2018 president of UIU's Atlanta chapter. “We raised $18,000 to build three boreholes (water wells), so families don’t have to walk miles to fetch water. We also will continue our yearly donations to orphanages in Igboland and provide food, medical supplies, and household supplies each year.”
The Boston Herald article describes the work of Okonkwo and other ambassadors with the region's underprivileged youth who spend much of their time on the roadside selling bags of water and snacks to help provide for their families. Harsh conditions have led many people to leave the country, contributing to Nigeria's "brain drain," according to experts quoted in the article.
Nigeria is the largest source of African immigration in the United States, notes the Boston Herald, which says "the Nigerian diaspora ranks among the most educated ethnic groups in the country, employed at higher rates than the general U.S. labor force in specialized fields facing unprecedented levels of demand — including health care, engineering, science and finance."
Okonkwo says she hopes UIU will inspire others among the African diaspora to invest in in the continent.
“The most important message that I want to tell people in the diaspora is to get out of your comfort zone," she says. "We cannot afford to take our talents for granted.”
Okonkwo, who earned her bachelor's degree at Northeastern University, joined Georgia Tech ChBE's PhD program in 2015, and she is advised by Professor Chris Jones.