ELSPETH BLANCHE DUNCAN
AS a child, Annetta Lucy Maynard delighted in sewing, spending time cutting fabric to make clothes for her dolls and, sometimes, herself. Her grandmother’s sewing machine was her trusted tool…until, when she was 11, “something fell off” and she was unable to use it again.
But when she was getting married her grandmother gave her the sewing machine as a gift and told her, “Get it fixed. It’s yours now.”
As a child, she lived up to the meaning of her birth names: Annetta, meaning “grace,” and Lucy, meaning “light.” “For most of my life I was a graceful light, being nice to everyone, helping them...but I was often taken advantage of. Despite this, I continued to show the ‘light’...even when various personal situations, marital and otherwise, made life increasingly challenging. When I felt that I couldn’t take any more, I knew something had to change.
That something was her name.
“I decided that my new first name must have something to do with God, prosperity and improvement. It would glorify God for keeping me alive.”
Having had a difficult marriage, she also chose to change her married name, Melville, and returned to her own family name, Maynard. When a female lawyer from Africa introduced her to the name Chidimma, meaning “My God is Great,” the resonance was life-changing.
To Chidimma, the name was like a key in a door to the universe, opening her up to a new life, new ways of thinking and fresh avenues of expression...as a seamstress, nurse and author, among other things.
Her first book was Let’s Talk About: Book 1, a text for pre-school children which explains in real terms what things are: let’s talk about a dog, a cat, a baby.
Her second book, I Can Do It. I Can Say My Alphabet Songs, teaches children sounds and letters, how to move on from identifying letters to reading words, and is also a teacher’s reference guide, with glossary. Both books are available on Amazon.
An educational innovator, Maynard has also developed unique maths charts and a catchy accompanying CD that helps young children learn to count.
These educational items received high praise from Dr Cheryl Bishop, head of curriculum at the Ministry of Education in Grenada, and were also commended by the Early Childhood Care and Education Committee of the Ministry of Education in TT. “School teacher becomes author” was a newspaper headline at the time.
Chidimma Maynard was on her way to becoming an educator of value for the youngsters – “2.5 to five years and up to 11” – and beyond, as her eldest student was a 70-year-old man whom she taught to read.
In 2006 Maynard left Trinidad for Tobago, to take care of a property her grandmother had left for her. This is where she now lives and works. Separating from her husband, she chose to remain in Tobago and build a new life there.
She supported herself and her children in various ways.
“I joined the MUST programme for six months, then worked at Le Gran (Courland hotel) front office, then Hilton as a waitress, then as a receptionist and cleaner at an office, as a nursing assistant…then as a teacher in two different preschools before forming a club for children after school. And between jobs I was a seamstress, sewing a lot, and also teaching garment construction.”
In 2011, she opened her own school, a home-based education centre named Grace High Associative Learning Preschool in Bon Accord. Pre-covid19, the school held an average of five to ten students at any one time. In addition to academics, children learned about “how everything works in life.”
“I love people and I love to teach,” Maynard says excitedly. “I will teach anybody anything I know, once they are willing to learn.
“I am a good student myself. I don’t see a time in my life when I will stop wanting to learn. I want to learn everything. I do so many things, some of which I taught myself.”
Drawing/painting, macramé, baking, soft furnishings and sewing are a few of the many talents that this mother of four boys and two girls brings to the table.
When covid19 came along, her preschool had to be closed, much to the disappointment of parents and students. The production of her books also ground to a halt, as income dwindled, sponsorship was not forthcoming and she had lost her savings to a scammer. Thankfully, with the help of one of her daughters, who is also working to pay for her own studies, Maynard has been able to make ends meet during these financially challenging times.
With the aim of bringing in more income, she makes masks and has decided to return to her former love, sewing. Her course, Sewing By Grace, caters to women, many of whom, impressed by the fit of her home-made outfits, have asked her to teach them. Her students thus far have loved her patience and teaching style.
“They feel that they are being taught by someone who cares for them,” she says. “When some students told me how they felt being taught by me, it made me cry.
“When they come by me they will learn the right thing, feel good about themselves and leave here knowing how to sew properly.”
Her four-month-long basic course teaches different hand stitches, proper use of the measuring tape, and how to draft patterns for precise custom fitting...as “every customer is uniquely shaped.”
Maynard firmly believes that there is something in her that the world needs and that “one day it will show up.”
“I like to help people,” she says. “It drives me. Sometimes I wish I was like Oprah, having money to help others. I see myself in that way, being known by people all over the world for the help I give.”
And what does Maynard do when she’s not busy sewing, writing, teaching and mothering? She spends time with Apple, the beloved young cat that her son brought home one day.
“Apple has a calming effect on me,” she says fondly. “I would be sitting down, tired, and she would come, climb on my lap and massage my legs. Sometimes I swear I hear her call me, ‘mammie.’ The way she sounds is like, ‘meowmee...meowmee.’ I was sitting by my machine and I could swear I heard her talk to me.
“She makes me feel nice, after all the struggles I’ve been through. I am happy when she does her little antics.”