An Interview with Bassey Onwuanaku, a Nigerian Lawyer who loves boardgames

Could you please tell us a little about yourself, for those who haven’t heard your story yet?

My name is Bassey Onwuanaku, a Nigerian trained Lawyer whose passion for impacting the lives of children found its outlet through the use of board games as a means to enrich their educational learning experience. I run an educational board game cafe in Abuja, Nigeria.

This was birthed as a result of my search for ways to help my first child enjoy her learning process. Being a hardcore kinesthetic learner, she found herself struggling at school to grasp concepts taught. This is because Nigerian schools are highly dependent on verbalised instructions when teaching their students and this was not working well for her.

I remember buying and bringing home a game I had seen in a store somewhere and immediately her interest was piqued. She kept asking question after question about the theme of the game, its components, the mechanics and lots more (of course in child-like terms) and this gave me the opportunity to really explain the concept to her. I tried using another game with her and she loved it as well. At this point I realised that board games would work great with her and it eventually became her go-to tool for learning.

She started inviting her friends over to play the games with her and after each playdate, I would get a call from the kid’s parent asking what I had done to make their kids not only enjoy themselves but want to come over again and I would simply reply, they played a board game.

It eventually dawned on me that several other kids could equally benefit from having access to boardgames as a learning tool so I gathered up all the games I had acquired over the years and opened up a cafe.

In South Florida, there are no dedicated places for kids to be educated through tabletop gaming. Here, they are organized individually by libraries, local game stores, or schools. Do you run the first and/or only Educational Games Café for kids in Nigeria?

I would like to think so. I know there are arcades and other child-friendly centres but I’ve yet to hear that there exists another cafe solely dedicated to gameschooling in Nigeria. I also know there are other board game cafes but none geared towards kids alone. That is a niche I have particularly carved out for myself so it would not be wrong to claim to be the first.

When was Lyndem Educational Games Cafe established?

September 2013

What kind of challenges did you face when opening the cafe?

Firstly, as earlier said, opening the cafe was born out of passion so it was totally self-funded from my savings over the years, but I was privileged to have had the advantage of using a family property which saved me the hardship of having to pay rent. External funding/support would have helped a great deal.

Secondly, a lot of people doubted that the cafe would survive in our clime as they felt that Nigeria wasn’t ready to be receptive to that sort of business so I didn’t have much encouragement except from my family members.

Thirdly, sourcing for the particular games needed was a hassle as all of them were produced overseas, not to add the exorbitant shipping fees from the respective countries to Nigeria. This is still a current challenge.

How many kids typically visit the cafe each week?

It varies, the week days are a bit dull during the school term but on weekends between 2 to 8 children.

During the holidays I have a different number daily.

Do you do community outreach to let parents and teachers know your cafe exists?

Yes I do. I visit schools around my neighbourhood and organize board game expositions. I also organize teachers games hangouts where I open my cafe to teachers so they can have access to lots of games and explore the possibility of game inclusion in school lessons.

What games have been the most popular at your cafe?

Blurt, Blank Slate, Just One, Osmo Genius and PlayShifu Letters and Count, Prime Climb, Orbital Velocity, Double Duel and Proof.

Do you have any stories you’d like to share about a child learning through a game they played?

There are several.

I have two kinesthetic learners as kids and both have learned different things while playing different games. My eldest learned to tell the time easily when she was younger while playing a game called Time Match. My youngest has picked up on his reading and spelling simply because he wants to be included in game play anytime I bring games home, particularly, Just One.

A teacher also reached out to me to say that a 3D magnetic body puzzle I have helped her young brother to better understand the human body skeleton and excel in his test at school. (<— this is so awesome!)

What is the most fulfilling thing you’ve learned from your journey with the cafe?

The inclusion of games in the learning routine of a kinesthetic child can open up a whole new world of fun and enjoyment of the process thus fostering a love of learning.

What plans do you have in the future for your cafe?

I dream of a cafe filled with the laughter and ruckus that comes from the enjoyment of board games amongst the kids, a cafe that becomes a resource facility for our teachers who are searching for alternative ways to the boring teacher-centred approach to teaching.

I plan to grow into a bigger arcade where I can have different segments for board games, digital- powered games and a place for physical games based on educational principles. I envision a full-blown educational facility.

Will you have a booth at AB Con 2021? What will you be displaying?

I won’t be having a booth as I would be fully engrossed with handling the school kids we have invited for the convention, ensuring that they have an awesome experience.

What are a couple of your favorite board games right now?

Just One, Blank Slate, Dream Home, Blurt, Blubble, MonsDrawsity to name a few.

In another article, you mentioned avoiding chess because you preferred to devour books (which I completely understand). Did you ever play chess on or off the computer? If so, how did you end up feeling about the game?

I never learned Chess. I only went as far as watching my brothers play on the computer and against themselves. Still don’t know if I’m willing to learn it years later.

What’s your favorite book?

I won’t say I have a favourite book, I read books across several topics depending on what knowledge I’m desirous of acquiring.

Do you host any game nights for you and your adult friends?

Unfortunately, I am yet to delve into game nights. I do not yet have that level of gamers in my circle.

Where should people follow you and your work?

My social handles are @lyndemedutainment both on Facebook and Instagram, @BusyBassey on Twitter and my website is www.lyndemedutainment.com