When I was about 7 years old, I had a bad allergic reaction to some food I ate and my skin was breaking out with a rash. My mom took me to a hospital some four miles away from our home. While at the hospital, I saw a lot of children suffering. They were scattered with their parents all over the floor with different types of ailments, all waiting to see a doctor. After a long time waiting in line, I was finally in the doctor’s office. On the way out through the hallway, I saw a lady holding a baby, weeping uncontrollably. I asked mom why the lady was crying, and she told me that her baby had just died. I remember feeling very sad. We walked home from the hospital with the picture of a crying mother holding her deceased child still in my head. I had never seen that much pain and suffering all in one place. Funerals and diseases were not new to Kalingalinga. I had seen children die from preventable diseases almost every week. What I saw that day was different; so many children afflicted with pain and death. I wished God had given me super healing powers to heal the sick children all over the world. I hated going to hospitals from that point on.
My desire of becoming a doctor grew. I figured that would be the only way I could help people who are suffering with illnesses. How can this huge dream be accomplished in such a place as Kalingalinga? Who will pay for medical school? My dad’s $40 per month income? It would have to take a miracle.
In my last two blogs the Rain Maker and The Timeline, I shared a little bit about my journey, the challenges I faced growing up, and how mom’s old sewing machine literally became a miracle that helped us through the toughest times. With me working about 10 hours a day making clothes and also taking care of the family, it was impossible for me to go to school. Children my age are supposed to be in high school, not taking care of their families. I had kissed school goodbye; the dream of traveling the world and becoming a doctor was shattered. I had no desire to return to school. I lost my childhood. Even with an opportunity to tour the United States, singing in schools later on, the desire to go back to school was never rekindled. The thought of having to take subjects such as algebra, physics, and chemistry made me cringe. I wouldn’t know where to start.
When the vocal group traveled to different schools across forty states, we encouraged students to work hard and stay in school. We had one simple message, “Do not let your circumstance dictate your future; with a dream, education, and self determination, you can achieve whatever you desire in life.” We had sung in some of the toughest schools in the inner cities, from Dallas, Texas all the way to Cleveland, Ohio. We shared with students that nothing can stop them from achieving their goals here in America. My mission in life was to help others accomplish their dreams. I figured at least part of my dream to travel the world had been fulfilled and nothing more. I was pretty much content with where I was. I did not want to put myself in a stressful situation where I could get into depression again.
Several years had passed. Our road manager encouraged us to enroll for classes at a local GED center. I told him it was too late for me to get into school. I wasn’t even sure what I would study if I ever went to college. He told me not to worry about anything but focus on getting my GED out of the way. After his constant nudging, I enrolled in some GED classes, and a month later I had taken a GED mock exam and passed. I was encouraged with the result and saw a glimmer of hope. Few weeks later, I took the actual exam and passed it. My desire to go back to school was rekindled.
During our tours, we had met a family doctor in Ennis, Texas where we went for our medical checkups. He and his wife would invite the group to visit their home often. At the end of our final tour, they sponsored me and three of my friends to attend school at a junior college. My first semester was scary; I did not know what I was going to study. The last time I was in school was in the seventh grade. I decided to go for general studies until I could figure out my course of study.
I enrolled in a music class, a basic computer course, and was involved with couple of the college choirs. In my first computer class session, I found myself sitting in front of a computer for the first time. I always had a curious mind. When I was growing up, I would take things apart to learn how they were put together. I had learned how to make clothes by taking apart my old pants and shirt from the seams. I even got in trouble one time when I opened my dad’s radio to see what was talking inside. Now, I wanted to know what makes a computer work. After my class, I had found my course of study – I would become a computer engineer. I wanted to learn how to design computer systems.
Before my second semester, I had consulted with my academic adviser to select the classes I need to take towards my degree. All the classes I had dreaded taking were on my schedule. I would start out the second semester with college algebra, university physics, a programming class, and of course my two choir classes, and a music class. I felt intimidated, but I was determined to work hard. My first class was a programming class in the morning. During class, the instructor had handed out a computer code written on a piece of paper. It all looked gibberish to me. I had trouble understanding what he was saying and had asked him to repeat what he had just said. He looked at me and told me that if I can’t understand the concept of this basic computer program, then I will never be a computer programmer. I couldn’t believe what he had said right in front of the whole class. I grew up listening to the little voices that said “You will never amount to anything. Kalingalinga is a dead end place. Nothing good can come out of Kalingalinga. There is no way out.” Little did he know that he had just given me ammunition to work hard; I was not going to give up. I decided to change my major that day, and I would become a computer programmer instead.
In the coming semesters, I took on even harder courses; Calculus 1, 2, and 3; University Physics 1 and 2, and Differential Equations. Everything was hard to say the least, but nothing was going to stop me. After I graduated with my associate degree, I challenged myself even further. I went on to a four year university to get a degree in computer science. Before I walked the stage to receive my degree, I looked back at the mountains I had to climb; the sleepless nights I spent studying for exams. What a journey; a roller coaster ride. I have finally reached the summit. I am done. I am a computer programmer.
Dreams can be reborn. What about my friend Daniel? He also had many challenges as much as I had growing up in Kalingalinga. His story is that of perseverance and determination. He went on to medical school and is currently a licensed general surgeon near Cleveland, Ohio. My circumstances took me on a different path; a path that birthed something even greater than I had anticipated; a passion for children — a passion that helped build a school for nearly three hundred underprivileged children in Africa.
What are some of the challenges you faced growing up? What motivated you to move forward?