One of the great joys of my job is the opportunity to get to know learners and alumni, and to then share their stories with the CalSouthern community in an article or blog post. It’s always a pleasure and a privilege to conduct these interviews. Perhaps it just says something about the type of people who choose to improve themselves or change their lives—often despite significant challenges—through distance learning. Without exception, I find their stories inspirational and moving.
But Chizzy’s story is special. And while I’ll be writing a full profile about her that we’ll publish in a couple of weeks, I wanted to give you a sneak preview in time for the holidays.
Ebele Chizoba Ekwulonu was raised in an impoverished region of southeastern Nigeria before moving to the city of Lagos and then, in order to find work, to Abuja, the nation’s capital. Always bright and intellectually curious, Chizzy, studied mass communications at a Nigerian university, but found the education sub-standard and the system sometimes corrupt. Often, textbooks were unavailable. Students were asked to purchase handouts of course materials from their instructors. These purchases—or other payments to the professor—were understood to be a “ticket to a degree,” according to Chizzy.
Chizzy earned her diploma, but, believing that her education was of questionable value, she had a loftier goal in mind: to graduate from an American university. An American friend helped her research her options, and Chizzy ultimately enrolled in CalSouthern’s School of Behavioral Sciences.
It hasn’t been an easy road for Chizzy. She sometimes has difficulty paying for tuition and books, and has had to take breaks when the money gets tight. Fortunately, a family friend—an American named St. Clair Jackson—helps out with finances as much as he is able. He is fulfilling a promise he once made to Chizzy’s late father. He, like Chizzy, wanted his gifted daughter to attend an American university, but feared that he would be unable to provide her with the opportunity. In failing health, he asked Jackson if he would help Chizzy. Jackson promised that he would. And he is a man of his word.
So Chizzy works toward her BA in psychology. She does most of her assignments at work, where there is reliable electricity. She then downloads her work to a flash drive. At night or on the weekends, she’ll take a taxi from Internet café to Internet café, looking for one where both the electricity and Internet are functional. There, she’ll upload her assignments, take exams, post to discussion groups, email her mentors and advisors, and do the other work that requires an Internet connection. She’s lost work dozens of times when the electricity has gone out.
Sometimes, these challenges and frustrations are too much, and the tears come. But these moments are short-lived. “When you grow up in poverty, having to fetch the water for your household each day, you learn how to overcome hardship,” says Chizzy. Plus, the joy she derives from her coursework and the interaction with her mentors and advisors is just too great for her to remain upset. You can try, but you won’t find a learner who loves the CalSouthern experience more than Chizzy.
When she graduates—and she will graduate—Chizzy hopes to pursue a career in mental health, providing care and support to Nigerian women and families in what is an extremely male-dominated culture.
Happy holidays to you, Ebele Chizoba Kkwulonu, and to all CalSouthern learners and alumni worldwide.