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Students from Africa enjoyed time studying in Bemidji

Dennis Chakua speaks about his home country of Kenya, Africa, and his heritage during a presentation last month at Northwest Technical College. Behind him, from left, are Pamela Agbor and Elvis Starllone, both from Cameroon, Africa. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Three students at Northwest Technical College had such unique backgrounds, they were asked to give a presentation to their peers last month.

Elvis Starllone and Pamela Agbor, both from Cameroon, Africa, and Dennis Chakua, from Kenya, graduated last week with degrees in registered nursing. They look forward to taking what they learned in college and using it to help people.

Starllone grew up in Douala, the largest city in Cameroon, which has a much warmer climate than Bemidji.

Starllone said there are no technical colleges in Cameroon and no licensed practical nursing programs, but students have the option of becoming a registered nurse after attending nursing schools. Nursing schools in his home country are specialized technical and vocational schools. The programs there are nine months for a certified nursing assistant degree and three years for a registered nurse degree.

"We do not have nursing homes or assisted living facilities in Cameroon," Starllone said. "The clinics and hospitals lack the equipment we have in Bemidji and NTC like MRI and advanced surgical procedures."

Since moving to Minnesota Starllone has enjoyed food such as spaghetti and meatballs, mashed potatoes, turkey and gravy, pepperoni pizza and strawberry pancakes.

Starllone plans to leave for Cameroon at the end of May, but plans to return to Bemidji in June. He does not know if he will return to Cameroon since he is not a Cameroonian anymore. He became a U.S. citizen when he joined the Army. He is a specialist in the U.S. Army Reserve and expects to become commissioned to second lieutenant after he graduates.

He plans to visit Cameroon at least once a year and possibly start a foundation that educates Cameroonians on diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

Agbor is also originally from Cameroon and was raised in Mamfe, a city located in the southwest province. It is located about 37 miles from the border of Nigeria.

She said she moved to the United States to enroll at NTC because she liked the nursing program the college offered.

Agbor has been preparing for the nursing board exam all this week. She has also been looking for nursing jobs in the United States, as she intends to stay here for now.

She has two children with her in Bemidji. One attends Bemidji High School and the other is enrolled at an elementary school.

"I think they are having a lot of fun," she said of their schooling experience in America.

Agbor said she has enjoyed eating lasagna and tacos the most in Minnesota, but said she has been open to trying everything. In Cameroon two of her favorite foods were plantains, which are similar to bananas, and fish.

People in Bemidji "are so open-minded and friendly," Agbor said. Someday she may return to Cameroon to do research and educate others.

"I think there is a lot that has not been documented at home," Agbor said.

Chakua grew up in Kisumu, the third largest city in Kenya.

Before living in Bemidji, Chakua moved to Minneapolis to live with his aunt. His older brother moved to Bemidji before Chakua to pursue a degree in nursing. Soon Chakua followed.

Since moving to Minnesota Chakua has become accustomed to the food. He enjoys wild rice hot dish because rice is a big part of his diet back home, and beer battered fish.

"This is extremely delicious," he said.

He sometimes misses eating Nyama choma (roast meat) and Chapatti (flat bread) in Africa.

Chakua said the nursing program at NTC ranks high compared to the universities in Kenya.

"Universities in Kenya are good educational institutions but they lack accessibility to regular students due to its enormous cost," he said. "Nursing in Kenya doesn't have prestige like it does in America, so jobs that are available barely pay enough to make ends meet."

Chakua is planning to go back to Kenya some day. He is passionate about organizations like Operation Smile. He thinks maybe someday he will maybe work for the United Nations.

"I don't know if I can assimilate back to Kenya culture because I'm way too used to being here," he said. "But I'll start going back every year, especially in the winter time."