Steven (DunCai) Zheng
Samantha (XiaoLi) Zheng
Welcome to our second PESLSF newsletter. You'll recognize our pride as an organization as you read the interviews....our scholarship recipients are so deserving! Our board members are diligent and committed to the interview process! Not to mention, we continue to grow as an organization, in the number of scholarships we award, the scope of educational institutions we are able to fund, and the possibilities for partnerships we are exploring. The year 2010 will be exciting for PESLSF, in part because of people like Bela, Martha and Clement. With our help, these worthy recipients will be a step closer to working in area schools, hospitals, and architecture firms. We invite you to take 15 minutes to read the newsletter and discover why PESLSF feels proud!
President of the PESLSF Board of Directors
Clement Yombe was six months away from finishing his law
degree in 1999 when civil war broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo
(DRC). His friends who attended school with him at that time are now lawyers
and judges and he was an important member of his community. "But," he says, "the war was a breaking point
for me. I left everything - home, house,
family members and friends." While
Clement was at the university, being hidden by friends, his family was put in
prison, ready to be killed at any time because his mother was a Tutsi. A UN envoy visiting the prisons found
civilians being held for no apparent reason; Clement's family was released but
they had "to fly". With the help of the
UN, they went first to Cameroon, and then to the U.S., where Clement and his
family landed in Atlanta, Georgia in 2000.
Clement had been fortunate to find funding to study English
for 10 months after high school at the American School in Kinshasa in
1992. He was good at it, but for lack of
practice, his English was rusty when he arrived in Atlanta. He got a job as a cashier in a grocery store
as he studied English on his own. He
then had a one-year contract working as a paralegal before deciding to go to
trucking school! Looking for adventure,
Clement found it driving an 18-wheeler through the lower 48. After four years of driving cross-country in
all kinds of weather and two years driving locally in Virginia, Clement and his
wife realized it was important to continue their educations. They hoped they could do that in Maine. Clement's mother had moved to Portland years
earlier, so Clement, his wife and his then two kids arrived in Maine two days
before Thanksgiving, 2008. Clement and his
wife now have a third child, a six month old baby, whom he proudly calls a
When they got here, Clement's wife enrolled in Portland
Adult Education's GED program and obtained her diploma in five months. She is
now studying for a degree in accounting at SMCC. Clement is currently taking a
class at USM, with funding assistance from PESLSF, to improve his writing in
English. At the same time, his
university papers from the DRC have been translated from French to English to
determine his appropriate placement at USM, which he plans to attend. Since he nearly completed his law degree,
he's hoping he'll be able to enroll in a two-year master's program. He's concerned about the cost of law school,
so he's also considering public policy, management or international
development. Clement clearly is someone
who is used to working and being a contributing member of his community. While he looks for a job, takes his writing
class and waits to hear back about his USM placement, he has taken it upon
himself to assist other newcomers to Portland. He helps them get settled by making phone calls on their behalf to find
housing or taking them to buy groceries.
Clement says, "The scholarship is like a stepping stone for
me. I arrived here almost 9 years ago
and I didn't have a chance to go back to school or even to get the English classes
I'm taking now because I didn't have the resources or the means. " Clement understands that English is the key
to opening doors: "If you master
English, you can go anywhere." He
appreciates PESLSF giving him the opportunity to go back to school. "I consider this as my first door. It's the master key to complete my
education. I really want to thank the
fund for that."
lights up the room! She is enthusiastic and articulate on the
cold, winter day. Her story is not a painless one to tell, but
she is forthright and positive about her experience.
Born in Burundi
to poor, illiterate farmers, she was the fifth of 12 children and the
first to attend school. She recalls those mornings when she left
for school without breakfast because there was no food, but her
is profuse for the gift of education that her parents gave her. As
of her siblings attended school, the parents often bought pencils rather
than food to "feed" their children.
War came to
Burundi after Bela completed 7th grade. Encouraged
by her mother to flee to Congo after her uncle was brutally murdered,
Bela escaped alone, but was soon on the run again. This
time her mother had sent several of her younger siblings to Congo to
join her, and Bela, at 15, became the parent for both her siblings and
other young refugees. They fled to Tanzania and were given shelter
by a family there. A man from this family offered to take the
younger children back to Burundi, and ultimately Bela received word
that they had arrived safely. She also received a warning, however,
to stay out of Burundi and not to return because of the danger
was far from over. She found herself in a refugee camp in Tanzania.
Life in the camp was not easy, but Bela continued her education. She
received her high school diploma in the camp, was married there, and
birthed her first child there. At 20 years of age, Bela had been
in the camp for five years. And her life was about to take a very
Bela and her
immediate family arrived in Atlanta, Georgia in July of 2001. The three years of their life in Atlanta was an experience of pain
and joy. The pain came from the violence of the
city, the confusion of the new culture, and the great misconceptions
of life around them. Bela recalls how when they first arrived,
they interpreted the sound of fireworks as gunshots, and they cowered
in their apartment for hours, fearing the worst. She says that
when 9/11 happened, they "...just sat inside the house and waited
for death." They felt that "Everywhere we tried to go, death
was following us." Now, firmly established in Maine, since 2004,
she says, "I feel more relaxed, like I can breathe, like I'm in
a safe place." The joy of their time in Atlanta came
in the form of a very helpful church group that provided all the daily
necessities, the birth of another child, and the beginning of her
study. She studied formally in a classroom and with a tutor, and
she studied informally with Barney and other children's show and cartoon
and philosophical. Before she began taking classes at USM, she
asked a friend, "Who am I going to be tomorrow?"
answered, "You will be you! And why are you asking me this question?"
"And I said,
'You know what? It looks like, no education, no life.'"
in a daycare center and hopes to ultimately earn a degree in early
education. She has goals and wants to be the "best example"
for her children. She says with great enthusiasm and commitment,
"I can't wait to get where I want to get!" The PESLSF scholarship
that Bela received for the fall semester at USM is helping her to
her goal, and she is very appreciative of the opportunity.
When Martha Deng arrived in Maine
in 2001, she did not know a single word of English. She was unable to verbalize how unhappy she
was with the housing situation that she and her family had to endure. When she was able to leave the home, she could
not read street signs, or bus route indicators, or even the names of products
in the grocery store. When she was at home, she would not even dare to answer
the telephone! Now all of that has
Martha says, "It took me about three or four years to become
comfortable with the English language." Martha, the mother of seven children, speaks English extremely well, and
when they are all talking as a family, she and her husband are the only ones who
do not sound like native speakers. Martha
quips that when she speaks Nuer, the language of her native country, Sudan, her
children answer her in English!
Although Martha had to spend two years in Egypt
awaiting emigration, she is very happy to have been placed in Portland, Maine. She finds the people welcoming and friendly;
she likes the ease with which she can travel from place to place; she
appreciates the education and social services available to her family; and she
enjoys the size of the city and its quiet atmosphere.
Martha worked as a nurse in a children's hospital in her home country
of Sudan, and she longs to be able to return to that profession. She began studying English immediately upon
her arrival in Maine. After attending many classes at Portland Adult Education,
she was able to begin courses at USM in their ESOL Program. Martha has received three scholarships from PESLSF. This is the maximum allowed any one individual. These three scholarships enabled her to perfect
her use of the English language. She
hopes soon to be eligible to enroll in a nursing program, which is both her
major goal and fervent dream. Martha
admits, "I would not have been able to take these English courses without the
scholarship money." She has encouraged
her friends to apply for a scholarship, and she is very grateful to all who have
made the assimilation into her new country a very positive one.
Interested in Volunteering?
|PESLSF is always looking for people who want to help. There are a variety of positions available and all of them are rewarding on many levels. Contact Deb Murray at email@example.com for more information. |
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Board of Directors of PESLSF
Back Row (left to right): Susan Martens, Anne Grimes, E'nkul E. Kanakan, Ellen Mugar, Deborah Murray. Front Row (left to right): Eleanor Goldberg, Solange Kellermann, Matt Tarasevich, Valerie DeVuyst. Not Pictured: Lori Londis Dwyer, Bridget Chase, Claude Kirongozi.
Our thanks to Clement , Bela and Martha for allowing us to tell
Thank you, Eleanor Goldberg, Susan Martens, and Solange Kellermann for interviewing and writing the
Our thanks to Bill Dwyer for designing the new PESLSF brochure.
Thanks to Katherine Peņa for editing and producing the newsletter
and managing our website.