It’s been four years since Tecla Nyamakope and her two children immigrated to the United States from Zimbabwe.
Her husband, Charles, immigrated two years earlier, enrolling in a master’s in theology program at Wesleyan Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. before accepting a pastoral position at the United Methodist Church in Wallace, Neb.
Nyamakope was eager to leave a life of loss and struggle. An elementary school teacher with degrees in education and special needs education, she arrived in the southwest Nebraska town of 347 people, ready to start a new life.
One of the challenges she faced was that her diplomas in Zimbabwe were not equivalent to college degrees in the U.S. Grounded in her Methodist faith, Nyamakope pursued classes at Nebraska Wesleyan University and at MidPlains Community College in North Platte. This time she focused on a degree in social work.
This meant a 540-mile roundtrip to take classes each week in Lincoln.
“In my country, the majority of the people use public transport such as buses to get from one place to another, which is different from Wallace,” Nyamakope said. “I had to learn how to drive as soon as I arrived in Nebraska.”
“My husband would sometimes drive me to Lincoln for my classes and wait for me while reading in the library,” she continued. “We would then drive back home to Wallace after my class ended at 10 p.m. because I would have a class at 8 a.m. the following morning in North Platte.”
Family obligations also motivated Nyamakope to make such a long trip in a single day. Her children, ages 13 and 10, needed her as well. Balancing her classes and parenting became a further challenge in September of 2018 when her son broke an ankle playing football and required months of assistance with his recovery.
Nyamakope said sacrifices were also made to pay college tuition. While her husband’s paycheck helped with the costs, Nyamakope applied for a work permit and worked a part-time job at night as a housekeeper at Perkins County Hospital, located 31 miles from her home.
In May, Nyamakope’s sacrifices were rewarded with a bachelor’s degree in social work. In addition to her degree, Nebraska Wesleyan recognized her with Dean B. Stewart Award for Courage. This award is presented to a student, staff or faculty member who has displayed remarkable courage in the face of overwhelming odds or barriers.
Nyamakope said her NWU degree will open doors to employment and a better means to provide for her extended family who still lives in Zimbabwe.
“My family members’ illnesses alongside my schooling and work were a heavy burden to bear. For tuition and welfare for my late siblings’ children, I play a very important role,” she said. “Some are grown up now, but with the poor economic situation of my native country they still need my support.”
Since receiving her degree from Nebraska Wesleyan, Nyamakope has moved with her family to Garden City, Kan., where she is pursuing a social work position and her master’s degree.
“As a helping profession, the social work program prepares learners to help people overcome some of the life’s most difficult social challenges such as poverty, discrimination, abuse, divorce, loss, employment, and educational problems among other challenges,” she said.
—Story by Danielle Anderson, public relations intern.