May 22, 2014 in Washington Voices

Ferris senior has come a long way

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

At home, Ferris senior Clemence Kitambala often speaks Lingala, from her native country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She also speaks Swahili and French.
(Full-size photo)

Clemence Kitambala is a shy, introverted and soft-spoken young woman whose gentleness belies the difficulties she has already overcome in life.

Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she was a young child when warfare broke out, and she witnessed terrible things. Her family lost their home and everything they owned. With her mother and younger siblings she became a refugee in Uganda, where she lived until two years ago when they were relocated to Spokane by World Relief.

In Uganda there are two seasons, she said, wet and dry and with temperatures often at 100 degrees. She and her mother, three sisters and one brother arrived in Spokane in March 2012 to see snow on the ground. They thought it was a strange and wonderful thing.

As she did in Uganda, while her mother Angi Angele worked, the Ferris student took care of her siblings – cooking for them, bathing and feeding them and being sure they stayed safe. Was that ever a burden? Of course not, she says quietly. “Others do it as well.”

Kitambala explains that Congolese culture is very united and focused on working together to help one another, and that Ugandan culture is also about working together but allowing for individual excellence. One of the things that was difficult to adjust to in America is how things are individually focused.

In Uganda her mother managed to earn enough money to send her to a school where Kitambala learned English. She also speaks French, and she and her mother often talk in Lingala, the language of Congo, or Swahili, the language of Uganda. It is important to her that her culture and faith values, nourished both in her home and in her Christian church in Africa, remain strong in her life.

Among the challenges she has overcome has been adjusting to school in America, which she finds relatively easy academically compared with her experiences in Uganda, where classes were held from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. – without Internet access to help with studies. But socially, not knowing anyone in Spokane and being so shy, she did not join in any sports or clubs or other activities. Still, she has made some friends, including another girl at Ferris who is from Uganda, and even their mothers have become close.

“I do like meeting people,” she said, “and value relationships. If I am your friend, I will support you always. I keep relationships for a very long time.”

Kitambala will attend Whitworth University this fall through an Act Six scholarship, the Northwest’s only full-ride scholarship connecting low-income students identified as emerging urban and community leaders who want to use an education at a faith-based college to make a difference in their communities.

“This is such a blessing from God,” she said. “I didn’t think I deserved it. I’ve only been here for two years. This is such a dream, to get a scholarship like this so I can continue to learn.”

In this context she again mentions her mother, who has always taught her that even if something seems hard in life, difficult to attain, “if you put your mind to it and work hard, no matter the challenges or bumps along the way, you can achieve. I am most fortunate.”

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email