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2010 May 31 - 12:00 am

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Nigerian Native Overcomes Obstacles to Graduate from Nursing Program

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Next to a kitchen table scattered with homework in his modest Flint apartment, Tunde Akindele is worlds apart from the life he once knew in Nigeria.

AP Photo/The Flint Journal, Ryan Garza

Tunde Akindele works as a nurse at Heritage Manor Nursing Care Center in Flint, Mich. Akindele left behind his established life in Nigeria to seek a better life in America for his family. He graduated with honors from Mott Community College.

There, he was a bank executive, owned a five-bedroom home and didn’t speak with an accent.

Starting over in America meant leaving behind close friends, working as a security guard to pay bills, and — at age 45 — enrolling in college with English reading and writing skills that were at an eighth-grade level.

His reason is simple: “We came here so our children could have a good education.”

But the Nigerian native never imagined going to school too — a five-year journey strewn with roadblocks that paid off as he graduated with honors from Mott Community College’s nursing program.

“In Nigeria, college is really only meant for the rich,” he said.

The reality of living in the United States has been far different.

“Everyone thinks America is made of gold, that you get here and turn into a millionaire overnight,” he said.

The father of three still remembers one of his first classes at MCC.

“I didn’t understand what the teacher was saying,” said Akindele, 51. “A lot of times, I had to ask other people, ‘Did she tell us there was an assignment?’”

He spent every semester cramming in rigorous science and math classes, studying on nights and weekends and completing required clinical rotations at hospitals — all the while taking English courses.

“He really did have so much stacked against him when he came here but he overcame all those things,” said Madonna Carpenter, MCC’s special populations coordinator. “His grades have always been top notch, he took advantage of every opportunity that was available to him and he never quit.

“He’s always so positive and didn’t let any of the barriers stop him.”

And now the one-time bank manager is preparing to become a registered nurse, a profession not culturally acceptable for most men in his home country.

“I feel accomplished,” he said with a smile. “I can adequately provide for my family and am able to help other people. The satisfaction of working in a hospital and helping someone’s life, that is very rewarding.”

“I didn’t spend all that time studying because of the grades,” he added. “I had a lot to cover and I wanted to learn everything. One simple mistake can change someone’s life.”

Akindele was inspired to go into nursing after taking care of elderly people at a nursing home “who told me stories and made me laugh.”

Some of them thanked him for how much he had helped and told him he should go back to school.

“In the bank (in Nigeria), you had the power to make or break someone’s business. There was a lot of greed and corruption. It was all about money,’’ he said. ``Helping people makes me happy. I’m at peace here.

“You have to stay focused on what you want to do in life. The more you put into anything, the more you get out of it.”

And Tunde, who graduates with an GPA above 3.0, is paving the way for his family.

Daughter Olajumoke, 19, is at the University of Michigan-Flint hoping to go into dentistry and son Olawale, 22, has shared the MCC campus with his dad where he is studying accounting.

The two have even had a business class together.

“I let them know I have reached a new height and now they need to do more than me,” Akindele said. “I tell them they need to work harder than I did. This is all for them. That’s why we are here.”

Akindele, who has also has a 5-year-old daughter Olabisi, said in Nigeria his children could have attended college, but it would have been very expensive, with no clear end in sight. Colleges are often shut down over wage disputes or lack of electricity — sometimes for months at a time, he said.

And someday Akindele’s wife Olubunmi also hopes to get a chance to go to college.

“In America, they want you to go to school,” said Olubunmi Akindele, a nurse’s aide who said she’s proud of her children and husband. “Here, they want you to be somebody.”

Comments: editor@ccweek.com

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