It takes a village, family, church and community

Meet Phillip Oji, the Nigerian who was supported through college by the good will of a family, church and community in North Carolina and has graduated summa cum laude at Campbell University with a 3.9 grade point average.

By Beacham McDougald

It is a long ways from Nigeria to North Carolina. The quickest way, flying, will keep you airborne for about 15 hours; not including the numerous layovers in airports along the way.

The west African country of Nigeria is an interesting place. They boast the 20th largest economy in the world with its 186 million population. It also provides 11% of America’s petroleum.

Nigeria’s official language is English, but it is noticeably accented by the approximate 500 tribal languages that are still spoken. Understanding Philip — a Nigerian who is currently living in Laurinburg — is not unlike my experience as a rural, “y’all” speaking North Carolinian visiting the Highlands of Scotland where the first day or two is spent in a personal struggle to understand what everyone is saying in their rapid-fire, Gaelic accented English.

Sir Winston Churchill’s statement about the English and Americans being a common people separated by a common language also applies to the Highland Scots and the Nigerians.

Five years ago the Nigerian government sent some of their best and brightest students — with financial scholarships — to St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

Call it a fated beginning, but during a Christmas break, St. Andrews University put out a request for locals to house some of the foreign students whilst the dormitories were closed for the holidays. The notice that was sent to Old Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church reached Ralph and Lynda Bright, church regulars who are also residents at Scotia Village.

They agreed to house Philip Oji, who was one of the Nigerian students during the Christmas break.

As fate would have it, Nigeria later reneged on their scholarships, leaving the students at St. Andrews University in America with no tuition and no means to return home.

Ralph and Lynda had already realized Philip’s ambition and potential and began raising funds to send him home when they also discovered from his transcript the exceptional student that he had proved himself to be. Philip wanted to continue his studies toward a degree in health sciences that would hopefully lead to a graduate degree in pharmacy.

The funds that Ralph and Lynda had personally donated and raised from residents at Scotia Village, Old Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church, and from within our local community for his return to Nigeria were soon to grow and become tuition money for continuing his university education.

The Brights knew that Campbell University had the right curriculum to match his desires, and they also knew some of the people connected with the University. They arranged for Philip to have interviews, scholarship funds were found, and after four years in North Carolina — where he continued to reside with the Brights — he graduated summa cum laude at Campbell University with a 3.9 grade point average.

This week he is returning to Campbell University to begin his second of four years to obtain his doctorate in pharmacy.

Meanwhile, he continues to have a place to live, eat, and receive encouragement from the Brights with whom he worships nearly every Sunday that he is “home” at Old Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church. I am usually sitting on or two pews behind them on most Sundays. Sunday afternoons would usually find him at the James L. Morgan Recreation Center playing football – or what we call soccer – with others.

His stay in America has not been without personal struggles. His mother recently passed, he was unable to return home. Personal support came from the late Keiko Ito Fore, a well-know church member from Japan. Like Philip, she was unable to return home when her mother passed. She and Philip bonded. Also, upon Philip’s graduation from Campbell University and due to finances his father was unable to come to the United States to attend.

Philip is in America on a student Visa which must be returned to the State Department if he were to depart from the United States – even temporarily. There are, unfortunately, no guarantees that he would be able to get it back in a timely manner.

Scotland County, North Carolina is his home because a village, a loving family, a supporting church, and a benevolent community cared!

Beacham McDougald is a Laurinburg resident and regular contributor to The Laurinburg Exchange.

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