A Diaspora Kenyan student returns home

A resident of Kenya last month completed her education at Valparaiso University and has returned home to her family, but school and church officials say they may have gained as much from her experience as she did.

Mercy Chepkoech Ngetich came from Olengururone, Kenya, about two and a half years ago to complete her college education at Valparaiso University. She graduated magna cum laude on Dec. 13.

Ngetich, the eldest of three children of subsistence farmers in rural Kenya, said she had mixed feelings about returning home. But she was anxious to see her family and friends again.

“It has been hard being away from my family, but I spoke to them often on the phone,” Ngetich said. “I am looking forward to seeing all of them and going back to my old church. I am anxious to get a job and start saving some money.”

Before coming to the United States, the farthest Ngetich had been away from home was Kabarak University near Nakuru, about two hours from her home. She said she would like to work for about a year and a half and then come back to the United States for graduate school, perhaps at Notre Dame. Then she would like to return to Kenya and start her own business, perhaps a not-for-profit to help others.

“But I am going to miss all the fun I had here with all the friends I’ve made,” she said before leaving Indiana. “I’ve loved going to the beach, going to the movies, taking the train to Chicago. I have been fortunate to have so many wonderful experiences along with my education and classes.”

Ngetich said she wanted to study in the United States so she would be equipped to deal with business in a global community. She saw education as a way to improve her own life, as well as the lives of the girls in her community.

Her dream became a reality after a chance meeting between Valparaiso University graduate Tina Hodges and Sister Lucy Borus, a missionary in Milwaukee. The two said they met on a plane, chatted and exchanged emails. Their meeting turned into a plan to bring female scholars from the developing world to the U.S. to study. Mercy Ngetich was selected as the first candidate because she is Borus’ eldest niece and a strong student.

Ngetich was accepted at VU in March 2013 and was offered a financial scholarship. The school required that an outside organization be in charge of overseeing the funds collected for her education and living expenses.

VU graduate Joanne Lehmann approached her church, St. Peter Lutheran Church in Portage. After reviewing her academic record and other information, church officials agreed to oversee the account.

Lehmann and her husband, Scott, who became Ngetich’s family while she was away from her own family, hosted a reception Dec. 12 at St. Peter to celebrate her achievements. Attendees included VU students and staff members, members of St. Peter and the women who had been so influential in arranging for Ngetich’s education.

“God has blessed us in so many ways,” Joanne Lehmann said. “Bringing Mercy to us has made such a difference in all our lives. She has enriched us so much. And whenever we thought, ‘Where are we going to get the money for this?’ somehow it would appear, almost to the penny. We just had to keep the faith.”

Scott Lehmann said Ngetich has changed.

“When she first came to our house, she didn’t speak very much and she hardly ate. She was so shy,” he said. “Now she is so confident and ready to take on any challenge. I see the progression as part of her getting older, but also because she was willing to take this risk and really put herself out there. She has grown so much in so many ways and added so much to our lives too.”

While a student at VU, Ngetich worked as a student aide in the finance office. Denise Aponte, assistant to the director of student accounts, worked closely with Ngetich.

“She taught me as much as, if not more than, I taught her,” Aponte said. “She really thinks outside the box. She’s an all-around good person and so smart. My children were just intrigued by her. She definitely has been a blessing to all of us.”

Ngetich said she greatly appreciated the experience.

“I am so grateful to all the people who helped me through and made all of this possible, especially the Lehmanns and all of their friends, St. Peter Church, Valpo University. There are just too many to mention everyone.”


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