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Pierre nursing student's path began in Kenya

Sunday, July 29, 2012

About a decade ago, Rebecca Ekidor was working in a hospital in Kenya. She'd already developed an interest in medicine, and she'd excelled in school. But while she was treating refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, her studies suddenly simmered with greater urgency.

"I interacted with so many of them," she said of the refugees. "It really gave me more courage and more determination to go to school, to do something to help people. These people were in really bad shape."

Ekidor now lives in Pierre with her husband, Mark Erupe, and her three children, Nathan, Abby and Jordan. In August she'll begin studying for an associate's degree in nursing at Capital University Center. After that, she plans to continue her studies right on through graduate school.

The presence of international students has not been a common occurrence at CUC, said Laura Hayden-Moreland, the academic program coordinator. Hayden-Moreland recalled just a few students from other countries at CUC since she began working there in 2000. She mentioned past students from the Netherlands and from Ethiopia, and a current student from the Ukraine.

Ekidor grew up in Kakuma, a small town in a rural, northwestern part of Kenya.

"It's a very remote place, and very dry," she said. "People there are pastoralists, or sometimes we call them nomads. People keep animals . and they keep on moving from place to place."

Ekidor, who has two older brothers, said she and her family are from the Turkana tribe.

"My dad and my mom never went to school, and in our tribe girls mostly don't go to school," she said. "They only take boys to school. Since my dad was working for the missionaries, he happened to learn the importance of education through them, and he made all of us go to school."

Ekidor talks glowingly about her days in school, and she recalls with particular fondness one teacher, Sister Anna, who spotted her prowess and paid her secondary school tuition.

By the time Ekidor had finished secondary school, she'd developed an interest in medicine. She began volunteering in a hospital, working mainly at the pharmacy there, and she read as much as she could - poring over medical dictionaries to learn about the medicines she encountered at work.

It was in 2001 that the refugees came to Kenya, she said, given sanctuary from violence in their own countries by the Kenyan government. Ekidor said Kakuma provided an ideal place for the refugees.

"They were actually brought there because Kakuma, my home town, is remote and spacious," she said. "They wanted to put refugees where it's a bigger area to accommodate all of them."

Working at the hospital, Ekidor was in a position to help the refugees — and she saw up close how valuable a medical education could be.

"Most of them were wounded," she said. "Some were coming in with gunshots."

She said she learned much about the refugees' cultures, and she noted that sometimes communication was difficult. The refugees, she said, had to learn a bit of Swahili or English to communicate with medical staff. In some cases, people who knew the refugees' language, in addition to Swahili or English, acted as translators.

All of that helped to shape Ekidor's desire to return to Kenya some day and to inspire others in her country. One of her goals is to show how valuable education can be for women as well as men.

"In a way I want to motivate people," she said. "In the small town where I come from, most girls never go to school, or they just go to elementary school, and then they get married."

Ekidor's path to Pierre took several turns.

She came to Utah to join her husband Mark Erupe in 2008, who now has a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Utah State University.

The two come from the same tribe, and they'd met about 10 years earlier in Kenya.

Later, Ekidor landed a job working at the Good Samaritan Society in Moscow, Idaho. Her husband was doing post-doctoral work at Washington State University, in Pullman, just 10 miles away.

Ekidor found that, through the Good Samaritan Society, she could continue her nursing studies at the University of South Dakota by studying online. But eventually she had to go to a campus with access to USD courses in order to continue with her studies. After some research, she decided she liked the smallness of Pierre and the program at CUC.

So now, the whole family lives in Pierre.

If Ekidor has developed an affinity for math and for medicine, she's also developed an aptitude for languages. She speaks her native language, Turkana, along with Swahili and English. She's also learned some German.

It's not unusual, she said, for people back in her hometown to learn several languages. And ultimately, she said, she wants to motivate them to keep on learning.

"If I study nursing," she said, "and if I come back home and show people how important it is to be a nurse, they'll appreciate it and see how good it is to go school."


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