WESTERLY — Coming from poverty and few prospects in Zambia to attend and graduate from high schools in eastern Connecticut has opened up a whole new world for Aaron Nyambe and Teddy Nosiku.
The two young men spent a year at North Stonington’s Wheeler High School as honor roll students, graduated with honors from St. Bernard School in Montville in May and will be entering Three Rivers Community College in Norwich later this month.
And both said they’re incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to study here.
“The education I received here was most wonderful,” Nosiku said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Both shared their stories Monday at the Rotary Club of Westerly’s regular meeting at the Venice Restaurant. They’d just returned from a six-week visit to family back in Ng’ombe, their home in the African country of Zambia.
As the first members of their families to graduate high school, they have set their sights high.
Nyambe, 20, wants to become an eye surgeon, while Nosiku, 19, plans to one day practice law as an attorney.
Those are lofty dreams for the pair from Ng’ombe, an impoverished compound in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. There, most homes don’t have running water or electricity and a working family earns about $70 or less per month. Only 25 percent of children attend school.
“To me, school was something I always dreamed about,” Nyambe said.
Jobs are mostly confined to gardening, domestic help and other low-skilled tasks.
“No one dreamed of becoming an engineer, or a lawyer or doctor,” Nosiku said. “Receiving an education opened doors to me. I could be something different.”
Nyambe and Nosiku got the chance to attend school thanks to the Chikumbuso project, a nonprofit that funds educational opportunities for impoverished kids in Zambia. Chikumbuso, which means “remembrance,” was started in 2004 by North Stonington resident Linda Wilkinson as a way to help the widows and orphans of Zambian AIDS victims.
Though they’re not orphans, Nyambe and Nosiku came from families unable to afford schooling.
Both of the foreign scholars were sponsored by and live with North Stonington resident Sabrina Buehler, who’s also involved with Chikumbuso and who has been to Zambia. She first met them about six years ago when her daughter started a book club for local kids in Ng’ombe.
They started school in the elementary grades in Zambia, and each told the Rotary members how they walked two hours each way between their home and school in Zambia. Nosiku even gave an extra set of shoes to a friend whose footwear literally fell apart from all the walking, he said.
“They’re the first we’ve brought over from this project,” Buehler, a Rotary of the Stoningtons member, said. Nosiku and Nyambe have gained five-year study visas to continue their education here, but both said they’d eventually return home to live, work and give back to their community.
They savored their time at Wheeler and St. Bernard, they said. When first setting foot in the North Stonington high school, they were greeted by a welcome banner signed by the school’s students.
“Everyone was so nice to us,” Nyambe said. “I was very impressed with how they welcomed us.”
They were similarly embraced when, early this year, they transferred to St. Bernard. The student visas they received had only allowed for one year of study at a public school here.
Nonetheless, Wheeler invited both men back to receive honorary diplomas at the school’s June graduation. They continue to stay in touch and visit with their former classmates.
By the end of the dinner meeting Monday, clearly impressed by the experiences of the young men, Rotary members were asking how their club could sponsor a student.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s when,” Rotary program chairman Steve Cofone said.