By RENE ESCOBAR
Elialie, a 23-year-old Pima Community College student from Cameroon, was born into a civil war.
In her hometown of Edea, people lived in the rubble of demolished buildings. Many children were orphaned, unclothed and starving.
“I hated where I lived,” she said. “I wanted to leave every day I was there, but leaving was just about a dream for me.”
Cameroon is one of the poorest countries in the world, according to TheWorldBank.org, with 48 percent of its residents living in poverty.
The country has never recovered from the Kamerun Campaign during World War I, when many towns and villages were flattened by artillery. Because Cameroon lacks money, very little debris has been cleared.
Elialie, who asked that only her first name be used, now attends PCC. She’s majoring in public health and currently taking classes in writing, Spanish and geography.
During her childhood, she learned English at a school associated with the International Rescue Committee.
Her journey from Edea to Tucson began in 2007, after her mother developed a non-cancerous tumor. Elialie, then 14, and her older brother walked 20 miles to a larger city and found jobs.
With help from the IRC and other donors, Elialie eventually traveled with her mother and two brothers to Tucson. Her mother underwent surgery to remove the tumor.
As war refugees, the family receives benefits that include an apartment and supplemental checks. Agencies helped her older brother find work and pay Elialie’s tuition fees.
Elialie thought Tucson was a very quiet place when she first arrived.
“It was very welcoming, because people didn’t judge my English-speaking skills,” she said.
Classmates find her quiet as well.
“She’s very to herself, not talkative at all,” writing classmate Robert Valenzuela said. “Elialie has a quiet character to her.”
Nevertheless, Valenzuela enjoys interacting with Elialie during class and learning more about her culture.
“She’s opened-minded towards stuff, and brings her culture to her work,” he said.
Elialie wants to continue her education at the University of Arizona. After earning a public health degree, she’ll return to Cameroon as a missionary who helps children receive medical attention.
“They are people who need help,” she said. “I want to help those people.”