Vivian Doelue, A Liberian Student At Des Moines Area Community College Seeks To Give Voice To The Voiceless
March 6, 2015
Our story begins in the war-torn West Africa nation of Liberia and winds all the way to Des Moines Area Community College.
Your tour guide will be 28-year-old Vivian Doelue. Her story is proof that sometimes the people who best understand our country's promise are the ones who had to fight the hardest to achieve the American dream.
Vivian was born in 1986. When she was 3, a bloody civil war broke out in her native Liberia. The war lasted more than seven years and killed more than 200,000 Liberians.
Vivian and her family fled the country when she was 4. She grew up in United Nations refugee camps in Guinea, the Ivory Coast and Ghana. She lived in and went to school in tents.
Ghana is a well-developed nation with a strong economy, but the Liberian refugees were not welcome to socialize with the locals, Vivian said.
Vivian and the other refugees could walk around in the cities, but they were not allowed in most shops and had no money to buy anything if they were.
"It was like we were not whole people," she said.
Her mother always warned the children to stay together and never go out at night.
"We never felt safe," Vivian said. "My mother was always on alert looking for possible threats."
Vivian, though, had a passion that prompted her to disobey her mother. She loved the news. At nights, she would sneak out of her bed and watch BBC news on the black-and-white TV screens through tent windows of adults in the camp.
She hid a radio under her pillow and listened to BBC broadcasts at night.
"I am a news junkie," Vivian said.
"News junkie" is how Americans describe themselves when they check Twitter feeds every few seconds for the latest in sarcastic commentary on such weighty topics as therapy llamas running on a road or a disagreement about the color of a dress.
Vivian was a different kind of news junkie. She was the kind of person who wanted to know what was going on in the world. She wanted to know whether there was hope that she and her family could go home.
But that was not to be.
Her sister developed a rare heart ailment. The U.N. arranged for most of the family, including Vivian, to come to the United States. Vivian's sister had life-saving surgery at a hospital in Lancaster, Pa.
Still, Vivian's mother felt unsafe. The family kept looking for a better place.
Vivian was 19 at this point and had graduated from high school. She considered going to college in Philadelphia. She, her mother, two sisters and two brothers all attained U.S. citizenship.
Some other African refugees had come to Iowa. Word got back to Vivian and her family that it was a good place to live.
The neighborhoods were nice. People were friendly. If they worked hard, they would be all right.
They could be safe.
So they packed up and moved to Des Moines. Vivian works full time at an area nursing home.
Last year, she started attending Des Moines Area Community College. Her favorite classes were journalism ones.
When the Ebola epidemic spread in her native country, she wrote about how it affected Liberian refugees in Des Moines.
"Her first stories were revelations," said Michael Bryant, the faculty adviser to the Urban Vibe, DMACC's campus newspaper. "They had a depth and an astuteness that you don't see in very many college newspapers. She's not just writing about what to do this weekend. She's got a very global perspective."
Vivian remembers hearing one of her fellow DMACC students say, "Ebola is an African disease."
Her first instinct was to chastise the young man for his dismissive comment. But she went a different direction. She picked up her notebook and a pen.
"I asked him why he felt that way," she said. "It was my job to listen to his side of things and to understand his perspective. When I was done interviewing him, he admitted that he didn't really know why he said that."
Vivian is editor of the Urban Vibe this year. She is looking into attending Drake University or Iowa State University, depending on how financial aid works out.
Vivian told me that at 28, she feels like an old lady in her classrooms. She wonders whether she has missed her opportunity to be a journalist.
I asked her why she wanted to be a journalist. It's a tough trade, and the rewards are sparse.
"I want to give voice to people who didn't have a voice," she said. "I want to give hope to people who have lost hope."
I got goose bumps on my arms when she said that and swallowed hard. She gets it, probably better than most of the practicing news people in this country.
I told her to keep pursuing this honorable trade. Her experiences, perspective and compassion will serve her well.
I told her to hurry up and get her degree.
Because we need her.
Source: By Daniel P. Finney - The Des Moines Register