In his home country of Tanzania, Africa, Elgin Community College student Innocent Ngalewa practiced medicine — a childhood dream he made his reality through hard work, focus, and grit. “I always wanted to be a doctor,” Ngalewa said. “My inspiration came from my uncle. He’s one of the best doctors back in my country.”
Although Ngalewa was living his dream, he said he was barely surviving, making anywhere between $600 and $700 a month. So, in January of 2021, Ngalewa made the courageous decision to move to the United States in search of a better life — a journey he did not think was even possible, he said. A fellow doctor and friend from Tanzania who attended ECC influenced Ngalewa’s decision to move to the U.S.
“My friend asked if I was willing to start over and conquer a new journey,” Ngalewa said. “He said it wouldn’t be easy, that every day he lives, he hopes, and he prays, believing he’ll make it,” Ngalewa said. “I told him, ‘[Heck] yeah. I’m ready for this challenge.’”
Ngalewa now lives in Aurora, Ill. with friends of the family who are also originally from Africa. Coming here with barely anything, Ngalewa said they took him in as one of their own, offering help and hope.
“When we come here, we are brothers,” he said. “It’s tough, and you must stick together.”
At ECC, Ngalewa is rebuilding his educational foundation and finding a new community. Since enrolling at ECC, Ngalewa has joined the Transforming and Impacting Undergraduate Men Pursuing Higher Education (TRIUMPH) program, a mentorship program designed to increase the number of men of color who graduate from ECC by providing increased student services, academic support, community service projects, and mentoring.
“TRIUMPH was the first community at ECC to welcome me because it was a culture shock coming to the U.S.,” said Ngalewa. “It was difficult for me to make friends or even start a conversation in class. Now, I can go to the TRIUMPH cubicle in the Office of Student Life after class and meet my friends there. It feels like home.”
Ngalewa credits TRIUMPH and its leader, Erik Enders, student life coordinator for student equity, for providing him with the support and tools to better find his way in a new country, new school, and new life.
Ngalewa is taking his educational journey at ECC at a steady pace, with plans to graduate in the fall 2024 semester. He said he would pursue his passion for healthcare by obtaining a nursing degree, the same path his friend from back home has taken. Ngalewa said he is determined to conquer this journey. So much more makes up Innocent Ngalewa; read on to learn more.
What’s something you do outside of ECC? I go to church and meet my fellow Tanzanians. We have a Swahili church we come together at. Outside of that, I spend my time studying at home.
What is your favorite social media channel? My favorite right now is Twitter. It became my favorite when I first moved to the U.S. because I get a lot of news about what is happening in my country through it. I’m trying a lot not to be on social media, though, and to not be glued to my phone. It’s not good for my health!
What’s one thing that really makes your day? Whenever I wake up, I pray. Then I drive one hour to ECC, so the moment I reach here, it brightens my day because the road is dangerous, and you never know what could happen. You can never be 100% sure, even if you’re an 80-year-old driver who has never been in an accident; you don’t know what can happen. So, when I reach here safely, I think, thank you, God, and let the day begin.
What’s on your playlist/podcast list? I listen to a lot of reggae, especially Bob Marley. He’s one of my inspirations. I also listen to a lot of Swahili gospel music.
What’s your favorite meal to cook or eat out? My favorite meal is prepared back home; it’s plantains with meat. I’ve tried cooking it here, but it did not turn out as good as the one back home.