Senior from Kenya triumphs over bullying


Leah Ulatowski

Senior Laurine Achieng hopes her story will encourage others

Leah Ulatowski, Copy Editor

In her life, Laurine Achieng has been both the victim of tremendous adversity and the recipient of matchless opportunity.

Born in Kenya, Achieng lost both her parents at the age of 7 and was separated from her older brother and sister as she bounced between several relatives’ homes. Circumstances certainly seemed bleak, but Achieng went on to attend boarding school and became the institution’s top student.

Through Lakeland College and the Zawadi Africa Organization, Achieng was given the opportunity to study abroad and become the promising accounting and international business major that she is today.

Unfortunately, the initial transition was more difficult than she anticipated.

“I feel like people go through a lot in life and often times they don’t let others see what they are going through, but I think it’s important to know that they are not alone,” Achieng said of the decision to share her story.

It is clear to see that talking about her trials and triumphs is extremely hard for the Lakeland senior. She is able to smile through the tears and retain composure with the knowledge that her courage might inspire others in similar circumstances.

“When I got accepted to come here, I thought all my major life challenges were over just to realize that coming not only opened the door to opportunity but also new challenges—those that I wasn’t mentally prepared to handle,” Achieng said.

According to Achieng, the Zawadi Africa Organization was a blessing in that it helped her adapt to the basic trials of culture shock and minority status, but nothing could prepare her for the verbal bullying and manipulation she faced as an underclassman.

“When you meet some people, they seem like the sweetest people on earth and just perfect,” Achieng said, “but sometimes the first person you put that much trust in is the first to turn around and say things about you. For me, that was my first time experiencing something like that.”

Coming from a small, close knit village, Achieng had an even harder time learning to cope with betrayal and bullying than perhaps American students who are more familiar with such unfortunate social situations.

Achieng also felt completely isolated—her sister, Juliet Atieno, whom she considers her cornerstone, is attending university in Kenya. Achieng truly desired to go home at times or to at least share her struggle in America with those back at her village, but she did not want to worry anyone or let them down as many children back home were inspired by her studying abroad.

Fortunately, Achieng began to adapt to the social issues that surround college life. She learned to be more discerning in who she shared personal information with. She also learned to withstand the words of others and not to fight back, “If you let it consume you then they have won,” Achieng said.

Often this strategy confused the offenders so much that they ceased their efforts.

Achieng also recalled the advice of her late father, “He said you don’t repay evil for evil; you know you are [the bigger person] and everything will fall into place eventually. If someone tells a lie about you, the truth will always come out.”

Achieng eventually found friendship in a fellow student named Hyacinthe Botty-Irie. She could confide in him and encourages all those who are the victims of bullying to look for someone they can trust.

“If there is any definition of true friendship, he is a true friend. When I’m with him and when I’m not present, he is someone I can count on to [respect me],” Achieng said. “I could share [my struggles] with him and he helped me move on. He was a Godsend.”

Achieng made even more friends by joining student organizations like Global Student Association and also found support in various Lakeland faculty members. Of course, her sister back home has always been her angel and the most supportive person in her life.

Achieng shares that Lakeland College and the Zawadi Africa Organization were always there for her and she is eternally grateful for the opportunities they provided her with.

“I had dreams when I was growing up, but my dreams were never this big, such as coming to study in America,” Achieng said. “This was only realizable because of the full scholarship that I received at Lakeland and the support of the Zawadi Africa Family.”

Achieng hopes to remain in the United States to obtain her master’s. She desires to then go back to Kenya in order to begin an orphanage with her sister and further their efforts to give the children in their village the same opportunities they have known.

Achieng strives to help others, whether it is through financial donations to children in Kenya or sharing her story to inspire victims of bullying. She realizes that she has experienced many trials and triumphs in her life, but she would not have it any other way and firmly believes everything worked out for the best.

“Always, always trust in God,” Achieng advises anyone whose life has not always gone as planned. “We may think we have our plans set up, but He has His own plans, and often times they are better!”