College students strengthen Springfield-Lesotho relationship

Lemohang Mokhalinyane, from Lesotho, is a student at Clark State Community College in Springfield. Bill Lackey/Staff

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Lemohang Mokhalinyane, from Lesotho, is a student at Clark State Community College in Springfield. Bill Lackey/Staff

Lesotho women attending college at Wittenberg, Clark State

In May, King Letsie III of Lesotho, a nation of about 2.2 million people located within South Africa, will give Wittenberg University’s commencement address.

But King Letsie won’t be the first — and likely not the last — Lesotho citizen to make an impression on Springfield’s collegiate academics.

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With the help of Springfield’s Rotary Club, two Lesotho women, Neo Mosoeunyane and Lemohang Mokhalinyane, have spent their past few years attending college at Wittenberg University and Clark State Community College, respectively.

For over a decade, the Springfield community has developed a close relationship with Lesotho. Representatives from the Rotary Club and from Wittenberg make frequent trips to the nation to do service projects.

Mosoeunyane’s father helped to coordinate many of those visits, she said, which was how she met Springfield Rotary members who encouraged her to apply to Wittenberg.

Mosoeunyane applied, and when she was accepted and offered assistance to come study in the United States, she seized the opportunity.

“It really was more exciting than it was scary,” she said, remembering her first trip the United States for her freshman orientation.

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Between her host parents, Cathy Crompton and Ross McGregor, and other community members she met through Rotary, Mosoeunyane said she had a built-in support system for her when she moved to Springfield.

The first semester was difficult academically but she was soon able to settle in to her studies, deciding on a major in exercise science and a minor in business. She worked two jobs, including one with the university’s athletic department, and started joining student organizations.

“I’m a pretty social person,” Mosoeunyane said. “So, it wasn’t really daunting to meet people. I loved learning about people from other states and about their cultures and then telling them about Lesotho.”

Mosoeunyane graduated in December and, over the next several months, will be taking a few extra classes before applying to graduate programs. She hopes to earn her doctorate in physical therapy at either the University of Dayton, the Ohio State University or the University of Cincinnati.

Mokhalinyane, who came to Springfield one semester after Mosoeunyane did, also has aspirations of working in medicine. She’s studying to become a nurse and recently applied to Clark State’s program.

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She was scared when she first left Lesotho in December 2014, but she believed she was making the right decision.

Mokhalinyane is from a small village in Lesotho’s Maseru district. The youngest of four, Mokhalinyane was the first in her family to graduate from high school.

During one of the Springfield Rotary Club’s visits to Lesotho, they came to Mokhalinyane’s school, where she was the head prefect at the time, an equivalent to an American school’s student body president.

When she met the group of visitors, Mokhalinyane said, she told them all about herself and her life — including some things she had never discussed with anyone, she said, like her own family’s struggles with poverty.

“Poverty makes you embarrassed. I never talked to anybody about it,” Mokhalinyane said. “I told these people everything, not knowing they would take it to heart.”

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Weeks later, she received a phone call, offering her the opportunity to come to Springfield to attend college. It was like a dream, she said.

Like Mosoeunyane, she’s extremely grateful to her host parents, Bill and Deanna Brougher — “They are the best thing ever” — and to many others in Springfield whom she calls her “other families.”

Mosoeunyane settled well into her life in Springfield, she said, and considers Clark State’s campus her second home.

In her years living in the United States, Mokhalinyane has visited six states. She said she loves how people who live in different states, even though they are all Americans, will talk in different ways, eat different foods and wear different clothes.

Growing up, Mosoeunyane dreamed of being a radio announcer, but, when she came to Clark State, she decided she would pursue a different path, though she wasn’t sure what.

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The class that changed everything for her, she said, was an anatomy course that used cadavers for hands-on training and education.

“I knew I had skin. I knew I had bones, but I didn’t know the importance,” she said.

Mokhalinyane feels a passion now, she said, to help people as a nurse and hopes especially to help people in Lesotho.

“We experience so much death in Lesotho,” Mokhalinyane said. “So many people die because we lack knowledge.”

Life expectancy in Lesotho is just 43 for men and 46 for women, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the leading causes of death are HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

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Mosoeunyane and Mokhalinyane both plan to return to Lesotho to put what they’ve learned in college to action. Both being in medicine, they have even discussed finding a way to work together, Mosoeunyane said.

They also hope to help other young Lesotho citizens have the same opportunity to attend college here in Springfield.

Though they didn’t know each other before coming to Springfield, Mosoeunyane and Mokhalinyane are now good friends.

“Actually, she is my sister now,” Mokhalinyane said.

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