By Joyce Ashuntantang, Ph.D.
At 13, Martha Endum Teke became the youngest student to graduate from Saker Baptist College, Limbe Cameroon. Now, at 17, she joins Danielle McBurnett as the youngest graduate from a university nursing program in the USA. Endum received her degree, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Texas A &M University. She graduated Magna Cum Laude on May 21st 2010 and was equally inducted into the Nursing Honors Society. However, while McBurnett graduated from Arizona State University in 2009, she was homeschooled till the age of 12. Endum, on the other hand, took a route that began in an elementary school, in the USA to Saker Baptist College in Cameroon, West Africa. Born on September 4 1992 in Erie, Pennsylvania, Endum is the daughter of Martha and Mathias Teke who are originally from Cameroon and reside in Dallas, Texas. The young Endum’s success has been a combination of intelligence and discipline on her part and foresight on the part of her parents.
Endum’s mother who is also named Martha, decided as soon as she was born that she will attend her alma mater, Saker Baptist College. Her reasons were three fold, “I wanted my daughter to grow in an environment where she will develop total self confidence without the cloud of racism limiting her self-esteem. Secondly as an alumnus of Saker Baptist College, I knew the kind of education she was going to get. It benefitted me several years ago and I knew it would be the same for my daughter. Thirdly, I wanted her to know her extended family in Cameroon; I wanted her to know the people behind her so she has a sense of her identity”. Despite these lofty reasons the decision was not a simple one. In fact the extended family in Cameroon resisted because they did not want to take responsibility if anything went wrong with the young Endum. They believed that a kid who had been born and raised in the USA would not survive the rigors of a boarding school in Cameroon. To complicate matters the young Endum was an only child at the time. However when she completed 3rd grade, Mr. and Mrs. Teke decided to take a leap of faith and Endum was sent to Saker Baptist college, Limbe. She was barely 9 years old. Fortunately, Saker Baptist College, which is the equivalent of a middle/high school in the USA, is one of the best in Cameroon. The school which draws its name from the British baptist missionary, Alfred Saker, was founded in 1962 by American Baptist missionaries. Since its inception, Saker, an all-girls boarding school, has proven to be a beacon for quality education framed with Christian ideals. In addition, Saker Baptist College boasts a robust alumni organization, EXSSA (Ex Saker students Association), USA. This alumni organization with over 500 women from all works of life is a dynamic force in the Diaspora. Since Endum’s mother, Martha Akwa Teke, is a founding member of EXSSA USA and a founding president of the Dallas Chapter, Endum had the privilege of meeting many accomplished sakerettes (as ex students are fondly called). So even as a child she understood the caliber of women who had gone through Saker.While in Saker, Endum surprised everyone with her resilience. The truth is, about three months before she left for school in Cameroon, her mother tested her with the Saker routine from waking up at dawn to keeping strict schedules. By the time the young child left for Cameroon, her parents were sure she was up to the task. However, they could not take chances with malaria and any other diseases which the young Endum could pick up because she was not accustomed to the environment. A friend of the family, Dr. Ogwu, got into gear, and prepared a mobile pharmacy for the girl- with everything ranging from malaria prevention medication to wound care supplies. Despite all these, when Endum got to Saker, it was still an uphill climb. As she explains “I had to adjust to everything. The other students found my accent strange and they made fun of me. I was used to Cameroonian food but I had to get used to the portions served at school which I found small; I had to learn to wash clothes with my hands and also to bathe with cold water”. When asked, how she survived all this, Endum answered “I was determined to succeed. When I was leaving the USA, many people kept saying I would not make it to the end of the school year, and I don’t like it when people say I cannot do something, so I was challenged to endure. Also my parents had prepared me for the most part to expect some of the difficulties. Once I survived the first year, other years were easy and by the time I got to form five, it was my parents who were forcing me to come back to the USA for vacation.” In this way Endum adjusted and graduated from Saker in 2006 with 10 papers at the GCE Ordinary level. She was only 13. Her grades were also excellent, Economics-A, Geography A- Maths –A Religion-A, Biology-B, Further Maths-B Chemistry-B, Physics-B History-B.
In terms of the values she gained in Saker and Cameroon in general, Endum is very articulate and passionate, “First of all Saker being a Christian school instilled in me faith based values. With morning and evening devotions as part of our daily routine, I learned to have respect for God. Then there is the Saker tradition of singing- now I sing in my church- this is also my way of praising God. Also I learned discipline. There was a strict routine to follow. A time to eat, prep time for studies, and there was a bell to prompt us. This has helped me to always organize myself in a productive manner. Thirdly, the expectations in Saker force one to study and work hard. Everyone in Cameroon values education, so every student wants to learn. Results are announced, so you have to work hard. In the USA, education seems to be a question of choice for students and unless they have very dedicated parents and teachers, they can easily fall on the way side, but in Cameroon it is everybody who is cheering you on. Above all, I learned how to respect my peers and my elders. When it comes to respect there’s a huge difference between Cameroon and the USA. Here students call their teachers by first names. It is true this breaks barriers but it also creates a climate where students don’t respect teachers and this equally creates a barrier to learning. The truth is with respect comes humility- that is why I do not consider myself special in any way”
Armed with these values, Endum was ready at 13 to enroll in a college to pursue her dream of becoming a medical doctor. Fortunately for her, her parents believed that her Saker education had prepared her well for the American college system and did not force her to repeat high school in the US as some Cameroonian/African parents have done. Nevertheless, her parents were aware that being away in college needed a certain maturity beyond her years, so she enrolled in Colin County Community college close to home. Here she picked up pre-requisites for a degree in Nursing because Endum and her parents believe that she will be a more patient-oriented medical doctor if she becomes a nurse first. At 15, Endum got admitted to the Texas A &M Health Science Center to pursue a B.Sc in Nursing. Her parents allowed her to go away this time but unfortunately as a 3rd year student she was only granted an off campus housing. This meant cooking her own food and doing laundry as well. Once more her parents knew that this was quite heavy for a 15 year old and this in addition to carrying a 17 credits course load. So every two weeks Endum’s mom, Martha drove to college station with cooked food to last two weeks and picked up dirty laundry and even took out trash. Mom did not have to worry for too long because once Endum’s classmates and teachers got to know her age, they rallied around with every support they could offer including rides to school, since Endum is yet to have her driver’s license.
As Endum confesses, the program was quite tedious for her especially when it came to transferring facts from textbooks to hands on patient care. In fact some students felt she was too young to be an effective nurse, but determined, she pressed on and with the help of dedicated teachers, she passed all her exams with a GPA of 3.83, graduating Magna Cum Laude. Her family of over fifty members dressed in traditional regalia was present to witness history as Endum climbed the rostrum to take her degree. Her parents who were seated on the podium barely contained their pride, let alone members of her church who all trooped to the graduation to celebrate one of their own.
Endum's immediate family- only a fraction of the "village" that has molded her.
With graduation behind her, Endum is now focused on her next step- getting admission into Harvard medical school. She knows it will be quite tough, but as Endum puts it, “I am not afraid, Saker Baptist College armed me with the right values and with my B.Sc in Nursing, and the grace of the Almighty God, I will forge ahead in faith”. With such a profound sense of determination, I know we have not heard the last of this bright, young and dynamic Sakerette. As our ancestors would say: Endum, our ears are to the ground…
* Dr. Joyce Ashuntantang is a proud alumnus of Saker Baptist College and teaches at Hillyer college, University of Hartford