Words of JFK inspire immigrant to seek new life in the U.S.

In his home in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Roland Nzima was working as a technical engineer and a project manager. While he experienced some level of success, Nzima knew he had to make a choice between his career and his future—a future that would be significantly improved by coming to the United States. Nzima explained that even though Congo is among one of the richest countries in the world due to its immense natural resources, the majority of citizens are impoverished due to a poorly run political system. His dream of coming to the United States was realized when he won the Diversity Visa Lottery, a program that attracts millions of applicants worldwide and provides about 50,000 immigrants a legal route to permanent residency in the United States each year.

Nzima has been living in the United States for 18 months and says that while he is now living his dream, his new life is not without challenges. “French is my first language and it was difficult to find a job, and even to communicate with people,” he says. “I used body language [to communicate] and wondered why I came to this country. Then I remembered something that the former president of the United States, John Kennedy, said: ‘Change is hard but it is the law of life. And only those people who look in the past are certain to miss the future.’” Inspired by that quote, Nzima started learning English online before hearing about the services available at the West Side Learning Center (WSLC) on Gifford Street in Syracuse. There, the staff introduced him to a training and certification program available through the Center for Workforce Education and Development at Syracuse University.

The Center for Workforce Education and Development, administered by University College, is dedicated to improving the quality of the existing and emerging workforce in the Central New York region by bringing the regional education, economic development and workforce development sectors into closer alignment. Their goal is to ensure that the education and training delivered to students, incumbent workers and career changers provide them with the skills they need to achieve economic self sufficiency.

Theresa Pagano, program facilitator for Partners in Learning, Inc., at WSLC, said that Nzima’s motivation and diligence helped him move through the certification program quickly. Nzima began the program at level one and quickly worked his way up to a level three, the bronze-certificate level, with the assistance of a coach mentor provided through a training grant. He was then accepted into the Industry Certification Training Program—a partnership between WSLC, the Westcott Community Center, Manufacturers Association of Central New York, and Onondaga Community College. “This was a logical pathway for Roland, given his background knowledge and experience as a telecommunications engineer,” says Pagano. “We accessed the training program and he worked independently in order to improve his skills. He passed all of the Industry Certification Training modules and was hired by Marquardt Switches, Inc.”

Nzima finished the required courses and exams and is now a certified production technician. When the grant concluded, Nzima continued to work independently and advanced to the silver-certificate level. He has earned certifications in maintenance, production, and safety and quality control. “I realize that learning is power,” says Nzima. “I have dreams—not in the same way as Martin Luther King, but about my life—to get a degree in telecommunications, become a business owner, and one day go back to the Congo to help other people.” Nzima says that he would like to open a free school and a small hospital in his country, but realizes that he has to continue to improve his English skills in order for others to understand his ideas.

What advice does he have for other immigrant students? “People say that the USA is the land of opportunity and they are right. Try to do your best and the best will come back to you. Don’t get confused between language and knowledge. You have the knowledge; you only need the English language,” he says.

Nzima carries with him the advice of his father. “He told me, ‘worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere.’”

He is grateful to all who have helped him on his journey, especially the West Side Learning Center and the Center for Workforce Education and Development. He welcomes the opportunity to give back to those who have helped him succeed by painting rooms at the West Side Learning Center and transporting other students to appointments.

Nzima was recently invited to be the keynote speaker at the WSLC Adult Learner Achievement Awards. He addressed the audience in his new language and shared his appreciation. “Thanks for everything you are doing and all you have done for us. Keep up the good work. God bless America. Thank you. Merci.”