Education means many things to people. To some it means freedom, to some a better life, to others it is a way to have a meaningful career. To Benjamin Yagan, it is all of these and more. Benjamin is a native of Kenya. He came to the United States to fulfill his, his mother's and his community’s hope for a better life. His widowed mother, a kindergarten teacher, started teaching him at a young age that an education would be the key to freedom of poverty. This freedom will not be easy nor would it be free.
Education in his home country of Kenya is not available to everyone nor is it required. Benjamin’s father died when he was 13 years-old leaving his mother, who made approximately $66 a month, to sell beans or firewood after school to keep her children in school. His mother was also able to get a loan to help pay for his education. As Benjamin got older and advanced into high school, his brother and two sisters took a break from school so that he could continue on with his classes. The high school was a boarding school therefore considerably more expensive.
In Kenya, students not only have to pay fees to attend classes, but also find their own transportation. Benjamin would run to school until his family purchased a bicycle. The one hour trip on his bicycle would take him through brush-filled roads requiring his mother to remove thorns from his feet and legs.
Once Benjamin completed high school, his dream was to come to the United States of America and attend a university. He conversed with a university in Wichita, KS and started the process of becoming an international student. Step one was to find a financial sponsor, essentially someone with a healthy bank account who would help him financially through college. He found a “friend of a friend” who said they would provide the funding him.
Step two, the most difficult, was to get the visa from the embassy. Benjamin visited the embassy four times and each time the answer was a resounding NO! In fact the last time he visited, they escorted him out and told him not to return because his financial sponsor had closed the bank account and the money was not available. This was devastating to him both emotionally and financially. His family had sold most of what they had for the $1,000 fee for each of the visa applications. They had sold two cows, a sheep and two large pieces of steel roofing. They had also asked family and friends for assistance with the money to help pay for the application fees. It was difficult for Benjamin to tell his mother about the rejection; however, she was encouraging and told him that she was praying for an answer to come to him.
Without the visa, Benjamin could not become an international student at a university in the United States. After staying in Nairobi for a month with friends, he decided to file an application in October 2009 for a U.S. green card, which put him in a lottery for the green card. His mother continued to pray, but this time for the green card. Her prayers were partially answered in May of 2010 when Benjamin got a letter indicating that he was chosen to continue the application process and needed to come to an interview at the embassy. After his last encounter at the embassy, he was hesitant to return. His mother encouraged him; however, the cost of going to Nairobi again and application fees pushed the family to sell some of their land used to grow beans and vegetables. By this time, the many family and friends that helped in the past were not were no longer able or willing to support him financially. They thought his dream of going to the United States was just that – a dream.
In September 2010, Benjamin Yagan received his acceptance for his green card. A great day for his family, but it also meant more financial struggles to provide the funding for physicals, immunizations and travel costs including airfare. He also would need a sponsor from the United States to write an affidavit of support. His sponsor was a friend associated with a church in Marshall MN.
As Ben traveled to the United States, he had a layover in Qatar. While staying the hotel with a large nice bed and a flush toilet, Benjamin wept thinking of what it took for this all to happen. In that room, Benjamin wrote down 3 promises: 1) Give back to his mother for all that she sacrificed. 2) Give back to God. 3) Give back to the community that helped him reach his dream.
Benjamin got to the United States on October 16, 2011.
Within one month, Benjamin secured a job with the Schwan Food Company in the factory. He was thrilled with his first paycheck. He sent it all to his mother except the $20 application fee to start his college career with Minnesota West Community & Technical College. Finally, he was a college student in the United States.
Benjamin started by taking the certified nursing assistant course at the courthouse in Marshall, followed by biology, anatomy and general course work leading to acceptance into the nursing program at the Minnesota West. He finally was accepted into the practical nursing program at Minnesota West – Pipestone Campus in August 2013. After successfully completing that program with honors, Benjamin continued on for a second year and once again graduated with honors with his associate Degree of Nursing (RN) in May 2015. He plans to continue on this fall working towards a Bachelor of Nursing degree, which is offered online.
While attending classes full-time, Benjamin continued to work three different jobs. The money earned has been used to make good on the promises he made in 2011. He helped his mother build a house, dig a well, and buy a car. He purchased more land for his mother, including the land they sold for his airline ticket, and secured the area with a fence. He helped his church in Kenya construct a better building and consistently sends money to support his home church. He is paying for his sister’s education as well as another student from his village.
Benjamin wants to help others who have the desire and ambition to come to the United States and receive their education. He is helping about 120 high school graduates from his village to apply for a green card and start the application process. The application process is similar to a lottery. He is hoping that 20 will be chosen for a green card. In return, he hopes these young people will come to the United States to get an education, begin their careers, and then help others out of the poverty he has experienced.
Benjamin has brought at least 5 students to Minnesota West to pursue their education dreams. When asked where he felt his educational journey would end, he showed his first sign of uncertainty. Benjamin is undecided if he should become a nurse practitioner, a nurse anesthetist, or a doctor. No matter what Benjamin Yagan decides, he will always be grateful for his mother’s dream and prayers to get him this far.