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Striving for a bigger cause: Lanyero's nursing aspirations led her to Alexandria

Winnifred Lanyero carries a box of food at her local church in Glenwood, where she volunteers for Manna Market. She will be attending Alexandria Technical & Community College in August. (Contributed)1 / 3
Winnifred's living conditions in Northern Uganda. (Contributed) 2 / 3
Winnifred Lanyero volunteers at her local church in Glenwood in her free time. On Tuesday's she helps out with the food at the manna Market. Lanyero is will be attending Alexandria technical and Community College in August. (Contributed) 3 / 3

In July 2017, Winnifred Lanyero stepped out of a plane and walked on American soil for the first time. Even though she was only 21 years old, she had witnessed a lot, including two decades of war, poverty, mutilation and other heinous crimes committed by the Lord Resistance Army in her home country of Uganda.

Lanyero came to the United States for one sole purpose — to earn a nursing degree and return to Uganda and educate the people there about how to use modern medicine.

Through the help of two local Minnesotans, she enrolled in the Alexandria Adult Basic Education program. After placement exams, her counselors realized she had an elementary level of education. Eighteen months later, she has been accepted into Alexandria Technical & Community College's nursing program.

Winnifred's home country

Lanyero, who was born to a single mother 22 years ago in northern Uganda, alternated living with her mother and her grandparents for about six years before being sent to live with her uncle.

"My grandfather saved me from being abducted by the rebels by sending me to central Uganda," Lanyero said. "The two years I lived at my uncle's place was very challenging. His wife was very evil. She treated me like a slave and deprived me of food."

One of the worst experiences Lanyero had living there is when she nearly died from starvation.

"At one point, I almost lost my life by not having food for three days," she said. "I ate rotten food from the rubbish pit in order to survive."

When the war was nearly over, Lanyero moved back in with her grandparents. With financial help from her uncle, she was able to attend boarding school. However, during her senior year of high school her uncle could no longer afford the costs.

"I almost dropped out of school," Lanyero said. "Thanks to 'Peace Together Uganda' I was able to continue with my education." PTU is a Catholic non-profit organization in Uganda that helps students with attending and finishing school.

In 2016, PTU invited 20 Ugandan students to share their stories with American supporters of the program. During these meetings, Lanyero met two people that would change her life forever.

"Tyler Holte is a big supporter of PTU," she said. "He was one of the Americans that asked me about my personal life, my childhood and my dream for the future. Later on Tyler asked me if I wanted to come study in the United States."

After consulting with her family and working out the logistics with the PTU, Lanyero found herself on a plane to Minnesota to live with Holte's mother, Deb, in Glenwood.

Continuing her education

When Lanyero came to the U.S., she encountered problems with her high school diploma. Colleges around the state would not recognize her certificate of completion from Uganda. She decided to enroll into Alexandria's ABE program to earn a GED.

"I want to become a nurse," she said. "My mother has been sick for over 25 years. My people back home are sick and need help. I never dreamt I would become a nurse but I want to help improve the health conditions in my country."

Lanyero knew she faced a long road ahead in school. However, the road got longer after completing the basic examinations at ABE.

"It became clear that the schooling in Uganda did not equal the U.S. schooling at all," Alexandria ABE Manager Sylvia Galbraith said. "She had a third-grade reading level, a fourth-grade writing level, and I think her math was even a little bit lower."

Lanyero was faced with another challenge in her life. Her motivation to get back home pushed her to work harder than she had ever worked. Galbraith and Lanyero spent many hours over the span of 18 months in order for her to pass the required courses and exams to earn her GED.

"She put in so much work and time," Galbraith said. "She focused on what she needed to learn because she understood what she needed to do. We were able to help her get an Adult Competency Based Diploma."

An Adult Competency Based Diploma, issued by the state, takes components of general GED testing and basic aspects of living to provide an alternative way of getting a high school diploma.

"She basically had to show us that she could meet the standards of college and career readiness," Galbraith said. "She struggled in the process, but overall she did very well."

Lanyero was also required to take another exam after earning her GED. As a foreign student, she had to prove that she could not only understand the English language, but apply and speak it successfully. After passing the several requirements to be accepted into college, she was accepted into the nursing program at ATCC.

Another bump in the road

Lanyero received some troubling news again just months before she was set to attend ATCC. When she came here, she was on a visitors visa. Because she spent extra time getting her GED, she was forced to apply to change the status of her visa.

"I reached out to them about the process and they said it usually takes about 10 months to get it changed," Lanyero said. "I can't go to college until I have the visa. I was planning on attending this January, but I will have to wait until August of 2019."

Lanyero is allowed to live in the United States while she waits for her visa. Before she goes back to school, she is helping out by volunteering at her local church in Glenwood.

"I am so grateful to God for all that he has done in my life," Lanyero said. "I want to dedicate my life to sharing his love with the hurting people in the world."

After all of the hoops she has had to jump through, it would be easy to just quit. However, her passions are with her people back home and she will stop at nothing to become a nurse so she can help her peers in Uganda.

"I never would have dreamt of becoming a nurse," Lanyero said. "I would like to become a nurse because people are dying from simple illnesses due to the lack of proper treatment. Having medical knowledge will help me educate people about health care, sanitation and disease prevention."

Through all of the turmoil that Lanyero has encountered, she is grateful for the help that she has received from.

"If it weren't for so many people I wouldn't be here in the U.S. today," she said. "I owe the world to Tyler and Deb. All the people that helped me with school are so great. God is so great. I want to give back and help. I want to heal the wounds of war."