From Africa to Buckeye Nation
Written by Dave Claborn
Five years ago, Molly Fendru was living in the tiny village of Onai, Uganda, 7,324 miles from Marion, Ohio. She didn’t speak English. One of eight children, she survived as her mother did the best she could to keep the family fed. On particularly lean days, the children’s mother, Irene, would give her brood salt or a thin porridge made from roots. Molly would look at her sadly. “Mom, that’s not even food,” the daughter would say.
Fast forward to today. Fendru, who, in her first thirteen years subsisted on root stew and water from a communal hole in the ground, is now a freshman pre-pharmacy student at The Ohio State University at Marion. The story of her journey from a remote African village to one of the top universities in the United States is a tale of luck, determination, and gratitude.
Fendru’s adoptive father is from Uganda originally, but was brought to the United States by an uncle when he was very young. He is a computer programmer in Lewis Center. Five years ago, he and his family decided to pay forward and adopt another child from his home country. Eventually, Molly’s older brother got wind of the search for a girl who met certain requirements of temperament and intellectual promise. He suggested his sister. Her mom was the last to know.
“The teardrops on my mom’s face are what affected me most,” said Fendru. “In that moment, I stared into my mother’s eyes and saw a glimmer of hope within the sadness.”
In her culture, she said, women’s status is below the farm animals most families keep. For an intelligent young woman with curiosity and drive, there was little to hope for. That is, until her mother gave her permission to be adopted.
When she arrived in the United States with her adoptive father, she knew no English. For the first few days, she hid in her room. Then, gradually, she emerged, listened to her new siblings and went to work over that first summer translating words and practicing her new language.
At Olentangy Orange High School, Molly continued to perfect her language skills—and took advantage of what she calls “a priceless gift: the chance to receive the education my parents wanted, but couldn’t provide.”
The Ugandan teenager took computer graphics, college prep English, geometry, economics, U.S. government, pre-calculus, chemistry, and biology among her courses. She graduated with a 4.0 grade point average.
“Five years ago, I would have laughed at the thought of attending college,” Fendru said. “I never heard of college—ever.” But, “with the amazing opportunities I was given, I’ve already made it so much farther than I ever expected—and I plan to climb even higher,” she added.
Her plan is to become a pharmacist and help people in her home country gain access to modern medication. She lost a brother to an accident a year ago. “If he’d had care,” she said, “if he’d had someone there to help him with medication, we probably could have saved him. His name was Dennis. Not just him, but so many people—little kids, old people, every age. People are dying. They don’t have the right medication at the right time.”
She had “a crazy idea—maybe build some clinics” to bring medication and medical help to people in villages like hers.
She also hopes to be an inspiration. “I want to, sometime, show them—the people there, just like me, born in a village, that they can also get there.”
Fendru doesn’t take her good fortune lightly. She’s received the President’s Affordability Grant and the federal Pell Grant for her studies at Ohio State Marion. “I’m just thankful—every day. Somebody worked really hard for that money. Now, I have to work hard to actually make use of it,” she said. “I’m very appreciative. It means the world to me.”
“Sometimes I just can’t stop smiling,” reflected the young lady from Onai. “I’m actually here! I’m actually going to do it. I have the potential to graduate, get a degree, not to mention at The Ohio State University. It’s an unbelievable feeling. I can’t even describe it. There aren’t even words.”
Some might call it Buckeye Nation, paying forward.