My Story at VERITAS: No Cross, No Crown

African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC)

Sr. Anthonia's educational journey took perseverance, strength and faith, which all paid off. Here she is on graduation day at VERITAS.

In this piece, Rev. Sr. Anthonia Ebong, HHCJ, reflects on the strength and faith it took to persevere through challenges in life and education.

With two of my siblings Amadu and Uduak (nee, Ebong) as licensed Midwives and General Nurse practitioners, I had always wanted to be a medical doctor, a gynecologist precisely, when I grew up. My mother, Margaret, a dedicated catechist for the Catholic Diocese of Ikot Ekpene, and my late father, a well-known and impactful Headmaster, a community leader and lover of good things for his people, and the rest of my siblings had all remained my inspiration. Therefore, my call to be a religious sister and my love for education and medicine, in particular, are not accidental.

When my Provincial Superior, Sr. Theresa Ashi, HHCJ asked me to pick up a “Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board” (JAMB) form in preparation for an undergraduate study in 2017, I was excited. I studied with the help of a private coach. Thanks to God, I had a good and dedicated teacher who prepared me for JAMB, this helped me later at VERITAS! The private lessons helped me to make up for the challenge I had in mathematics, chemistry, and physics while studying biology on my own. 

Although this was a more expensive option to take, yet, it became the best option for my set goals. My decision was thus because there are lots of calculations in physics and Chemistry as well as mathematics while Biology has always been my best subject, I had no problem studying it alone. I sat for and passed the exams with a score of 306 points. I was admitted to VERITAS University of Nigeria (VUNA), in Abuja, our Nation’s capital.

I was full of excitement. It was breath-taking to travel by land to see the beautiful and changing vegetations, from the dense forest areas of the South to vast miles of stunted vegetation with its streaks of brown-yellowish golden leaves that sometimes mingled with the colors of the sand of the approaching Sahel region of the northern part of our country. It was quite a stark difference from the view from the balcony of our Provincial house at Calabar, close to the creeks of the Atlantic Ocean. Here, one could see the evergreen vegetation with its shrubs and the beautifully colored butterflies with the diving seagulls along with the brilliantly colored birds and the electric blue under-bellied red kingfishers flashing over the Atlantic banks, picking their foods!

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Initial Obstacles:

My dream was that marriage of these happy views exuded by nature with the beauty of the breath-taking vegetation in the South and changing towards our nation’s capital will provide a very serene environment for my studies. Yes, my dream of becoming a medical doctor intensified! However, upon arrival at Veritas University, VUNA, I discovered that the University had no accreditation for Medical Courses. I had to change the course of my studies. I settled for science Education and enrolled in the Department of Science Education, thereby combining Science with Educational Courses. This combination increased my credit loads! In addition, Theology became a compulsory course with zero credit hours! Year one became so tough and stressful because each science subject also had a distinct time for practicals in which examinations were given separately on practical one week before the actual examination starts. At this point, my determination to succeed became a focal point rather than giving up on my goals. It was a difficult juggling between the classes, the library, loads of assignments, tests, and my spiritual life. But I was focused and determined.

New Strategies:

This new turn of events caused me to make some quick decisions. On my first day of lecture, the realities on the ground were different. I looked older than many of my coursemates. They looked younger bustling with youthful energy and noise as well as what I saw as, “unnecessary chit-chatting and distractions in the lecture hall, with apparently nobody in charge. I watched with restraint and hope for a more serene environment for focused study when the dust had settled. For one month, there was none. I had to strike at some other options. I quickly looked around for students with like minds and formed our study group. We were committed, disciplined, and determined to make good grades. We gathered often to brainstorm and solve difficult problems. We were not afraid to ask each other questions and willingly share ideas. It was pleasant at every meeting point and things worked very well.

My driving force was the ability to focus on my set goals and my willingness to accomplish those goals.  At this point, sleep hours were reduced tremendously, and time to prepare good meals became a luxury. At other times, I became overwhelmed with the workload and began to procrastinate living my assignments to deadlines and causing me more stress, anxiety, and a sleepless night. In all of these challenges, I didn’t give up. I kept striving, struggling hard day by day to overcome my challenges and pushing harder, taking one step at a time. In my subconscious, I was constantly being reminded in my mind of the chanting of my family members in unison, echoing with my favorite name, ”Daramfon, no cross, no crown.”  I would jerk back from my dreamy state into a world of reality with things to do and deadlines to meet. It was a constant struggle!

Veritas University offered a serene and conducive environment for studies. It offered free internet, a well-equipped library, and talented teachers who were willing to assist at any given time. It is a place of moral values and academic excellence. A pride of our generation with discipline as our watchword. We suspended gratification to reach our goals which were achievements of success. Veritas University gave me very good learning opportunities with good and seasoned teachers who are very accessible, dependable, and sound. There was never a time I was turned down by any lecturer. They were always willing to teach and their joy was more whenever they see their students make efforts to learn. Their words of encouragement and support were always soul uplifting. I thank God for the gift of Veritas University Abuja, for being so outstanding in its values. I hope that sooner medical courses would be accredited so that people with various aspirations would go to this great institution and learn and be inspired as I am.

Much like explorers in search of pearls or precious stones, who even under extreme conditions must manage risk and uncertainty, I sustained my resolve and persevered to the end. I took the bull by the horn and stepped up for the height. I researched even more, and asked for clarifications and more explanations on difficult topics from my course mate and teachers. I was willing to learn under the sun and cold – and even when many complained my complexion had changed, I didn’t mind because I was in search of a goal. The school library became my best friend and the internet ate my money more than my stomach. But all this I did to satisfy the yearning of fulfilling my dreams because I was not ready for defeat nor to be swallowed up in the storm, and the only way out was hard work and determination. 

Then I realized that it was getting lighter and easier by the day. As the day went by, the weight was reduced and my obstacles began to melt gradually like ice before the wind. From year two upward I became a student teacher and a coach to many and the joy was that the more I teach others, the more I understand it myself. Towards my last year, I had a lot to handle, but sometimes would stay inspired through words of kindness. Focusing on this mindset can make someone’s day or even change their lives, and thus in changing other people’s lives you may be changing your life too. 

I made this my policy never to turn anyone away because I was still connected to my roots. I had not forgotten my struggles so it was easy to bend down and help others to learn. Although I still have a long way to go in learning, I want all my readers to note that every success story has untold struggles, therefore when you are going through stress and suffering, hold on to your goals because you are on your path to success. 

My success was not achieved in isolation, but on the shoulders of so many, and as a result, I can stand tall. To all my friends who made studying fun for me at Veritas University, may God bless and increase your knowledge. My sincere thanks and gratitude to my religious family (Handmaid of the Holy Child Jesus), ASEC/HESA family (African Sister Education Collaborative), Ebong's dynasty, Teachers, coursemates, and friends for their support, encouragement, sponsorship, and trust. 

The key to my success was indeed in my hands but so many hands supported my hands to open my door to success. For us to be successful, we have to be willing to seek help where we are deficient and with unwavering effort move towards our goals. 

To all those who have yet to begin University, I urge you not to be discouraged by the obstacles ahead. You can make it! Yes, everyone can achieve good grades! Don’t be too shy to ask questions about what you want to study and let your preparation for studies be a daily agenda. Never go to bed without reading a page of your textbook, and don’t give interference a chance to deal with your self-worth. As you carry out your daily apostolate in your various congregations, stay connected to your goals. Never forget that you have so much potential embedded in you that must be developed and enhanced for a more enriched ministry. Your zeal must not be waived by challenges – always remember that success is often connected with action! Never give up on your goals. Don’t stop asking questions until you get the right answers, and if you receive, do not refuse to give to others in need.

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Communities across Africa are counting on Catholic Sisters, but 71% lack the education needed to carry out their important mission work. You can be a Ray of Hope for a Sister who needs you by donating to her education today.

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This article is addressing the following UN Sustainable Development Goal(s):

Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all
Rev. Sr. Anthonia Ebong HHCJ

Rev. Sr. Anthonia Ebong HHCJ
Author - Nigeria  

Monica Simon

Monica Simon
Former Web Content Manager - USA  

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