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Hard work, courage, and a 7,000-mile journey later: Meet Denise Zeunang

Local News

I’m sure you’ve heard it before: women will do anything for the love of their kids.

But how about traveling just about 7,000 miles, with four kids in tow? That’s what Denise Zeunang did to make it from west Africa to Bismarck and ensure her family a safe and prosperous future.

“We made it, and I’m so proud,” Denise shared, stirring her cup of tea.

In 2014, she closed the chapter on her life across the world in Cameroon. She, her husband, and four kids at the time boarded a plane.

“Back there you can go to school, you can have your Bachelor and when you’re done, you’ll be sitting home, no job; nothing to do,” Denise explained.

Denise says leaving felt like the only option, but she’ll never forget where she came from.

“Whatever you have is for everyone,” explained her sister-in-law Rachelle Massemo, as she poured me a cup of tea.

The spread Denise and Rachelle laid out for the interview. Providing food for guests is customary in Cameroon.

So, it was over tea and croquettes that I learned of a remarkable journey.

“It was April 2015,” Denise began. “Every day I’d go out, sometimes I’d go with the kids. We’d just walk a little bit, a little bit, and oh, I found a job.”

That was her second job, working as a housekeeper.

“I told them that I was going to be a nurse one of these days,” she added.

That’s exactly what Denise did for the love of her family, step by step, sleepless night after sleepless night, over the next five years.

“From a housekeeper, I went to CNA. Even when I was a CNA, I was like, ‘Nope, this is not going to be. I’m just going to keep going,'” she explained.

From there, she became a CMA or certified medical assistant.

“I was not sleeping at all,” she said of the time spent studying.

After several more obstacles, Denise made her own dream come true, passing the board exam and becoming a registered nurse.

She laughed and clapped sharing the story, “I was jumping all over the house. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! Thanks, God.’ I’m glad I made it through this. That’s wonderful. Thank you so much, God.”

“You never know you are brave until you are in the face of a situation that makes you realize you are brave,” added sister-in-law Rachelle. “…especially for us coming from Africa where the women are the property of men. It’s even more tough.”

They’ve known each other for more than 20 years. They came from the same village in Cameroon.

“I came here escaping, to have my life saved,” Rachelle said.

“Not knowing people, not knowing any English, it was tough. I have a master’s degree in human resources and I ended up being at the hotel, working as a housekeeper.”

Working multiple jobs while in school consumed Rachelle’s life too. The pair continues to spend their lives fighting for more for their families.

“When you have your goal of where you want to end up being, you have to have courage, you have to have determination, and you have to have faith in your own-self,” Rachelle advised.

“I don’t know how to call that in English, but in French, we say an ‘adage’, which says that ‘nothing is impossible for a Cameroonian.'”

You can see Denise’s mentality in her kids. Her twin boys are wrestlers at Bismarck High School, headed to college on scholarship in the fall.

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