something new


Jacob Greenia

Fadhili Achinda

Hailing from Tanzania, Fadhili Achinda is one of Johnson State’s newest students. After spending eight years apart from her father, Achinda arrived in Vermont with the rest of her family. Her dream has always been to get an education. Now that dream has brought her into the Johnson community.
There are eight children in the Achinda family, including Fadhili (pronounced Fah-zee-lee) and her fraternal twin Faraja, along with three other girls and three boys. Her mother and father fled the Democratic Republic of Congo to Tanzania during the 1990s to escape the civil war that had ravaged much of central and southern Africa.
The civil war, which is sometimes split into the First Congo War and Second Congo War, claimed over five million lives and created what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Achinda recognizes how fortunate she is for the opportunity she has in Vermont, given how circumstances could have been. “I remember that my mom told me that they [moved to] Tanzania because in Africa you live with your uncle or auntie in the same city,” Achinda said. “The day she moved to Tanzania, she got a phone call: ‘You came here and the same night they killed everybody in the city.’ At that time, I wasn’t born yet so it was like a miracle [that they moved] because if they didn’t, they’d be dead, too.”
Achinda’s father, Robert, was granted asylum from Tanzania more than a decade ago, but was unable to bring his family along. It would take nearly ten years before Fadhili Achinda would see her father again.
“My father moved to America a long time ago, then I didn’t see my father for eight years,” said Achinda. “It was one of the hardest times of my life. I would start to blame him, but he had his reasons why he did that. He moved here because he wanted us to have a good life. My head was filled with all these questions to ask him: ‘Why? What happened? What is this, and this?’ My head was full of questions and full with happiness.”
Upon being reunited with her father, Achinda noticed a difference in him. “When we came here, the first year he didn’t say anything [about his health],” added Achinda. “But I noticed that something was wrong. In three years, he said, ‘I have cancer that I can’t survive.’ It was the hardest time, but we got through it.”
On July 28, 2015, Achinda’s father passed away from pancreatic cancer, according to Seven Days multimedia producer Eva Sollberger. She helped welcome Mr. Achinda and his family to Vermont in 2013 as a part of her award-winning web series, “Stuck in Vermont.”
Before she even stepped foot in Vermont, Achinda grew up in Tanzania, working each day just to secure food and water for her large family. “I always tell my friends that they are very blessed to be here and that they don’t know what they have,” Achinda said. “For example, in my country, to find water, you need to walk for two hours. I would wake up every morning at five a.m. and go work, work, work for two hours, then go find water. I’d have one [container] on my head and two in my hands. Even if you passed one hour, if that water drops down, you have to go back to find more water. You wouldn’t go back home again.”
Achinda says she remembers times when she had gone two days without food, and when there was food she busied herself cooking from scratch for a 16-member household.
“Imagine that,” Achinda said. “You go into the woods and prepare the fire by yourself. Everything’s by yourself. For example, when it’s raining, it’s hard to start a fire.”
These cultural differences between Tanzania and the United States of America are especially pronounced with gender roles, free will and love.
“Another reason why you guys are very blessed is because you can choose who you love and can choose who you are married to,” Achinda said. “When I was 15 years old my mom told me, ‘Fadhili, now’s the time to get married.’ I said no! Not at all, I want an education!
“In my country, if you don’t obey your elders rules you get a punishment,” continued Achinda. “They’d ask me, ‘Do you want a punishment? Or do you want to get married Sunday?’ I said no, I’m not getting married to someone I don’t know. I’d ask how old he was, [and they’d say] 45. I’m 15, this man I’ve never met is 45? I kept saying no, I want an education. So they kept punishing me, they tied my hands and legs so I couldn’t move and punished me like an animal.”
Today, Achinda remains adamant about achieving a quality of life that was not possible for her in Tanzania. “In my family, I was the first female to say no in front of the elders,” Achinda said. “They don’t care what they put their children through.”
Even through her difficult upbringing, Achinda always anticipated that someday she would get a quality education and make a difference within whatever community she was a part of.
“When you go to school and you are late, you aren’t going to class. They give you another job to do because you are late,” said Achinda. “When you finish your job, you go back home. Whenever I think of those things I’ve been through, I feel very blessed to be here. I make sure that education comes first.”
Part of that educational process has been Achinda’s willingness to adapt to the multitude of cultural differences she has experienced. Road-tested and cultured, Achinda has visited 83 countries and speaks seven languages, including Swahili, French and English.
“I always want to try many, many things in my life,” said Achinda. “I believe that I become very wise when I try something new. When you travel in different countries, you become very wise because you see something you’ve never seen before. If they are eating one thing a day, then I will do the same thing because I want to feel the same pain that they are feeling and have the experience that they are having.”
And though it seems like an unlikely shift from Tanzania to Johnson, Vt., Achinda hopes to make a positive impact here at Johnson State with her experienced and steadfast outlook on her new environment.
Her advice? You need to believe in yourself to achieve your goals, whether that be academic or personal.
“I always try to make people feel better, [let them know] they are not alone, and that if they look deep down that they are beautiful and good people,” Achinda said. “I’m so blessed to be at Johnson State. I feel like it’s the most beautiful place to be. My dad said that Vermont is cold but the people inside of Vermont are very warm. I believe that is true because people are very welcoming wherever you go. I believe that I can do great things at Johnson State.”