‘Donnie Strong’: Students raise funds for classmate

By Michaela Althouse

Featured in The Temple News


Donnie Thomas, a first-year master’s of speech-language-hearing student, was diagnosed with classical Hodgkin’s nodular sclerosis in January. Several people from Temple helped raise funds for him. | COURTESY / DONNIE THOMAS

Donnie Thomas has had a lifelong passion for helping people.

As a child, he watched his aunt have a stroke and was tasked with helping her regain her ability to speak. It’s something the first-year master’s of speech-language-hearing student has held on to today, especially while helping students as a resident coordinator with University Housing and Residential Life.

Thomas worked as a resident assistant in Johnson Hall and 1940 Residence Hall. At Morgan Hall, he was a resident coordinator, a graduate position which assists in the management of the residential life program.

Now, Thomas is learning to receive assistance himself. In January, Thomas, 22, was diagnosed with classical Hodgkin’s nodular sclerosis, a type of lymphoma that involves abnormally large cells and tends to start at the lymph nodes.

His aunt began a Facebook fundraiser called Hope for Donnie earlier this month to pay for the medical costs of treatment. Just two weeks after its creation, Temple students, staff, family members and friends already raised more than $8,800 out of the $10,000 goal, as of Monday.

The page is filled with sentiments like “Donnie Strong” and “Stay strong, Donnie! Your friends at Temple are thinking of you!”

“Sicknesses really are a group effort,” said Thomas, who received his undergraduate degree in speech-language-hearing from Temple in 2017. “You can’t get through them alone.”

Thomas received his official diagnosis on Jan. 15. Before this, he suffered from frequent illnesses, all with inconsistent symptoms until one morning he could barely breathe and was rushed to the hospital.

Thomas decided to take a leave of absence from Temple and moved home to the Poconos to live with his mother, JoAnne Picarello, as he undergoes rounds of chemotherapy once every two weeks.

He said, at first, his doctors were worried about his lack of response to treatment and the abnormally large tumor in his chest, which forced him to spend a few weeks moving back and forth between his house and the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Northeast Philadelphia. Now, he is stabilized and has adopted a consistent treatment routine.

As medical costs began to mount, Picarello’s sister, Caroline Wilson, approached her to ask if she could start a fundraiser on Facebook to help pay for the treatment.

“Caroline said to me, ‘You do so much for everybody, please let us be able to help you,’” said Picarello, who has done charity work for cancer treatment research in the past.

Some donations came from hometown community members returning the favor of his mother’s frequent charity work, friends, co-workers and even people the family had never met.

One of the largest contributions came from Thomas’s fellow speech-language-hearing students and professors at Temple. A friend of Thomas’s and a first year master’s of speech-language-hearing student, Sonali Shah, raised $1,000 in contributions from other students in the program.

“Donnie is a really important member of our class,” Shah said. “He was sort of everyone’s favorite person. He really left a big hole in the program after leaving, and all of us just miss him.”

After gathering the money on their own, the group later added it to the larger Facebook fundraiser.

“It’s just a great feeling to know that everyone is so supportive, especially because they still reach out to me to this day to say that they miss me and it’s not the same without me,” Thomas said.

Thomas spent most of his time outside of school working as a resident coordinator, but he said he’s lucky to have a job he’s so passionate about.

He said he first got involved in “res life” during his freshman year, and since then it’s remained a large part of his Temple experience. Even off the clock, Thomas said he was very involved with the students in his building and fellow staff, who have always served as a support system for him. They’d often hang out and go out to dinner together, he said.

Picarello said she loved picking Thomas up at his residence hall and hearing about how much her son loved the school and his community of fellow students, teachers and even administrators.

Thomas hopes to return to Temple next semester. After he receives his master’s degree, he plans to work with adults who lost their ability to speak as well as children who struggle with communication and speech.

In the meantime, both Thomas and Picarello said they feel truly grateful for the emotional support and the knowledge that they have a whole community behind them.

“I know that if I didn’t have the strong support like I do, I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am today,” Thomas said.


Designing the ‘Africana Renaissance’

By Michaela Althouse and Ayooluwa Ariyo

Featured in The Temple News


Walé Oyéjidé, a 2010 Beasley School of Law alumnus and fashion designer, speaks at a “Fashioning Black Masculinity” panel at the Tyler School of Art on Thursday. Oyéjidé, who wears a jacket from his fashion label, Ikiré Jones, designed a scarf featured in the Marvel film “Black Panther.” | HANNAH BURNS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

In the post-credit scene of “Black Panther,” the titular character T’Challa wears a scarf made by Walé Oyéjidé.

Oyéjidé, a 2010 Beasley School of Law alumnus, owns an African-inspired clothing line, and his most recent work was featured in the African superhero blockbuster hit.

In his designs, Oyéjidé is known for repurposing prominent historical art to feature people of color, which he describes as “Africana Renaissance.” One of his silk scarves, “Annunciation,” depicts the Christian scene of Mary and the baby Jesus as Black surrounded by angels and shepherds. In the Bible, the Annunciation is the announcement of the conception of Jesus to Mary and has been replicated in many European paintings.

Through his clothing line, named Ikiré Jones, Oyéjidé wants men to embrace fashion that isn’t seen every day in magazines and popular culture.

“In general, men in the West are afraid of being seen as though they care about the way they look, and so they need examples,” Oyéjidé said. “Most of us feel like we need to be led towards an acceptable presentation of ourselves.”

“Black Panther” has made more than $1 billion in global box office sales in the month since its release.

Oyéjidé spoke at a panel last Thursday at the Tyler School of Art. He was joined by curator and historian Shantrelle Lewis, who is also a 2007 African American studies alumna, and Devin Morris, the editor of 3 Dot Zine, a publication that celebrates Black, brown and marginalized people. Their talk focused on Black masculinity in fashion and representation in art and media.

Ikiré Jones is run by a two-man team, with Oyéjidé as the designer and writer, and his partner, Samuel Hubler, as the tailor. The brand focuses on men’s fashion, including items like jackets, scarves, shirts and coats.

“The brand is not just a clothing brand,” said Oyéjidé, who was born in Nigeria before moving to the United States as a teenager. “It’s very much about culture and telling stories that are relevant to people of a certain diaspora and showing us in a noble light.”

The two men use their clothing, as well as a writing series featuring Oyéjidé’s poetry, to tell the stories of the African diaspora.

“Everything we make is intended to show people who haven’t been represented positively in the best possible light, no matter where they’re from,” Oyéjidé told Smith Blog, a quarterly Australian magazine. “It happens to be inspired by my African heritage, but it’s for everybody. Making [garments] for the character King T’Challa is very much the highest apex of what we do every day for ordinary people. We dress people as kings, whether they be refugees or people of immigrant descent.”

Oyéjidé said he wants his art to tell the story of all marginalized populations, especially people who have migrated to Western countries.

Recently, he visited Rome to photograph refugees who are residing there and frequently subjected to persecution.

“[We’re] dressing them up in such a way that they’re regarded as celebrities,” Oyéjidé said at the panel.

He said he hopes to send a portion of his sales to benefit the refugees living there.

During the panel, all three members spoke about the novelty in the U.S. of well-dressed Black men. Oyéjidé hopes to combat this in his work by establishing a Black presence in fashion and in his use of everyday people as models. He added that he wishes to create a world where it’s not a shock to see Africans and African-Americans on stage and celebrated.

“It’s still uncommon to see us pictured in museums, in fashion magazines, on runways as creatives, who are actually owning and running businesses, who are successful and have integrity,” he said.

One of the organizers of the event, Joy Ude, an adjunct fibers and material studies professor, said she was amazed by Oyéjidé’s design work. Because Tyler doesn’t have a fashion design program, she said it was valuable to have the panelists talk to students.

“I hope that they are introduced to subjects they have not thought about before…that they have a new view of it or it opens up their mind [to] the ways of thinking about representation,” Ude said.

Presina Mottley, an undeclared freshman in Tyler, said she loves fashion and African culture. She attended the panel because of Oyéjidé’s work in “Black Panther.”

“I really liked how they glorify the African culture rather than portray us as slaves,” Mottley said about the film. “It’s definitely a game-changer, in not only the comic book industry, but also the movie industry, and obviously you can see that in the sales that they’ve been receiving.”

Oyéjidé hopes that through his work, people who are underrepresented can see themselves in fashion.

“For me, the hope is that the little works that I do is an example for people who have similar or bigger goals and aspirations,” he said. “If anything, it’s just the idea that you can pursue things that you believe in if you put the work in, and you can carve out your own niche in the world.”

Taste of Community Gives Igbo Women Greater Sense of Purpose in Ireland

By Michaela Althouse

Featured in Metro Eireann


Charity work never tasted so good as Igbo women in Dublin banded together to raise money for those less fortunate in Nigeria.
Umunwanyi Olaedo Dublin held an event recently to raise funds for those living with Hansen’s disease. The food, all traditional Nigerian dishes, was cooked by members of the organisation and sold to the public, who also made small donations.

“The response was amazing,” says the organisation’s president Ijeoma Obioha. “People responded because they all know what is going down in Nigeria and they love how people are helping.”

People from all walks of life came to support the cause – especially due to the uniqueness of Nigeria food and its rare presence in the Dublin dining scene.

Umunwanyi Olaedo Dublin works to build relationships among and to help Igbo women in Ireland. It meets once a month to discuss cultural and community-building issues, and organises events to encourage integration within Irish society.


Their focus, they say, is on enriching life for women and promoting family values. “A stable family is like the gem of society,” says Obioha.

The organisation held a similar event last year, raising food donations for the homeless in Dublin. This time, however, they decided to give the food instead of receiving it, and send the proceeds back to Nigeria.

Obioha notes that the Nigerian economy is unstable, and with regular outbreaks of conditions such as Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, many are in need of more than just food.

It was an important decision for Olaedo, she says, because it encourages its members to remember where they came from.

For Igbo women in Ireland, Obioha says, one of their biggest issues is the marriage of cultures among Nigerians in the diaspora. There has to be a balance between promoting their own background and immersing in Irish life, though many are moving towards western ideas. It is important to have both, she says, to prevent marginalisation.

“I’m not trying to degrade their culture, but I want the women of Ireland to appreciate Nigerians and their culture [too].”

At the group’s own meetings, Obiola encourages members to be vocal, reasoning that while one cannot force people to integrate, one can still talk to them about it and begin the conversation, perhaps even persuading those in need to be confident enough to ask for help.

Umunwanyi Olaedo also gets involved with events that are traditionally Irish, such as marching in the St Patrick’s Day Parade. And by promoting stable family life, the group also hopes to let Nigerian ideals flourish in a new environment. “Every culture has positives … and we try to promote those values,” says Obioha.

The organisation has gone through multiple stages, including a name change, but their current phase began in 2011 and continues to grow. Members are usually added through word of mouth; people see their focus on family or are attracted by their charity work.

Along with her associates, Obioha organises the events and meetings, and works to co-ordinate women and get them interacting and speaking with one another.

She also acts as a liaison with the Igbo Union Dublin, the men’s organisation of which they are a branch. But mostly she is there to help create a better life for Igbo women in Ireland.

“We felt like we should be able to help raise funds for these people who need us,” she says. “We’d be an impact on society, and our culture as well.”

All-Ireland Scholarships Make Real Difference for New Irish Students

By Michaela Althouse

Featured in Mero Eireann


Opportunity knocked on the door of Emad Alsaleh, allowing the Longford student the chance to pursue his education without the sometimes enormous costs.


Alsaleh is one of 125 recipients of the 2017 All-Ireland Scholarships, sponsored by Limerick racehorse owner JP McManus and awarded to students across the Republic and Northern Ireland.

For Alsaleh, it means €6,750 to put towards his pharmacy degree at Trinity College Dublin, where he is a fresher.

“In general I always wanted to help people,” says Alsaleh about his chosen subject. “I always admired those who can offer so much advice like when I’m in the pharmacy or at the doctor. You can just ask them questions about anything.”

The All-Ireland Scholarships are given to high-achieving students to provide financial assistance for their education, administered by the Department of Education and Skills.

Now in their 10th year, the programme has provided over €32 million, funding some 1,300 students over the last decade.

On 25 November, the University of Limerick hosted this year’s All-Ireland Scholarships award ceremony, where Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of State for Higher Education, made the presentations and President Michael D Higgins made a special guest appearance. Out of 100 students chosen across the Republic of Ireland for this year’s scholarships, 20 come from migrant backgrounds,

Among them on the night was Alsaleh, 18, who arrived in Ireland from Libya at just 12 months of age, accompanying his father who was studying in graduate school.

Alsaleh says he returns to his home country every so often and keeps in contact with his family there, emphasising the current political situation in Libya has only made him more grateful about his success.

The scholarship was a surprise for Alsaleh, who qualified automatically after applying for a Leaving Certificate fee exemption.

“I just woke up in the morning and I saw this letter in my post,” he says. “At first I didn’t believe it.”

Alsaleh says the scholarship has enabled him to thrive in his schooling. He put the money towards textbooks, which he had difficulty buying before, and it allows him to live in Dublin instead of commuting from Longford. Living in the city and having money left over to socialise also provides him with a better experience of college life.

“The amount of money your parents have shouldn’t ever decide whether or not you should go to college,” he says. “This thing is such a really great help and I’m really grateful for it.”

Alsaleh feels very passionate about the idea that no one should let their financial status prevent them from succeeding in further education, and that hard work and asking for help pays off in the end.

The scholarship, he believes, is particularly important because it recognises students that are less advantaged. Moreover, he is convinced that his success can motivate others in his county. Upon the news of his achievement, Alsaleh received multiple messages from other students inspired to work for the same.

“Life presents you with gifts,” he says, “and you should never give up.”

Inquest Rules Teen’s Tragic Liffey Drowning as Accidental

By Michaela Althouse

Featured in Metro Eireann


The death of a promising young soccer player last year has been ruled accidental due to drowning, according to a recent coroner’s inquest.

Frank Mekang, 13, died on 14 May 2016 after getting into dif culty while swimming in the River Liffey near Phoenix Park with his teammates after a match.

Testimony by Frank’s coach Keith Norton revealed that such river swims had occurred a few times earlier in the season, but were not sanctioned or supervised by the club.

Norton said he went with the boys that day to provide some form of adult supervision, and had just finished asking them to wrap things up when Frank said he wanted to join them in the water.

Though Norton said he believed the Cameroonian youngster did not know how to swim and advised against it, some of Frank’s teammates convinced him to try.

Shortly after jumping in, Frank began to struggle, and Norton said he jumped in right

after to rescue him, but the teen was panicking and ended up slipping off his back.

Norton said he was unable to reach Frank again, and was forced to get out of the water to speak to an emergency operator who he claimed would not take a call placed by his son, one of Frank’s teammates.


The inquest also heard that a life ring that should have been available at that stretch of the river was missing, presumably removed by vandals.

Frank Mekang’s body was recovered by specialist divers at 3.53pm, eight metres down- stream from the jetty where he had entered the water. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The coroner’s report stated that Frank was otherwise healthy, with nothing found in his autopsy that contributed to his death by drowning.

Metro Éireann reported on Frank’s death earlier this year, when his migrant mother made a plea for answers as to why he went to the water at all despite not knowing how to swim.

The judge, who expressed her deepest condolences to the family, said that given all the surrounding circumstances, the death proved to be an accident.

She gave a recommendation that the public not interfere with lifesaving devices, and hoped this may prevent any similar tragedies in the future.

Dismayed by Doctors, Maria Turns to Natural Medicine to Find the Remedy for her Ills

By Michaela Althouse 

Featured in Metro Eireann


Maria Angolo feels like she’s been to almost every doctor in Dublin. But she refuses to go back to a modern physician ever again. Irish medicine doesn’t cut it for her, she says, and instead, the former nurse is seeking out alternative forms of healing.


dismayed-by-doctors-maria-turns-to-natural-medicine-to-find-the-remedy-for-her-ills292d3b8154c607bd4a94Maria’s struggles began over 20 years ago, when she had recurring flu-like symptoms every three months or so. She was treated with antibiotics but the problems persisted, and so her doctor sent her to surgery for swollen tonsils. When she continued to feel unwell, the Namibian native was diagnosed with polyps and went for surgery. And that’s where the problems really began.


In the 15 years since, Maria says she has seen as many as 20 different doctors, and many of those multiple times. She has been to multiple hospitals in Ireland and has seen every kind of doctor she could think of: from ear, nose and throat; respiratory specialist; even an allergist.


She has undergone two significant surgeries and travelled to the UK to seek a second opinion. Yet all she has to show for it are mountains of paperwork, missing bone and cartilage in her nose, severed vocal cords and an extended hole beginning behind her nostrils and extending into her throat.


Most often, she was simply referred to another physician and more than once she claims she was refused treatment entirely, even marched out of the consultation without explanation.


“I’m like a football being kicked from one doctor to another,” Maria says. “Fifteen years is a long time to solve one problem.”


Maria is no stranger to the medical world. She spent her early years as a registered nurse before creating her own nursing recruitment agency, though it was liquidated in the 2009 recession.


She also requests her medical notes of every doctor she sees under the Freedom of Information Act, recording their various and conflicting diagnoses. “I used to be the one telling people to take their pills,” she says. “Now I wouldn’t go near them.”


Maria is incapable of blowing her nose, and says she suffers from chronic bad breath as a result of the mucus buildup. For the halitosis she has seen two different dentists, both of whom, she says, discovered “significant clouding” in her right sinus via X-ray – something she claims was missed by all the doctors she consulted before.


But Maria’s health troubles do not stop there. In 2011, she was diagnosed with congestive cardiac failure and cardiomyopathy on top of her existing high blood pressure, and ended up back in the hospital.

‘The doctor wouldn’t listen’


It has reached the point, Maria says, where her issues extend beyond physical and into the emotional. After her 2011 hospital stay, she was given heart medication and says that in the matter of a few weeks she became “suicidal”.


At her six-week checkup she begged to be taken off the tablets, as some heart medicines are known to affect mental health and she believed that was the case with her. She was told she needed to wait another six weeks for the medication to work. Instead of getting better, she says she reached the point of a suicide attempt.


“They say ‘Oh, talk to someone if you feel low or if you have those thoughts.’ There was I, talking to someone, and the doctor wouldn’t listen to me.”


Lately Maria feels frustrated, sceptical, and scared. She has little to no confidence left in the Irish medical system, and she feels close to giving up.


Her constant treatments have caused financial issues as well. Maria cannot work due to her health and lives on disability; she has recently turned, against her better wishes, to renting out a home she owns to cover her mounting costs.


Maria’s repeated perceived failures in modern medicine have led her down a new path, and earlier this year she began seeing a naturopath, who diagnosed her with a bacterial infection in her teeth that was linked to her heart complications.


Since then, Maria says she only takes naturopathic medicine and has begun attending sessions in a hyperbaric chamber, which the patient breaths in pure oxygen in an effort to aid the body’s healing process.


While these and other alternative methods are regarded as pseudoscience in evidence-based medicine (a referral for the hyperbaric chamber was refused by a conventional doctor), Maria says her experience turned her into a big believer in natural healing, along with a proper diet, exercise and essential oils for relaxation.


Her journey has brought her to others with similar experiences, but she finds that many people are afraid to speak out. She wants her story to increase awareness and hopes to show people that there might be more than one option when seeking medical treatment.


“I really have no choice but to look at other alternatives, because I just feel I have been let down big time,” she says. “I don’t want to wait another 15 years.”