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Homeless to hopeful—an online student’s story of perseverance

by Monica Smith

Sep 28, 2021, 12:00 PM.

Molayo Sobande recounts her journey to online learning and the faith that got her there.
Molayo Sobande
Molayo Sobande

Sunrises and sunsets are special to fully online student Molayo Sobande. They remind her of her faith and of new beginnings, progress and the promise of something better—all things she resonates with. After several months of homelessness, years moving from shelter to shelter, and finally finding stability with her family in an apartment of their own, Sobande joined her sister and brother as an FIU student the summer of 2021 and in her words, she’s on to something better.

“I am blessed,” she affirms while she smiles and begins her story slowly and gently. Sobande states that the events that put her family into a tailspin precipitated after her father abandoned her family.

Laughter and tears

What surprised her the most was how being homeless can make you lose your humanity—something she tried hard to avoid through prayer and her belief in God.

On her worst day, she remembers her family being asked to leave a fast-food restaurant by a manager because it wasn’t a “homeless shelter.” It was then she realized that homelessness has a look, and she held great shame.

“So many people had either threatened to or called the police on us to make us leave somewhere, and each time it was always when we happened to be praying. However, what others meant to use to disgrace us, each time the police did come, they’d either leave us alone or buy us something to eat and offer support—especially officer Joseph Cabrera, officer Velez-Ortega, and social worker Lori Sakay, who found us on their own. All were so respectful and discreet in even coming up to us and asking us about our situation,” recounts Sobande.

The shame is something she wrestled with for some time, but what helped was focusing on her faith and the good times. She describes her happier memories as times with a lot of love and togetherness with her family.

On one of her best days, she and her siblings pooled what little money they had to buy their mom a small shrimp cocktail from the grocery for Christmas. They were so excited to surprise her. They wanted their mother to have something special and she likes seafood. Her mom was so touched, she shared the treat, stories and laughter, she recalls. They had no phones or devices to busy themselves with, they only had each other.

New hope

“However, with me starting college this year, I’ve dared myself to push past my fears and apprehensions in order to begin working on the things I’m passionate about accomplishing,” she says. “I’m thankful for the trouble I endured before because of the lessons I’ve been fortunate to receive from that pain, and now, I aspire to encourage others to not give up hope no matter what storm they may be facing, too.”

Sobande, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sustainability and the Environment, remembers the day she received her acceptance to FIU.

“It felt surreal. I was really happy to get to go to college. I had a big fear of the unknown—a fear of failure,” she admits, but she is glad to be going to school with her sister, who is also a fully online student and started the same semester. Between the two of them and their mom, they make ends meet with retail positions during the day to afford their apartment.

Online flexibility

Living outside of Miami, she is thankful for her online courses since she is unable to commute and work. Also, her asynchronous courses allow her to study when she needs to meet her coursework deadlines. Sobande discloses that she carries her laptop with her almost everywhere she goes for time management. Whenever she has a break, she logs on to class to organize her work or perform a few tasks.

While homeless, living in her mother’s car with her siblings, she remembers having to walk everywhere during rush-hour traffic. The car fumes affected her greatly. Access to water was also difficult, but these experiences drive her, she says. With dreams of being an environmental engineer, Sobande is passionate about the environment and the global water crisis, cleaner water sources and issues similar to those in Flint, Michigan and Lagos, Nigeria. Sobande explains that she is really passionate about water issues worldwide as a Nigerian and a first-generation American.

“Though things aren’t perfect, and it also seems as though there are new burdens, tasks, and pressures for me to handle with being in college while still working full-time, there’s still so much positive progress I’m making. I am handling everything and growing in my relationship with the Lord,” she declares. “This has enhanced my life more than ever during this time.”

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