DANVILLE, Ill. (AP) — Even though they keep their Nigerian customs alive for their four children, the Aziakas remind themselves every day how fortunate they are to live in America.
Family members include Neele Aziaka and his wife, Olubunmi; Victor (Bari-eeba), 19, Promise (NornuBari), 16, Faith (Baridakara), 13, and Hope (DornuBari), 10.
The young family came to Danville 16 years ago to escape political tyranny in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. They became citizens 10 years later after extensive studying and examinations.
Even though the family lived in a Nigerian city where conditions were fairly good, they continue to appreciate the opportunities and freedoms of this country.
"We have lived in both worlds," Neele said, "and we all agree that you can't put a price on freedom. Many people living in the United States don't realize what life would be like if their liberties were taken away."
Promise said, "I feel that God smiled on me by allowing me to grow up in this wonderful country. Teenagers living in America today don't realize how good they really have it."
He said that people's religious beliefs are what keep them going. "Religion is a way of life . it determines how you treat people," he added.
Victor is a student at Danville Area Community College and hopes to go into criminal justice someday.
Promise, a junior at Danville High School, is in show choir, chess club, drama club, and on the math team. He also plays flute in the marching band. Promise hopes to attend the University of Illinois someday and major in his true passions: science and math.
Faith, an eighth-grader at North Ridge Junior High School, is in the Red Coats show choir, and she plays soccer. Hope is in fifth grade at East Park Elementary School, where she is in the MATS program and the choir.
The whole family is deeply involved in Danville's New Life Church of Faith, where Neele serves as associate minister. Everyone in the family except Neele is a member of the church choir, and the boys play in the church band. They attend prayer meetings and Bible study, and Olubunmi belongs to the Women of Wisdom group.
"Our religion is the core of everything," Olubunmi said. "We truly believe that when a family moves to a new environment — like we did — that their religion helps keep them focused on what's important."
In order to preserve their African heritage, the Aziakas take frequent trips back to their homeland to visit family. The two boys have also spent long periods of time in Nigeria with their own educational pursuits.
The family still wears brightly colored traditional clothing to church and when they get together with other Nigerians. In fact, Promise often enjoys wearing his Nigerian clothes to classes at DHS.
They also appreciate Nigerian food, and everyone in the family — even the men — take turns at cooking. Some of their favorite dishes include tilapia fish, boiled yams, plantain (fried bananas and scrambled eggs), black eyed peas, casaba (stiff mashed potatoes) and melon soup.
Both Neele and Olubunmi were practicing nurses when they lived in Nigeria. After coming to Danville, they both went on for their degrees at Lakeview College of Nursing. Neele has his master's degree in patient safety and leadership from the University of Illinois in Chicago. He works at Provena United Samaritans Medical Center and the Danville Correctional Center.
His wife has her bachelor's degree in nursing and works in the emergency department at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System.
The couple met in nursing school in Nigeria, and before they were married, Olubunmi converted from Islam to Christianity. It took several years before her Muslim parents and family would sanction their daughter's marriage to Neele.
The couple finds it more satisfying to practice nursing here in the United States than at any hospital in Nigeria.
"Since there is no health insurance over there and everything is private pay, many people cannot afford the care that they need," Olubunmi said.
She added the health care available in the United States is far superior to the technology and medicine available in her homeland.
The family has traveled extensively and has visited many beautiful places around the world. "But when it comes to living and raising our children, we are very happy right here in Danville," Neele said.
"My love for my kids makes me want to spend as much time as possible with them," he added. "I can get to work in 15 minutes by living in a small town like Danville. I don't want to waste several hours every day on a long commute."
Neele reiterated that he and his family are very pleased to be living in the United States.
"We all need to pray for our country and the people in authority," he said, "but if you have the knowledge and you are willing to work hard, then you'll most likely succeed here in America."