Emmanuel Choylo Nyema has been a member of the Franklin Odd Fellows since April of 2018 and is currently living in Providence, RI with his four children. Manny, as he is known to his lodge members, has been in a lengthy Probate Court battle for the custody of his fifth child, his youngest by the name of Emirina; but this is not the only hardship that this man has been through over the past 18 years. Here’s Manny’ story, as recalled by himself in interviews held by lodge members.
Manny was born in December of 1982 and lived in Harper, Liberia in Western Africa. In 1989, a brutal civil war broke out, and through no fault of his own, Manny found himself travelling to the neighboring countries of Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, back to the Ivory Coast, and then to Guinea; and his life would be forever changed!
Charles Taylor was the insurgent rebel commander that waged bloody civil wars in Liberia from 1989 to 2003 and claimed more than 200,000 lives in a nation of 2.1 million people. It was in 1994 that his troops stormed into the town of Harper and they came in shooting anyone who ran. Manny was in school at the time and living with his aunt, as his parents had previously fled when they heard about the approaching rebel forces. He was only 12 years old and even at that young age, he had an appreciation for school and didn’t want to leave.
Unfortunately, he saw for the first time some of his townspeople being shot dead and as he was walking, he was ordered to stop by a rebel with a rifle. He ran around the church and in the back door in an effort to get away. The rebel cut him off and went in the front door and when he raised his rifle preparing to shoot, at that very moment he recognized Manny as a former classmates from elementary school, and this simple fact saved Manny’s life and he lowered his rifle. Manny was taken prisoner and was forced to go with the rebel group on the way to the capital city of Monrovia to get new recruits. He was interrogated by the group leaders and was asked if he could read and write. Manny answered that he could read and write well, as he was school educated. He was told that he was going to join the rebel force to become their secretary.
Manny was terrified from the sight of so much killing, so he agreed to become their secretary and tried to make them believe that he was on their side. He then did something smart, he asked if he could go back to his house to get clothing and writing utensils. They agreed and Manny went back to his home town, but then set out on foot to make his escape from the rebels. He walked all day through the forest and finally got to the neighboring country on the east side of Liberia by the name of Cote D’ivoire, better known as the Ivory Coast.
Manny walked to a city by the name of Tabou and became a refugee with hundreds of others and was transported to another refugee camp in the country of Ghana where he survived there for 1 ½ years. He was then transported back to the Ivory Coast to the city of Danaine’. Life in Danaine’ was not easy as he didn’t speak the French language and was barely getting by on a daily basis; but by the age of 20 he had a girlfriend by the name of Sally Toe and had two children by the names of Lucy Eliza Tambah in 1999 and Abraham Nyema Tamba in 2002. His niece, Olivia Collins, was also born in 2002 and was also staying with Manny. Later that year in November of 2002, he was in school when the ongoing civil war spread over the border and, once again, reconnected with Manny. The rebels attacked Danaine’ and took control of the city and, in response, the government sent in jets to bomb out the rebels. The bombing was terrifying and although Manny was separated from his sisters and children, he and hundreds of others fled the city. In the panic and confusion, he lost contact with his two children who were also fleeing, but with other people. He caught up with his daughter Lucy on the journey, but could not reconnect with Abraham until years later because Abraham was with his mother. They also fled the city, but in a different direction and ended up back in Liberia. The refugee group that Manny was with walked for 2 days on a journey where many drowned attempting to cross treacherous rivers, but they finally made their way to the border of Guinea, a country just north of Liberia.
Manny found a safe environment in Guinea, but by this time his relatives in the New York City had placed his name, along with his cousin and two sisters by the names of Ruth & Wata, on a list of refugees that the Lutheran Church were preparing to sponsor passage to the States. His daughter, Lucy had to rejoin her mother and brother in Liberia because she was not listed on the paperwork filed for travel to the states. In February of 2004, Manny came over to the States with his cousins, his niece and his two sisters and landed in New York City and resided there for about 2 years. This was not actually an asylum program for refugees, it was a resettlement program with relatives and Manny was given an I-94 document that showed that he entered the country legally and he had 5 years to apply for and receive a “green card”.
Manny only stayed in New York City for two years, but long enough to meet Helen, who he would later marry in 2008. He and Helen moved to Syracuse, NY in 2006 to be closer to his relatives who were responsible for bringing him to this country. At this time, Manny became the legal guardian of his niece, Olivia Collins, when her mother passed away. Manny reunited with his son, Abraham and his daughter, Lucy in 2012 when their mother in Liberia decided to send them to their father in the States so they could have a better life. They were both very young at the time and Manny paid to have an escort travel with them to assure safe passage.
It was in Syracuse that Manny embraced the Lutheran religion that had done so much for him, and feeling as though his life must have been spared by divine intervention, he put himself through Seminary School and graduated with a degree in Theology. He also studied hard to pass the necessary test and obtained full citizenship in this country. While in Syracuse, he and Helen gave birth to two more children, Maxwell Econtie Nyema in 2008 and Emerina Nyemade Nyema in 2011.
Manny lived in Syracuse for 11 years and was happily married to Helen; however in 2016 tragedy again struck Manny in the form of his wife taking ill with a brain aneurism and passing away in October. From grief and stress and not eating enough, Manny also took ill and Helen’s sister came to take care of Manny and his two youngest children. During the time that Manny was in bed sick, his sister-n-law took documents from his apartment and among them were the birth certificates of Maxwell and Emirina. His sister-n-law then filed suit for custody of the children in Probate Court claiming that Manny was unfit to be the father of his two youngest children because he was a man and had to work and could not be there for them. In her suit, she provided incorrect information about Many trying to discredit his name and make him to be something that he was not. This angered Manny and he hired a lawyer and is currently still fighting for custody of his two youngest children at this time. Although he can visualize the day that he will have full custody of all of his children, the courts have chosen to keep the two youngest with his sister-n-law for the present time and Manny has custody of them on the weekends.
Manny has made a point of going to school as much as he could while in the States and to try and build up his portfolio to be able to land good paying jobs and support his children. Manny has received a Master’s Degree in Theology, an undergraduate Degree in Healthcare Administration and an Associate Degree in Pharmacy Technology and is now holding a reputable job in Providence, RI at this time. He also preaches on Wednesday nights at a Lutheran church in Providence and is currently engaged to be married at a June 2022 ceremony, also in Providence. He even made an unsuccessful attempt to become a State Representative for District 11 (Providence) in July of 2020. Many has 6 more brothers & sisters back in Liberia and he currently sends $150 dollars a month back to his extended family to ease the suffering that they are still enduring in that impoverished country. Like father like daughter, Lucy who is now 22 years old – and from her job sends money home to her mother in Liberia. Long range plans for Manny is that he wants to gather all the knowledge and experience that he can from his stay here in the states and go back to Liberia one day soon and start a business that would help out his countrymen. He is also is also making inquiries as to the starting of an Odd Fellows Lodge in his home town where he could spread the word of Friendship, Love and Truth.