Meet Angel Wainpa
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
By: Lauren Davidson
Liberian immigrant. Language enthusiast. YouTube personality. Aspiring gynecologist. Call her what you will, but there is no question that Angel Wainpa wears many hats.
After spending a seemingly long summer break (thanks to Coronavirus and quarantine) looking after her grandfather, Angel — now a senior at Paul Robeson High School — eagerly awaits the year ahead.
“When you’re a senior, you’re grown in a way,” Angel admits, adding that the responsibility of the title almost makes her want to stop growing altogether.
The now-18-year-old was 10 when she moved to America from Liberia. Once in the US, she attended schools in 15 states (often changing every semester) before finally settling in Pennsylvania. However, out of all the places Angel has had the opportunity to call “home,” she still has much love for her native country, Liberia.
“What don’t I like about my culture?” Angel said. “It’s so unique. I always tell people ‘I’m not American, I’m African.’ Period. That’s it. I’m proud of everything that I am and everything that makes me African and Liberian, specifically. I also love my background and I wish to one day go back.”
One way Angel has been able to stay connected to her roots is through language. Growing up, the language enthusiast learned to speak Kolokwa, a common dialect spoken in Liberia. Because her parents were from different counties within Liberia (her father from Lofa, her mother from Nimba), she also learned about the cultures and languages associated with them. Then, Angel decided to pick up Yoruba, a Nigerian language, and later Twi and Fanti, two Ghanaian dialects. In school, she took on American Sign Language, while her aunt taught her popular languages of the Islamic world at home.
Her global upbringing and appreciation for the greater African culture has made her proud of her heritage despite initial challenges when she first came to America: “People used to tease me about being dark or [speaking] another language or [having] an accent or [having] a fish smell or, you know, chicken smell, ‘why do I smell like food?’”
Instead of letting these experiences negatively impact her new American school life, Angel saw them as an opportunity to educate her fellow peers. Through an African club at Paul Robeson, she was able to share with her classmates and teachers what “stuff is like for us, kids, back home” — everything from traditional Liberian coconut candy and donuts to stories about her country’s school and health systems.
“Kids here are so lucky to be going to school and have free education and have stuff provided for them, like books, technology, computers, food, clothes and all that stuff,” Angel said. “I just remind kids how lucky they are to have the opportunity that they have right now, because I know I am, and I will never forget that.”
When her principal told her about African Community Learning Program in her junior year, she knew she had to become involved in any way possible.
Angel recalled, “My first impression was ‘this type of club actually exists?’ Let me tell you something, [since] being here, I have never seen anything like it.”
Given that Angel hopes to one day become a gynecologist and “take it back home to help kids like [her],” it is no surprise that ACLP’s trip to the Perelman School of Medicine remains one of her favorite memories. She remembers getting to speak to doctors and individuals in the medical field, participate in hands-on activities, as well as try out actual doctor’s coats and medical equipment.
“[It gave] kids hope that they can actually be that person one day. [They weren’t] just ordinary doctors. They were [from] Black and African background[s] like us,” Angel reflected. She added that having the opportunity to learn about and touch real medical instruments was both ironic and surreal: “I’ve never actually touched equipment that has anything to do with the field that I want to do.”
Looking back, the high school senior wishes she had access to a program like ACLP sooner. After moving to America, Angel recalls her parents, for the first time, not being able to help her with homework and lessons. Because she couldn’t receive assistance at home, she had to meet with teachers after school and during recess breaks to catch up.
“At ACLP, they’re actually helping kids. Kids can actually understand what they’re doing, because they have people from their own background helping to teach them and helping them understand,” she said. “Us, kids, are growing up as young adults. We need examples and we need someone to look up to … The littlest things help.”
As for her own impending adulthood, the YouTube personality looks forward to pursuing her medical career. To those who warn her that the journey to becoming a gynecologist is a long and hard one, she assures them that she’s “up for it, because [she’s] been through a lot, and [she’s] still here.” Laughing, she adds, “challenge is me, okay?”
She’d rather people focus on making a difference in kids’ lives, supporting them to become better versions of themselves. After all, that is her advice to incoming ACLP students: “Try to make an impact, stuff that you wish you were doing or had done [for you] when you were their age. Help them get to where you weren't.”