Plamedi Sifa will graduate from Westbrook High School Saturday and plans to study nursing with the goal of becoming a midwife. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Plamedi Sifa struggled at first upon attending school in Westbrook to overcome language and cultural barriers. Arriving in Maine from the Democratic Republic of Congo at age 11 made for a very difficult transition.

“There were times I cried myself to sleep,” Sifa said. “It was a tough journey.”

She persevered, though, even through the constraints posed by remote learning during the pandemic, and she excelled at Westbrook High School.

“Plamedi Sifa is an incredible young woman,” said co-Principal Wendy Harvey. “She has grown from struggling in the classroom to taking dual enrollment classes through Southern Maine Community College.”

Sifa is one of the 126 members of the Westbrook High School Class of 2023 graduating Saturday, June 10, in a commencement ceremony at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.

She remembers the earlier days when she’d tell her mother, Micheline Ntumba, “I want to go home,” she said. She didn’t even know what “hi” meant in this culture.


Now Sifa is fluent in three languages – English, French and Lingala – and knows some Swahili.

During the pandemic her grades took a hit.

“I couldn’t focus at home,” she said, but added, “I bounced back.”

As president of the Black Student Union at the high school she reinvigorated the group this year, hosting guest speakers from the business and political arenas, Harvey said.

With plans to become a midwife, Sifa will attend the University of Southern Maine to study nursing.

“She has completed the highly competitive and rigorous Medical Occupations program through Westbrook Regional Technical Center on her path to becoming a nurse,” Harvey said.


Sifa says her mother is her role model. She left everything at home in the Congo to bring her children to safety in the U.S. in 2016, Sifa said, recalling the violence in her home country. “Bullets were flying,” she said. “It wasn’t safe at school” and children were sent home.

“My mom is a fighter,” Sifa said.

Sifa’s older brother is a student at the University of Southern Maine, a younger brother is a high school student and her sister attends the middle school.

She said she wants to achieve to give back to her mother, who is looking forward to her graduation ceremony.

“I’m sure she will cry,” Sifa said.

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