I think sometimes people underestimate the greatness of a small city. I have been fortunate enough to meet someone lately who just moved to Columbia, MO who is ready to make a huge ripple in this small college town’s pond.
Dr. Merjjena B. Hemp, lovingly called Merj by friends and family wrote a memoir called Beyond the Shadow of 3000 Pairs of Shoes: A Story of Hopelessness, Persistence, and Survival. I recently put it down and I read it cover to cover within three hours, including taking notes as a writer, etc. You can finish it in less time if you’re not a writer.
Where do I begin? Page 1 is probably best. From the first page to the last, this memoir is filled with struggle, survival, love, abuse, waiting, growing up and most of all, education. Each chapter is a story on its own that documents Merj’s growth process and transformation from a runaway girl on the streets of Manila to the Ph.D. speaker and military wife she is today. Merj’s life so far is truly astounding. How does one go from having nothing more than a plastic bag of clothes sleeping on a bench outside of a church building to completing a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a Minor in Educational Learning Technologies? Merj is able to take whatever resources she is given, even if all she has are newspaper clippings used as a bed and covers, and figure out a way to better her situation. One step leads to another, leads to another, leads to another until she finds something worth fighting for.
Most times education is what Merj fights for, but many times, it’s love. Love is the glue that sticks two people together, but the closeness can become the one thing to break two people apart. Young people will be able to relate to her love stories and older people will be able to relate to her passion for education. Love is what carried her away from her home in the Philippines to her new home in the U.S. After 9/11, Merj knew that it was time to finish her college degree and focus her studies on Communication. Today she enjoys learning about different cultures and speaking about topics close to her heart for the betterment of the community. With her background, especially her experience living under the Marcos regime, she is sure to reach people of different backgrounds and ages and experiences.
Soon Merj’s memoir will be part of Columbia Public Library’s collection. I am honored to know her!