Name: Roselidah Obunaga
Hometown: Kakamega, Kenya
Currently Resides: Savannah, GA
Occupation: Head Volleyball Coach, Savannah State University
All Degrees Received: AA General Studies, MSU-WP, 2004; BS Business Administration (minor in Communication), 2006; MS Public Service Administration, University of Evansville, 2011
Roselidah Obunaga’s experience at MSU-WP was a “godsend.”
Before Roselidah Obunaga came to Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) to join the Grizzly Volleyball team in the summer of 2002, she had already experienced a great deal in her life.
A native of Kakamega, Kenya, Roselidah had used her athletic talents to secure a space on the Kenyan National Women’s Volleyball Team, and she traveled with her teammates across the African continent to compete in various championship events. Then in 2000, the team secured a spot in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, giving Roselidah and her teammates the opportunity to represent their homeland on the biggest athletic stage in the world.
It was during this time she first heard about MSU-WP from her teammate and former Grizzly Edna Chumo. “She spoke highly of the good coaches she had and of the small school with a friendly environment just like home. I admired the good things she mentioned, and I decided to come to West Plains,” Roselidah said.
“I fell in love with the community.”
As Edna had promised, Roselidah discovered a very welcoming community when she arrived in West Plains. She found a church home and made friends with community members, taking them up on their offers to come by their homes for a visit or a meal. “I was always welcomed with much joy,” she said.
Roselidah found the same atmosphere at MSU-WP. “I encountered good friendships from my teammates and, surprisingly, even former alumni who became like family every time we met,” she said. “I enjoyed when the chancellor came to our practices and called us by our names. That made me realize that he cared for the athletes and understood their value on campus.
“The institution’s class size was small, and I had an opportunity to interact with my teachers and know them,” she added. “MSU-WP helped me to stay strong with humility and also gave me an understanding that home can be where my heart was.”
“I encountered a huge culture change, and I’m glad I did.”
Despite the warm welcome, Roselidah said she had to adapt to the American culture. “I learned there were different things I did that were not a norm in the U.S. as they were at home. One example is greetings. We do say ‘Hello’ and shake hands with people in my village, so many times that you can do that with one person every single time you meet in a day, and it’s still okay. In the U.S., when you say ‘Hi’ to someone once, that’s it,” she explained.
“I also learned the foods we had for breakfast, lunch and dinner were different from here. I could not eat pizza for breakfast back in Kenya, but I learned to eat it here,” she added.
“I started growing and learning the dos and don’ts my first two years in America, and they have shaped me in so many ways,” Roselidah said. “I have learned to respect everyone’s ideas, even if they don’t match with mine. I have learned to respect the small gestures, and the stools we step on while we climb our ladders.”
Relationships go beyond volleyball.
Becoming a coach herself has given Roselidah a greater perspective on the relationships she has created on and off the court. “As I continue coaching and mentoring athletes, I remember the good times I shared with my coaches at MSU-WP, and I understand that the court is not just the only place I can have close relationships,” she said. “They go beyond volleyball, and sometimes they lead to visits with each other at weddings, graduations, funerals and even during volleyball tournaments.
“I have learned that any mark I make on any student-athlete will stay forever, just the way my coaches nurtured me and took care of me when I was in West Plains. Watching the student-athletes that I have coached graduate and earn a good living and become productive members of society has made me very proud and determined to keep doing what I do as a coach,” she added.
In addition to coaching, Roselidah is a published author. “The Village Girl Grew Up,” released in January 2021, tells her journey of getting into volleyball, her life in the village, the loss of family members, playing for the national team, coming to America and the friendships she has made along the way.
Growing up, Roselidah admits she had big dreams, and MSU-WP helped her accomplish those dreams. Current and future MSU-WP students can achieve their dreams, too, if they remember these words, she said.
“You are your own coach. Stay disciplined, be credible, and thrive to be who you want to be. The future you are building belongs to you.”