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Student from Zambia performs in national poetry contest

Last Updated Apr 24, 2018 at 3:40 pm EDT

In this April 12, 2018 photo, Allan Monga, 19, a high school student who fled his native Zambia, recites a poem during a news conference in Portland, Maine. A judge on Friday, April 20, 2018, ruled that Monga can compete in a government-funded national poetry contest. Judge John Woodcock overturned the National Endowment for the Arts' rejection on the grounds that the student doesn't meet U.S. citizenship rules. (Troy R. Bennett/The Bangor Daily News via AP)

PORTLAND, Maine – A Maine high school student who fled his native Zambia says the experience of participating in a national spoken poetry competition was “heaven” even though he didn’t advance.

Deering High School junior Allan Monga had to go to court to become one of 53 participants Tuesday in the national Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who championed his cause, said the asylum seeker learned about “persisting through challenges to chase your dreams.”

A federal judge allowed the 19-year-old Monga to participate in the competition hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA originally prohibited Monga from competing because he hasn’t been granted legal asylum.

Monga told the Portland Press Herald that, “Just being here and experiencing this was like heaven.”