Without their struggles, I would not be here

Current Events & News, Parent & Family Engagement, Who We Are | 02/22/2017

Gloria Namugaya
Member Leader, Greater Boston Team

Gloria is Executive Director of Women Encouraging Empowerment Organization and is passionate about helping women.

I was born in Jinja, Uganda, a small town best known for where the River Nile starts. There is a high rate of poverty there, and children have two options for education: they can attend the local school and receive a very basic education or they can apply to a boarding school.  Attending the boarding school is one of the option for children to succeed in Uganda, since they can learn English there. My father encouraged me to go to boarding school; I was accepted and was an honor student. When it was time to graduate, one of the head teachers asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up; I replied that I wanted to be a barrister, and was frustrated when she replied, "Why don’t you just get married?”

This attitude in Uganda is common. Girls in my village usually stop attending school when they are 16 and 18 in order to be married. Women get married early, and the husband pays a bride price to the parents. In other words, they are “sold” to a man by their fathers at a "bride price" – this is a return on the investment parents made on their daughters, similar to a dowry. Woman are treated like property, and I knew that is not what I wanted at the moment, in my heart I knew that I wanted something different. I wanted to help those who didn’t go to school, advance and empower myself and advocate for equal rights.

I attended Makerere University in Kampala, and excelled in my classes. Then, despite being only one of a few women in my class, my professor and prominent attorney asked me to assist at his law firm. I was later hired by this firm full-time when I graduated from law school.  I was the only woman, so I often took the cases that involved women, since they were considered less important.  I started to become passionate about human rights, and later helped to organize an international conference (The International Consortium for Social Development). This conference was an international affair, and I met advocates and practitioners from all over the world. It was here that I learned of a social policy master’s degree program in Massachusetts. I applied and was accepted to the Heller School of Social Policy of Management at Brandeis University's Sustainable International Development program. I applied to many schools in both the US and UK and was accepted to all schools but chose to come to the US. I was so excited to study in the United States because I viewed the US as a place of opportunities and where there was no violence against humans, and I figured I would learn and then go back to Uganda with these best practices.  

Before moving, I did a lot of research about the United States where I learned about Black History Month. At first, it sounded strange to me coming from Uganda where almost everyone is black, but as I researched more, I learned more about the impact the famous Black Americans honored during February have on my everyday life. I remember reading about the Brown Vs. Board of Education case and thinking how grateful I am that the generations before me fought against discrimination and segregation; without their sacrifices, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

When coming to the US, I had to adjust to the culture, the language, and the weather. I felt lonely. One of my friends told me about Stand for Children Massachusetts. I attended a Stand University for Parents (Stand UP) class and was excited to learn how parents can get involved. I didn’t know organizations like this existed, where I could learn about the education system and how parents can advocate for their children. With Stand, I finally got the sense of community that I had been searching for. I felt so empowered by Stand. They are like my family—they make me feel welcomed and confident despite my accent and cultural differences—and with Stand I believe in myself and that I can make a difference. I would love for every parent to stand for their children. To me, education is vital to a bright future; I am a testament to this.

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  • We have to support kids in MA
    Alex Alexandrovich

    February 24, 2017 10:38 AM

  • Good job, girl!

    March 2, 2017 12:00 AM

  • I am touched by your resilience and your passion. Thumbs up Glo!
    Idowu Akanmu

    March 4, 2017 1:08 PM