Friday, December 20, 2019

International Student and Scholar Services received so many excellent nominations for the International Parents of the Year award, it became difficult to choose only one recipient. This year, we are pleased to announce  two recipients.

Elsie Barugahare, from the district of Kabale in Uganda, is the mother of UI graduate student Dan Ngabirano, who will graduate from the Doctor of Juridical Science program in December 2019. Ngabirano credits his ‘mum’ for giving him a deep appreciation for the value of education. “She impressed it upon us, the children, to study hard and constantly reminded us that without education we were nothing. This drove my personal determination to study hard right from the beginning,” recalled Ngabirano.

Elsie Barugahare, International Parent of the Year award, University of Iowa

Barugahare ocasionally found it difficult keeping up with increasing school fees for her children. “She utilized her small salary and, in some cases, took loans from a women’s group to which she was a member. She was a firm believer in education and strived to ensure that we all (three sons and three adopted children) acquired a decent education,” said Ngabirano.While Ngabirano chose to study law, he found his mother’s work as a pediatric nurse inspiring. Barugahare worked in a children’s ward at Kabale Hospital, focusing on cases involving HIV/AIDS or malnutrition. Low staffing and funding levels often led to double shifts without extra pay. Additionally, when Barugahare started her career, she faced the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission. This was during the time when public hospitals were not well-equipped to deal with the epidemic. “Mum and her colleagues worked tirelessly to treat and care for these vulnerable children—many of whom had been stigmatized by the community,” said Ngabirano. Barugahare received several awards as recognition for her outstanding work.

Ngabirano excelled at school and was recognized as a top Advanced Level student in Uganda, which led to his acceptance at Makerere University where he studied law. “Growing up in a society that discriminated against and chastised women like my mother simply because they were single mothers or even just women, drove me to pursue law with the hope that I would one day utilize the knowledge and skills acquired to defend the vulnerable,” Ngabirano said.

Top-notch performance at Makerere University earned Ngabirano a scholarship to pursue a master of law degree from Harvard Law School. Afterwards, he returned to Makerere University where he received a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a doctor of juridal science degree at the University of Iowa. As he prepares to graduate, Ngabirano reflects on the tremendous support he received from his mother, “I will be the very first African student to attain this prestigious qualification at the University of Iowa and in the whole state of Iowa. This is history in the making and I would never have reached here without mum! I believe strongly that the [Parent of the Year] award will not only recognize mum’s individual efforts to educate her own children and to mentor others but will also inspire and strengthen the resolve of many African women out there sidelined by patriarchy. My mother’s story will serve to remind them of not only the transformative power of education but also strengthen their belief that it’s possible for women to push against boundaries and succeed.”

Manju Verma is the mother of UI graduate student Pranav Prakash, a PhD candidate in religious studies. Verma is from Muzaffarpur, Bihar an eastern state in India, Grateful for his mother’s influence on his education, Prakash said, “My mother is an adept cook and an exceptional storyteller, but she was most committed to ensuring that her children received a good education.”

Manju Verma, International Parent of the Year award, University of Iowa

Prakash marvels at his mother’s journey and accomplishments given societal norms in her community. “Her parents were farmers, so she grew up in a rural and patriarchal society. In their community, sons were sent to schools and colleges, while daughters were engaged in kitchens and household chores,” said Prakash. “Most daughters were married when they were still in their teens. Marriages were arranged by their parents. My mother, too, was married quite early in her life. Although she received some primary school education, she is mostly a self-taught person.”

As a newly-married couple, Verma and her husband settled in Muzaffarpur. Verma lobbied her husband to build a house close to a well-respected school in order to provide their four children with the best education possible. The school was expensive, and Prakash remembers his parents working hard to make ends meet. His father worked multiple jobs in addition to teaching physics at a state university. His mother ran the family on a tight budget.

In spite of financial pressures, Prakash’s parents contributed to their surrounding community. “Our house was close to a slum that was inhabited predominantly by Muslim and ‘lower’ caste families. These slum dwellers suffered from systemic exploitation on a daily basis. Moved by their plight and penury, my parents tried to support them in whatever ways they could,” Prakash recalls. “My father offered free lessons and tuitions to their children. My mother always reached out to them when they needed emotional, medical, and monetary support. Likewise, my mother exerted pressure on municipal officials and elected representatives to build concrete roads and sewage systems in our locality and to provide a stable supply of electricity in our neighborhood,” said Prakash.

With the support of his family, Prakash went on to complete his undergraduate degree in India and a graduate degree in Iran. He was then admitted to the religious studies PhD program at the University of Iowa. Shortly before his first semester at Iowa, his father suffered from a heart attack and passed away which caused Prakash to consider leaving the PhD program in favor of caring for his mother. “My hometown is located in one of the least developed and most insecure states in India. With the death of my father, my mother’s security was gone forever,” said Prakash. “My mother—now a widow—had suddenly become an ‘inauspicious’ and ‘polluted’ person. She was not allowed to visit anyone. Her visit would pollute other Hindu households.”  In addition to social isolation, Verma was suddenly faced with completing tasks that were foreign to her. “She had never been to a bank. She had never worked in a government office. She had no experience of dealing with Indian bureaucracy. She had never written a formal application. These were exclusively male (and often anti-women) spaces-activities, which is why my father always dealt with these businesses himself,” Prakash recalled.

When Prakash informed his mother about his decision to return home, she advised him to be patient and remain in Iowa City. “Aggrieved by the death of her husband and being shut down by her community, she suffered profusely from the trauma of my father’s death. But she insisted that I continue my studies here. I followed her wishes, but I was aware of how lonely and secluded she was in her own house,” Prakash said.

Prakash offered what support he could from a distance. He read stories to Verma that would make her feel more positive about her life. He also consulted psychologists and doctors to learn more about how to support a loved one who has suffered a traumatic loss. “It has been five years since my father passed away. I am about to complete my dissertation. Had my mother not encouraged me to continue my studies here, I would not have reached this far,” commented Prakash. “She made numerous changes in her lifestyle. She took up tasks and roles which are largely reserved for males in my community. She now visits the banks and offices herself. She does not hesitate to hire electricians and plumbers. She has resumed her work in the community. Above all, she now writes stories and poems. She is definitely the most ideal and inspirational parent that anyone can ever get. I am very proud of my mother.”