Samuel Mugaya lands nursing job, devoted to helping African homeland

Samuel Mugaya graduated in May with a BSN from UMSL’s College of Nursing and has accepted a position at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in west St. Louis County. (Photo by August Jennewein)

With only one U.S. dollar to his name, Samuel Mugaya landed at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. The year was 2008 and he had just traveled nearly 8,000 miles from Entebbe, Uganda, to what has become his new home – St. Louis.

The proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” really does apply to Mugaya. Seeing potential in him, his entire village raised money to send him to the U.S. They sold their goats, chickens and cows.

In May, Mugaya graduated with a BSN from the College of Nursing at the University of Missouri–St. Louis with two job offers on the table. He accepted a position at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in west St. Louis County. He will be working on a medical surgical floor dealing with patients prior to and after surgery related to their medical conditions.

While securing a job is the pinnacle of success for many recent graduates, for Mugaya it’s just another milestone in his overall plan. His eyes are on the future, but his past is never far from his thoughts.

Mugaya grew up in a village in Kiboga in central Uganda. He always thought his was the poorest family in the village until he started volunteering through the local hospital’s Nutrition Outreach Program, and interacting with surrounding communities. He saw villages decimated by AIDS and children raising children because the adults were no longer alive.

“I saw children that were really much worse off than I was,” he said. “I realized that somebody needed to do something, and then I thought, ‘That somebody had to be me.’”

He founded a community-based nonprofit called Care for Orphans and Community Development Uganda. The group’s mission was to improve the lives of orphans, vulnerable children, women and people living with HIV and AIDS by providing education, health care and promoting community empowerment.

Mugaya, along with one of his brothers, raised money for the organization by holding musical performances. They used the money to buy school, food and hygiene supplies for the children. They also enlisted volunteer teachers and funded medical examinations for the children.

One day a group of missionaries from St. Louis visited Mugaya’s village. Impressed with his efforts, they asked how they could help.

“I told them the only way they could help was to better my education,” he said. “When they returned to St. Louis they sent me different websites of schools, and I started communicating with different schools. That’s how I ended up in St. Louis.”

He initially moved in with the family of one of the missionaries and began attending classes at St. Louis Community College. In spring of 2012 he transferred to UMSL. But his move to the College of Nursing at UMSL was almost derailed after his uncle’s bakery, which was helping to support Mugaya, burned to the ground. He credits Kimberly Allen, assistant dean for student and faculty affairs for the College of Nursing, Dottye Akerson, teaching professor of nursing, and Christina Vanatta senior academic adviser in the College of Nursing, with helping to garner support to salvage his academic dreams.

“Through different resources they got support for me and helped me get scholarships and housing,” he said.

But Mugaya said he wasn’t just a passive observer about his situation. He also did his part to support his schooling. He secured a job working at Oak Hall and as a student nurse at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, where he worked for a year and a half as a patient-care technician.

While Mugaya is over the moon at the way his life is unfolding here in St. Louis, his ultimate goal is to return to Uganda and help people in his homeland.

“I know I have to return and pay back the village that raised me and supported me to come here. The best way I can payback is to have a hospital and school in the community,” he said.

Mugaya wants to eventually get a master’s degree followed by a doctorate. He’d like to focus on public health.

“That way I can help many, many people in Uganda,” he said. “I need to get the knowledge, the skills and the resources before I go back home.”

His nonprofit organization has already acquired five acres of land to construct a school for orphans and a hospital. It’ll be built in Luwero, Uganda, an area he was told would be the best place to serve the most people. It’s about two hours from the village where he grew up. Currently, he’s raising money for the project.

Mugaya credits his faith – he’s a Seventh-day Adventist – with propelling him forward to achieve his dreams.

“I believe in God, and I have a very strong faith in me that God can enable me to do anything, so I pray a lot. I pray a lot,” he said.

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