THE young woman with a big smile is a self-starter, determined to make it by sheer effort, grit and hard work in the United States of America.
She is Susan Mahoro, a former Kampala High School teacher who beat millions of other applicants worldwide to win the coveted random US Diversity Visa lottery in 2006. She attended the just concluded Uganda North America Association convention in Denver, Colorado, where she told her story to the New Vision.
Her story is only partly about luck, but mostly about staying the course even when the world is falling around her. She grew up in Kabale in a family of two brothers and a sister, she being the oldest. She attended Hornby Junior School, and went on to Bishop Kivengere Girl’s School where she completed A'level in 2001. She enrolled in Makerere University in 2002, for literature in English.
“My focus was on studying and finding a job was the furthest thing from my mind,” she narrated. But this changed when she graduated with a BA in Literature in 2005, and began pounding Kampala streets looking for a job. She sent numerous applications for teaching jobs in many schools, and went to countless interviews. None, however, yielded any job offer.
“The jobs were going to experienced teachers who were favoured over newly minted BA graduates,” Susan said. To keep busy doing something useful, Susan volunteered at Youth Alive Uganda, working with young people. It was something to occupy her time while looking for the first break getting a paying job. She was finally successful after pounding the streets for eight months when Kingsway High School on Entebbe Road offered her a job teaching literature.
The pay was lousy, a mere sh300,000 a month—not enough to pay for her basic needs, and definitely not adequate to pay for the graduate studies she was dreaming of doing. She kept hoping, and looking for opportunity to better her lot.
Before the year 2006 was out, Susan caught the lucky break. She had heard friends talk about the US Green Card work visa lottery which randomly selected professionals to work in the US. She had some sh500 to spare and, more out of curiosity than any hope of winning the long shot lottery, she spent it at an internet café where she applied for the visa lottery.
A few months later, she would receive a letter from the US Department of State informing her that she had in fact been selected from over 6,000,000 applicants to become part of a pool of about 500,000 from which the final 50,000 would be selected. She waited, hoping, biting her nails.
The next letter told her that indeed she had been selected for the visa programme, but warned her not to sell her assets until after the interview in Nairobi.
She was one of 190 Ugandans selected for the programme that year. The interview was a formality, and so in 2007, Susan found herself on the flight to Dallas, Texas in the great USA. “My life was turned upside down when I arrived in America—I had no idea about public transportation and all the new ways of living,” she recalls.
Life was immediately very hard and, though she had been admitted as a professional, she could not find work in her field. For one, it took a year and a half just to translate her Makerere University transcripts into the American system.
Then it took even longer to get accredited as a teacher, but that was no consolation because she could not find work as a teacher. “The only job I could hope to get was teaching English to Spanish-speaking students, but that meant I had to learn to speak Spanish first just so that I could communicate with them,” she narrated.
In the meantime, she moved away from Dallas to Denver, Colorado in 2007. She began finding work in nursing homes and in hospitals while working to become a teacher. “I love to talk to people, and teaching was something I really wanted to do. I even thought of additional qualification as a special education teacher, but reality seeped in—going to school without the guarantee of a job meant piling more loans that would come due at some point soon.
Finally, after landing a job working with babies at Denver Healthcare Hospital, I asked myself, ‘Why continue with this dream of teaching when it is the healthcare field that is opening up for me?’”. Susan switched careers and enrolled in courses in the healthcare field. She works very hard at Denver Health Hospital while also studying full-time.
“My advice for young people in Uganda is that coming to America is not a solution because there are many young Americans who are looking for jobs themselves. However, if there is opportunity to come to America then come to study rather than to work,” she advised.
A Christian, Susan spends most of her spare time attending faith gatherings, sometimes catching the occasional concert and movies. But mostly she reads, determined to make it as a healthcare professional. “I am going to make it,” she says with a determined finality that conveys an indomitable spirit that will take on the world.