The Hub Family the foundation of nursing grad’s global journey and success

Family the foundation of nursing grad’s global journey and success

By: Bryan Alary

Ugandan-born Class of 2024 grad Christine Zuwe becomes the first in her family to earn a university degree

As a girl growing up in the Moyo District in Uganda, Christine Zuwe (Post-LPN Bachelor of Nursing ’24), dreamed of a life and education abroad that would break the cycle of poverty.

Originally from Kampala, Zuwe lost her father when she was three years old and her mother suddenly had to provide for eight children on her own—without a formal education. Even though her mother loved math, she never went to school in her home country of South Sudan and couldn’t read or write.

As a child , “she used to go and hide and watch the kids do schooling, but she never had the opportunity to study,” Zuwe says. “Girls were to be married and do housework, and that’s it.”

“She never had the opportunity to study. Girls were to be married and do housework, and that’s it.”

– Christine Zuwe (Post-LPN Bachelor of Nursing ’24)

It would take the sponsorship of Catholic missionaries to ensure Zuwe and her sister had access to an education. Pursuing a university education, however, would require leaving family and Africa behind for a life in a new country.

Now a registered nurse, successful business owner, wife, and mother of three young girls living in Calgary, Alta., Zuwe will become the first member of her family to receive a university degree when she crosses Athabasca University’s convocation stage on June 19.

It’s an important moment for her and her family. And it started with a mother’s love and wanting more for her children.

“I always have that in the back of my mind. I need to make my mom proud. I need to make myself proud.”

Nurturing a love of learning

There were few educational opportunities for girls in Moyo, but there was a Catholic missionary that operated a boarding school for orphans. Zuwe’s mother, Norah, asked them to take Zuwe and her sister Jackline and sponsor their education.

Christine Zuwe and her mother Norah Kiden.

Zuwe was bright, just like her mother, and also showed an early interest in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. She earned a scholarship and then, at age 16, transferred to Makerere High School. The day she graduated, mom was overjoyed.

“She was screaming she was so happy,” Zuwe remembers.

It was an important milestone in her education and a step toward her “dream job” as a nurse, but there were few opportunities for women in health care at the time. It wasn’t until Zuwe met her future husband, Mike, that nursing became a real possibility.

As a young girl, she had always dreamed of moving somewhere where she had a chance for a better life. In 2010, at age 19, that dream came true when she followed her heart and immigrated to Canada with her new husband, trading the equatorial heat of Uganda’s West Nile region for the Chinook winds of the foothills of the Canadian Rockies.

“So my dream that I was speaking of as a little girl, it came true.”

Life in a new country

Christine and Mike Zuwe.

Zuwe enrolled in a nursing diploma program at a private college in Calgary, where she would work as a licensed practical nurse (LPN). She spent nine years working in long-term care.

As the couple settled into life, they also sowed roots in their new country, having three girls. Just like her mother before, Zuwe wanted the best for her children and tried to be a good role model.

Though her sister earned a diploma in computer engineering and one of her brothers got a diploma in plumbing, no one in the family had a university degree. Zuwe wanted to change that.

“I wanted to empower my daughters you know, you can do anything.”

Daytime work and nighttime studies

AU’s Post-LPN to Bachelor of Nursing program provided a pathway that allowed Zuwe to pursue a degree and a wider scope of practice and career advancement as a registered nurse. The flexibility of open, online learning also allowed her to continue working and raise her growing family.

“It gave me the opportunity to work at my own pace and still have an income and balance my life as a wife, as a mother, and as a student. It was really perfect for me.”

Still, it wasn’t easy—especially with young children. Zuwe would retreat to the basement for exams, but even then she could hear the thump, thump, thump of her girls’ footsteps above her head.

As was the case her entire life, family would help her through the challenges. Zuwe’s mother was staying with the family at the time and would help with the children and quietly shush the girls so exams were distraction-free. Sometimes Mike  would take the girls for walks or to the park.

Evenings, after the kids’ bedtime, were generally for studying. “That’s my Athabasca time.”

As the girls got older, they started to understand the importance of giving mom space to succeed. “When I’m doing exams, now they’re quiet and all go to their rooms.”

three girls sitting on a couch

Taking on new challenges in nursing

Zuwe continued to grow her skills as a nurse. As soon as she finished her preceptorship, a hands-on clinical placement, she got a job with Alberta Health Services and worked in the cardiac units at the Peter Lougheed and Rockyview hospitals. She also launched her own homecare business.

Nursing, she says, is like a calling. Caring for patients when they’re at their most vulnerable requires a certain skill set and temperament.

“It’s a call to serve. I see a tangible change when I help.”

Now, after 15 years in Canada and eight years of steady pursuit, Zuwe finally achieved her dream—and her mother’s—of a university degree. Though her mother had to return to Uganda and won’t be able to attend convocation in Athabasca, there will be three very excited and proud young girls watching their mother cross the stage.

Zuwe’s educational journey wasn’t hers to walk alone. Family was there at every step and provided the foundation to achieve all her dreams through the power of learning.

“Athabasca University opened up my world, into learning, into a world of opportunities, meeting people, and having that confidence to believe in myself,” she says. “I’m very complete.”

Convocation 2024—a celebration like no other!

Read more stories about AU students and grads as part of our Convocation 2024 coverage.

  • June 18, 2024
Tagged In:
convocation, health care,
Guest Blog from:
Bryan Alary