For Brian Ashaba, family comes first

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For Brian Ashaba, “home” and “family” are bi-continental concepts. Growing up during the Ugandan civil war, Brian learned of the responsibilities of family leadership he would face as the oldest son.

Brian AshabaFor Brian Ashaba, “home” and “family” are bi-continental concepts. Growing up in and around Kampala, Uganda in the 1980s, during the Ugandan civil war, Brian learned of the responsibilities of family leadership he would face as the oldest son. Years later, he is now a father himself and feels an obligation that grounds him in Western Washington.

Brian attended boarding schools in Uganda, an experience that he says kept him away from the violence of the war, built his character and prepared him for the flexibility needed to survive as an immigrant to the U.S. He describes a life of triple-tier bunk beds, constant vigilance to prevent theft of his food and belongings, and competition for everything from bathroom time to teacher attention.

He is almost the first one in his large family to attend college. He would be the first, except for his generosity (he would say his duty) to his younger brother. Although he and his brother both qualified for full-ride scholarships to an American college, there was only enough funding for one scholarship, which Brian insisted his brother take.

Brian eventually got his chance to pursue higher education. After a year at Shoreline Community College, and several years working at the West Coast Vance hotel in downtown Seattle (ultimately becoming front-desk manager), he entered UW Tacoma as a full time student. His schedule is unrelenting: classes are Monday through Thursday, Friday is time with his daughter, and all day Saturday and Sunday are spent working for Columbia Distributing, a wine and spirits distribution firm.

He has an interesting perspective on U.S. race relations: despite his skin color, some African-Americans do not consider him culturally “black.” At UW Tacoma, however, he has experienced an inclusive and welcoming diversity. He says there is a small-but-growing Ugandan community in western Washington.

One of those fellow Ugandans, and one of Brian’s most important mentors, is his friend Dr. Joseph Babigumira, who is assistant professor of global health in UW’s School of Public Health. Brian and Joseph grew up together in Africa—they went to boarding school together. It was happenstance they both ended up in the Pacific Northwest, but it was probably inevitable they would find each other once they were both here. According to both, Joseph played a key role in convincing him to attend UW Tacoma.

Ten years from now, Brian hopes to be making a difference both here in the South Sound region and in Uganda. He has a dream of completing a master’s degree and working in the field of child development. Here at UW Tacoma, he’s developed a social-marketing strategy to communicate the dangers of childhood obesity to parents.

Wherever he ends up, Brian Ashaba knows he will always feel UW Tacoma gave him the “freedom to do what I want to do.”

Written by: 
John Burkhardt / June 6, 2013
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or