Imagine you have waited your entire life to do something. You cross oceans to do it. You uproot yourself from family and friends, from familiar foods and culture. You finally arrive and then—your dream starts to fray at the edges. Life’s daily challenges, like transportation, housing, and illness, seem like insurmountable tasks stealing the wind from your sails.
But if you’re Ganita Musa, you know that in order to make dreams a reality, a lack of breeze can’t stop you. You need bravery and persistence. You need to bring your own gale.
As a girl growing up in Ginnir, Ethiopia (map), Ganita wasn’t able to attend high school. “We had only one high school, one middle school, and one elementary school—and that’s it,” and education was reserved for others. “Girls that I grew up with never dreamed of going to school, but I knew that’s what I wanted.”
But first, she had to leave everything she knew and cross an ocean.
Ganita arrived in the United States to the Midwestern state of Ohio. She had one plan: to get her education. To her surprise, physically getting to college to earn her GED would prove to be an obstacle. “We didn’t have anyone to help us,” she says, “and in Ohio, where we lived, there was no public transportation to and from school.”
So she walked. The college was three miles away, and her classes went on for four months. “People would stare because there was no one walking on the road but me,” but her persistence paid off.
After earning her GED, a friend phoned from Seattle. She implored Ganita to move northwest, and continue her education in the Puget Sound region. Ganita had two questions for her: what was the weather like, and how was the public transportation. Fears assuaged, Ganita told her friends and her sister that once again, she had to go. “Are you crazy?” they asked. “You don’t know anybody there!” Her response was: “But I have to go to school.”
In Seattle, she roomed with two other people in a one-bedroom apartment. The day after she arrived, she hopped on a bus and went straight to the community college, where she continued her studies.
Between her time in community college and her transfer to UW Tacoma, Ganita’s life was continually upended, and she continually prevailed. She was hospitalized for extensive periods with the birth of her first two children, and subsequently left a vocational program because of it. When she was finally ready to transfer, she applied to UW Tacoma’s Social Work Program.
An Introduction to Social Work course solidified her desire to continue on the social welfare track. “I learned everything in that class,” she says, “the professor not only prepared me for the rest of my coursework, but also prepared me for real life.” Because of her personal experience, Ganita gravitated towards immigration advocacy work, especially after she and her classmates advocated for a bill passed by the Washington State Senate.
She wanted to help those without a voice—the underrepresented immigrant population—but her focus shifted after her practicum placement. “I always thought I would work with immigrants because that’s who I am—that’s the only base I saw—until I started my practicum at the clinic.”
Working at a mental health clinic opened Ganita’s eyes to a whole new world. Her clients consist of those struggling with chronic homelessness, addiction, and mental illness. Her attention moved from her own story and her own struggles, to the struggles that others face. “I realized that this is bigger than me and my own experience.”
Now, as a graduating senior in social welfare with global honors, Ganita concludes her chapter at UW Tacoma with her BA in hand. But her education isn’t finished—she will return this summer as a student in UW’s Master of Social Work program at the Seattle campus, where she hopes to continue at the mental health clinic, this time working with children.
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org