Trained as a witch doctor, this Baylor alumna instead found Christ — and her calling in life
As a young girl in Uganda, Rose Nanyonga’s family envisioned a dark path for her. But after finding Christ, she found her way to America, where she earned degrees from Arkansas Tech, Baylor and Yale; today, she’s making an incredible difference back home in Uganda.
But it almost didn’t end up that way.
Born to a polygamous father and a mother who died in childbirth when Rose was very young, she was selected by elders in her family to become a witch doctor; her training for that role began at the tender age of 6.
“I was made to kill animals for sacrifice, and sit in consultation sessions because people truly believed the gods would speak through me,” she said in a 2013 interview with the Daily Monitor. “There were times I was just required to sit in those shrines in specific positions for long periods of time and others when my father left me at the witch doctors’ for days. They were all scary brain-washing experiences, done in the dark, where you could not know what or who touched you.”
This was Rose’s life until she was 17 years old, when she attended a Christian rally. For the first time, it gave her the idea of escaping the life she was born into. For two years, she attended church while continuing her role as a witch doctor, but ultimately chose Christianity — for which her father locked her up for three weeks, then banished her from the family. With nowhere to go, she walked for 10 hours to the neighboring town of Kiwoko, where an Irish couple was starting a hospital. That couple — Robbie and Ian Clarke — hired her as a nurse’s aide, and eventually adopted her.
After gaining a basic education at the hospital, she earned her nursing degree at Arkansas Technical University, her master’s degree from Baylor, and then a doctoral degree at Yale University. With her wealth of education, Rose — now Dr. Rose Nanyonga Clarke, MSN ’05 — has set up a nursing school at another hospital founded by her adoptive father and served as director of clinical operations at the International Medical Group in Uganda’s capital.
Four years after graduating from Baylor, she started a campaign to end child sacrifice and crimes associated with ritualistic child practices in Uganda, once again walking that 10-hour path from Kiwoko to her home village — this time with 70 other people and the support of sponsors in the U.S., U.K. and Africa.
Today, Nanyonga Clarke is the vice chancellor of Clarke University, founded in 2005 by her adoptive father. It’s affiliated with a leading hospital that boasts a newborn intensive care unit, an extensive ambulance system, and a reputation as one of the best-run hospitals in East Africa. She continues to fight against child sacrifice, serving on boards for organizations such as Narrow Road International Aid, The Nursing Now Campaign, and The Sinza Project — each of which shares the goal of improving healthcare in Ugandan communities. And earlier this year, she was honored as a Distinguished Alumna by the Yale School of Nursing.
Sic ’em, Dr. Nanyonga Clarke!