The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” resonates deeply for Eugenie Ouedraogo, a native of Burkina Faso, West Africa. The mother of three young children and a second-year nursing student in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences (CNHS), Ouedraogo wouldn’t be able to attend college without her “village —her husband, Alain, and Triumph, Inc. Head Start and Early Head Start in Taunton, MA, where her children attended day care.
Senator Warren calls for affordable child care
Two years ago, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) visited Triumph Head Start, a direct recipient of federal funds, to meet with staff and parents. The senator—a longtime advocate for affordable child care—proposed the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act in 2019, based on programs like Head Start and the universal child care offered to U.S. military families. The bill ensures that every family has access to high-quality, affordable child care and early learning opportunities. The average American family spends 20% of their income on child care, according to Fortune.com.
My #SOTU guest is Eugénie, a nursing student and mom of 3, from Taunton, Massachusetts.— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) February 8, 2023
We’re fighting for affordable child care for every family. Let's get this done. pic.twitter.com/Vz7bsVlgAh
Warren wanted to hear about parents’ experiences firsthand. Ouedraogo was a member of the Parents Council at Triumph Head Start and was invited to speak to the senator during her 2021 visit.
Ouedraogo said she “spoke from the heart and maybe that made a difference. I said that we need more affordable day care. If not for day care, I cannot go to school or work. I would have to work small jobs with no retirement plan.”
Her heartfelt plea for affordable child care was not forgotten. Warren can invite one guest from Massachusetts to attend tonight’s State of the Union address and, as her staff assembled a short list of candidates, they remembered Ouedraogo. When a representative from Warren’s Senate office called to invite her, Ouedraogo said, “Of course I’ll go.”
Today, she will fly to Washington, DC with her entire family and a staff member from Head Start and meet with the senator before the President’s speech tonight. Senator Warren and Ouedraogo will travel together to the Capitol to hear his address to Congress while her family will watch from the senator's office.
“Eugénie is the perfect example of why we need to make bigger investments in child care. She knows firsthand the struggle to find high-quality affordable care,” Warren said in a telephone interview with the Taunton Daily Gazette.
Head Start is designed to lift families up
Karen Ennis, executive director of Triumph Head Start, said she received a call from the senator’s office asking about the woman who spoke to Senator Warren two years ago. The senator was considering inviting her to attend the State of the Union with her. A few days later, Ennis received a call that Ouedraogo was selected.
“We had invited the senator to visit to showcase our work,” Ennis said. “She’s also very passionate about affordable child care, which allows parents, more specifically, women, to be productive members of the workforce. Child care is vital to the country’s infrastructure.
“When the senator met with parents and staff, Eugenie spoke very eloquently and passionately,” Ennis recalled. “She talked about how important this program has been to her and how it’s like a family to her. This is an immense honor for Eugenie, her family, and our agency.
“She is an amazing woman,” added Ennis. “She sits on our Policy Council, which is our parent leadership group. She volunteers her time and has built a nice network of friends.
“Head Start is a wonderful program that that lifts up the whole family. Eugenie sees the waiting list. She sees families trying to get into the program. She’s very observant. She listens and knows that [affordable child care] is a problem” said Ennis.
Transition from teaching to nursing
Ouedraogo arrived in the United States in June 2017 after working as a high school French teacher in West Africa. She graduated from a community college before enrolling in CNHS at UMass Dartmouth. She and Alain became U.S. citizens last year.
“I wanted to help people to have a better future. As a nurse, I can help them to be healthy," Ouedraogo said. "Nurses have really helped me when my children were sick. I want to give back to people.”
"The College of Nursing & Health Sciences is very proud of Eugenie for her commitment to her nursing education and her advocacy for this important social need that is so critical for our society and our economy. We hope she carries her advocacy for affordable child care forward throughout her nursing career to support parents in obtaining their education, building their careers, and creating better lives for their families,” said CNHS Dean Kimberly Christopher.
“We prepare nurses for clinical practice and patient advocacy,” added Christopher. “We are all very excited for Eugenie as she is recognized by Senator Warren for her desire to help others and her successful efforts to begin a new life and nursing career here in Massachusetts."
Ouedraogo is hoping to become an oncology nurse after she graduates from UMassD. She plans to work for a few years before attending graduate school for further training.
“Nurses are like family,” she said. “I love being part of people’s lives. Oncology patients really need support and I want to be there for them.”