Oruada Oruada arrived in the United States from Nigeria on a winter night when he was 15 years old. He left behind his mother and all that was familiar. His father was a taxi driver in New York City who supported the family from afar. When Oruada arrived at Newark Airport, his father was there waiting to drive him to their new home in Queens.
“It was very cold, but I was so happy that I didn’t mind,” said Oruada.
His comment is indicative of his glass-half full view of life. Today, despite his challenges, or maybe because of them, he will earn a Master of Social Work degree from the Graduate School of Social Service. Oruada’s name stems from a traditional pattern for his clan, the Chief Oruada Udeagah family in the Abiriba community. All the first sons in the family bear the first name Oruada, he said, and for some it is a surname as well.
After he arrived from Nigeria, his father enrolled Oruada in a crowded Queens high school where classmates bullied him for his accent and earnest participation.
“I did well, so I didn’t mind whatever the students were saying to me,” he said. “I flipped every single bad thing thrown at me and turned it into motivation.”
He graduated from high school with honors and enrolled in New York City College of Technology, where he studied human services. He said he chose Fordham for his M.S.W. because it emphasized on-the-ground experience with city nonprofits and also offered opportunities to work with international nongovernmental organizations. Today, he is doing both.
During the day, Oruada interns at the United Nations as a youth representative for Close the Gap, an international NGO that supplies computer systems and supports social innovation projects for young entrepreneurs in developing countries. At night, he works at a residence for young people with severe autism. Oruada said that working at the United Nations fulfilled a lifelong dream. When he first set foot on U.N. grounds, he spent a half hour gazing up at the buildings, where he now gets to employ his passion for statistics and data that can help create social change.
“I want outcomes,” he said. “For example, if you tell me five out of 10 are doing well and recovered from opiate addiction, that’s good! Don’t just tell me we helped ‘a good amount of people.”
Oruada said that he expects to stay in New York City to continue in social work and advocate for the profession. He said the field is deserving of more respect.
“Social workers are saving lives,” he said. “We’re the liaison between the community and the services they need.”
He hopes to continue in his role at the U.N. and in his work with autistic youth.
“We immigrants are purpose driven; we have goals to meet, like a better life or education,” he said. “I like to do things that make an impact on someone else, not for self-gratification but to empower others.”