Doing her father proud

Danaiet Teame moved to P.E.I. eight years ago unable to speak a word of English but the language barrier and culture shock did not keep her from UPEI nursing degree with honours

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on May 15, 2012
Danaiet Teame overcame a major language barrier and culture shock after moving to Canada from Ethiopia at the age of 14. On Saturday, she graduated with honours from the nursing program at UPEI.
Guardian photo by Jim Day

Her father would have been so proud.

Danaiet Teame, 22, of Charlottetown is sketchy on many details about her dad save one: he had a deep desire for the family to move to, and prosper in, Canada.

He wanted Danaiet and her brother, Sofonyas, to earn a good education and live well.

Teame was just in Grade 3 when her father, a native of Eritrea, a country in the Horn of Africa, was deported home while his family remained in Ethiopia. She would never see him again, but the pair kept in touch by telephone.

He took care of all the lengthy wrangling required to eventually win his family a pass to Canada. The plan was for him to be reunited with his wife,Tidge, and the couple’s two children.

Sadly, he died just 20 days before Teame came with her brother and her mother eight years ago to live in Prince Edward Island.

Teame was 14 and unable to speak a word of English when she arrived here. The language barrier and culture shock, though, did not keep a then determined teenager from fulfilling her father’s hope that she would do well in school.

Teame, in fact, would go on to thrive at university. She graduated with honours Saturday from the four-year nursing program at UPEI.

Kim Critchley, dean of nursing, describes the star student as “a very brilliant person.’’

Critchley first got to know Teame in the student’s third year at UPEI after Teame applied to go to Kenya as part of a three-month program that sees nursing students work in a hospital and in the community in a small, rural area.

Teame shone.

“I was very impressed with her,’’ said Critchley. “She is just so strong ... and independent.’’

Teame never doubted that she would graduate from university. The memory of her father — she still does not know how he died — helped push her through the nursing program.

English is her third language. Her first language is Amharica, which is unique to Ethiopia, and her second is Tigrina.

“My thoughts don’t really come to me in English,’’ she explained. “So writing a 10-page paper (for university) would be twice the process.’’

So Saturday’s graduation, with her name right there on the coveted Dean’s List, was nothing short of special.

Having her mother in the audience, as well as her brother, an earlier graduate of UPEI who came down from Toronto to watch Danaiet walk up on stage to accept her degree, only added to the moment.

“It feels great,’’ said Teame, who started work last week at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital but hopes to eventually do some work in underdeveloped countries.

She says her mother was “really excited’’ to see her graduate. And she knows her father is smiling down on her.

“I have my Dad’s ring on because I know this is for him,’’ she said, dabbing her wet eyes.

“He got what he wanted.’’

jday@theguardian.pe.ca