Editor's note: This story was originally posted in January, 2012. Somerville Patch will be posting stories about residents who have overcome adversity, and we felt this was a good example. If you have a story to tell about overcoming adversity, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justina Nwabinwe, 57, said, "It can only happen in a place like the United States."
The Somerville resident explained:
"Two years ago, I was living with my husband, but the relationship got too abusive."
Her husband was an alcoholic; he often made threats, including threats to call immigration authorities. Nwabinwe was concerned for herself, but also for her daughter, Anwuli, who was 22 at the time.
To make matters worse, "From the culture I came from, I couldn't do anything," she said. "In my culture, it's always the fault of the woman."
Nwabinwe comes from Nigeria. She moved to the United States in 1999, starting out briefly in Wisconsin, her port of entry, then going to Maryland, and ultimately ending up in Dorchester.
Her husband would write to friends and relatives back in Nigeria, telling them bad stories about her and eroding any support system she might have had, Nwabinwe said.
Life in Dorchester, living in an abusive relationship, became too difficult. "I wasn't happy living in that kind of environment. What would happen to my daughter? I lived in fear," she said.
Then, one day, her husband "went and called the police on my daughter," threatening to kick the two women out of his house, Nwabinwe said.
"The police came, and they asked us what was going on in the home, and we told [them], and the police ended up arresting him," she said, "him" being her husband.
Things begin to change
That was in 2010, and it was at that point that Nwabinwe's life began to turn around.
The police incident brought her to court, and the court gave her the address of Casa Myrna, a domestic violence agency based in Boston's South End.
Casa Myrna helped place her into transitional housing in Cambridge and then helped her apply for permanent housing in Somerville.
But Nwabinwe didn't have a job, and she had only rudimentary computer skills.
So, Casa Myrna also referred her to the YMCA's Training, Inc., which runs a free 20-week program designed to train people for the workplace. She studied administrative support and medical office support. The program included training in computer skills and software, medical terminology, data entry and project management. It included exposure to a simulated office environment and an internship at Tufts Medical Center.
Giving back with a new job
Nwabinwe graduated from the program Wednesday. More important, she now has a full-time job as an administrative assistant at Vinfen, a nonprofit organization based outside Inman Square that provides services to people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and behavioral disabilities.
"Vinfen works to get them back into society," Nwabinwe said.
The organization says its in the mission of "transforming lives," and that's something that resinated with her.
"Transforming lives. That really got my attention," she said. "They transform lives [for those with mental illness and disabilities] ... when people have given up on them."
What's more, Nwabinwe is pursuing an associate's degree in medical information at Bunker Hill Community College, and she then plans to get a bachelor's degree in medical information management from UMass Boston. Her daughter, now 24, is also pursuing a degree at UMass Boston.
Taking a moment after Wednesday's graduation to ponder her life's journey over the past two years, Nwabinwe commented, "I look back and I said, oh my God, I can't believe it."
"It can only happen in a place like the United States."