Born in Mauritania, Africa’s eleventh largest sovereign, Roughiatou “Rougie” Ngaide is an achiever. She proudly shares that she was raised in a village among the Fluana tribe. Unlike her peers, she did not dream of coming to America. She did not fantasize of what life would be like in the “home of the free.” Instead, she was proud of her country and, most of all, her father’s accomplishments. She admired his leadership, his love for Allah and how he was the voice for her people. She followed in his footsteps and learned to be an activist.
Rougie developed a desire to help her people. She accredited it to her father’s emphasis on loving thy neighbor. Rougie says that her father always reminded her that “Islam is about service, not just praying and mosque.” Those in her household understood that the family had an obligation to serve God, country and people, and she vowed to do just that.
Unfortunately, at the tender age of thirteen, Rougie’s father passed unexpectedly and her mother, both young and uneducated, became the sole provided for her and her twelve siblings. This made Rougie even more determined to equip herself with the knowledge and resources to better her people’s quality of life. She pursued her education and earned her master’s degree in public international law.
While in school, she got married. She was very devoted to her husband and strove to be the best wife to him. When her husband wanted to move to the United States, she felt that was her duty as his wife to do so. So Rougie packed up and left behind all that was familiar to her, along with her passion for advocating for the Mauritanian people and serving her family.
From the first day in the United States, Rougie recalls feeling uneasy -- she was homesick. “I had a terrible longing to be back home. Anxiety…depression… helplessness,” Rouge says. Though she was fluent in six languages, English was not among them. Her struggle to communicate disqualified her for leadership roles that she was accustomed to holding in her motherland; in Africa, she was a lawyer, an activist, a human rights educator and an employee of a nonprofit focused on gender issues and youth empowerment. Despite this, she could find only meaningless jobs that fell way short of her qualifications.
In 2009, Rougie had improved her knowledge of the English language. And it was during this time that her marriage took a turn for the worst. She shares that her husband was no longer the loving father and husband he once was. He neglected his promised role as the provider and protector. Rougie states that he was fighting with his own demons and decided to stop working. He lacked any desire to seek employment, and she was left as the sole breadwinner.
Rougie says her self-image was wounded, but she managed to hide her true disappointment. She describes herself as a victim of financial abuse, and it became difficult for her to continue supporting her family back in Africa – a vital expectation of all immigrants in order to maintain a safety net.
In 2010, Rougie further stumbled when she miscarried her sixth child; she was devastated. Her husband reaction: “Get over it.” Rougie convinced herself that everything was okay. “I couldn’t be depressed,” she says”. “After all we have been conditioned to say: “too blessed to be stressed.”
In denial and objecting to medication, Rougie maintained the facade that everything was okay. She maintained a successfully radio station where she gave advice about injustice to fellow Mauritanians. Her suburban home, three thriving children and productive lifestyle portrayed to the world that that everything was wonderful. Yet on the inside, Rougie was in a downward spiral.
She was not able to make sense of all that was happening. She was without answers as to why life had dealt her an unfair hand. Detached from her husband, the loss of another child and fear of embarrassment, she sunk into what she recognizes today as depression. Though she made every effort to continue her radio station broadcast, go to work and nurture her children, she felt that she was losing her mind. She was embarrassed by her feelings, because she was conditioned to believe that people like her do not suffer from depression. It took a long time for her to admit that her feelings were real and that she was suffering from – what she now understands – post traumatic stress disorder.
Rougie began treatment for her depression. She learned about the disease and, for the first time, felt comfortable talking about her true feelings and her struggles. Rougie says that it was “eye opening” to know why she felt the way she did: “It was a relief to have a why with how I was feeling.” Unfortunately, those around her did not accept her diagnosis and were not supportive, especially her husband. So, she found herself relying on medication to suppress her feelings in hopes of making her feel “normal” again.
Over time, she began relying on her peers in the program, who shared in her struggles. She realized that these positive relationships revived what was dying on the inside of her. “This country made me feel welcome. People here are the best people in the world,” Rougie says. She was blown away with the amount of people that provided services to her without wanting or requiring anything from her in return.
It was not long before Rougie began volunteering for the same resources centers she visited. She says that she gained more than just tangible items such as food and clothes; she obtained a new sense of self. She developed relationships and renewed her confidence. Low and behold, doors began to open for her.
In 2016, she returned back to Africa to participate in a discussion panel about the lives of Mauritanians living in the United States. “This is my opportunity to get mentally better - ease the constant stress I was under,” Rougie says. Upon her return to Columbus, she felt healed. She was eager to empower others and to reactivate all the skills she possessed.
Rougie recalls the phenomenal impact that Dress for Success had on her -- so much so that she joined the organization and began volunteering. She now serves as an international ambassador. This year, she attended the worldwide legacy summer in the Bahamas and over the next six months, will be running a community action project meant to serve women that have experienced the trauma of being uprooted from home.
She proudly accredits Dress for Success for giving her confidence to start an Amnesty International chapter and to become a registered interpreter though the Ohio Supreme Court. In 2018, after twelve years of freelancing as an interpreter, she started her own translation company, Transfulani LLC, which is now a vendor for the State of Ohio and Franklin County.
Rougie exemplifies a woman that “doesn’t look like what she has been through.” Her infectious smile reflects to the outside world that she has always lived a life overflowing with promise. Without saying a word, her strong spirt and ambition shines bright, and she takes pride in the struggles that she has endured and recognizes them as the strengths that have molded her into the women she is today.
Through all her trials and tribulations, Rougie never forgot her promise to serve God, country and her people. Her dad has always been her inspiration, and she takes comfort that he would be proud of the women she is today.