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Emmanuel and Valentina Clottey
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EMMANUEL and VALENTINA CLOTTEY Thousands of miles from home—and their children—a Ghanaian couple pursues shared goals for learning and life.

Three years ago, Emmanuel and Valentina Clottey set out for a place they had barely heard of—The University of Iowa.

“Iowa—we actually had to look where it was on the map,” says Valentina, laughing. Originally from Ghana, they'd been living and working in Kenya for 11 years before deciding to study in the United States.

Making the move wasn’t easy, especially since it meant leaving their three children behind. But the Clotteys believe their Iowa experience will help them improve life for other families back home.

The couple came to Iowa in 2004, when Emmanuel—whose background includes biochemistry studies and community and religious work—began a chaplain residency at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. In 2006, he and Valentina both began master’s programs in the College of Public Health.

“While doing my chaplain residency, it occurred to me that most of the patients I see at the hospital are sick with preventable diseases,” Emmanuel said.  “So I thought I should spend more time helping to promote health rather than waiting for people to get sick and then attending to them.” He has completed his residency, but continues to serve as a UIHC volunteer chaplain while pursuing graduate studies.

A physician who treated mostly kids in Africa, Valentina has focused on public health programs for women and children. She and Emmanuel want to return home prepared to establish a wellness center that emphasizes prevention and health promotion, and to pursue medical missions to regions with scarce health services.

“It’s always good when your spouse is your best friend and your best support. You can’t get any better than that,” says Barbara Brown, performance-based assessment clerk in the College of Medicine’s Office of Student Affairs and Curriculum—who met the Clotteys while working as coordinator for the College of Public Health—of the couple’s shared academic and service goals. “They each have their own area of expertise and their own ideas, but together they can make a huge difference.”

The Clotteys received a warm welcome at the College of Public Health, where no questions were left unanswered and everybody’s door was open, Emmanuel says.

“That’s one of the reasons we decided to stay. We saw that we had almost everything here we needed,” he says, adding they had considered moving to England for additional schooling.

Iowa hospitality helped the couple acclimate—literally. Arriving in September 2004, they experienced their first Midwestern winter almost immediately. Valentina also had to adjust to not working, since medical training and practice requirements in Africa differ from those in the United States.

But by far the biggest challenge the Clotteys have faced has been separation from their children—Emmanuel, 19; Gabriel, 10; and Rachel, 4.

Gabriel and Rachel came to Iowa with their parents, but Emmanuel and Valentina wanted them to grow up in Ghana, where they can learn their local language and live with their grandparents. The couple last saw their children in December 2006—their first visit home since 2004.

“It’s never easy to be away from your children,” Emmanuel said. “But we feel for now we’ve made the right decision.”

Valentina says they communicate with the kids every other day, usually by phone. Luckily, she and Emmanuel have each other, working together as partners in learning and in life.

“We fall on each other for support,” Valentina says. “Even though we have our independent studies, we’re a good team together.”

Story by Kelli Andresen; Photo by Tim Schoon

Oct. 15, 2007