Dr. Haorah goes to school

When James Haorah was 11 years and 5 months old, a Catholic priest walked for seven miles to get to the village in remote northeast India where young James lived. It was a momentous day, and the priest was feted with great fanfare. This was partly a sign of deep respect, for a visiting dignitary, and partly because something this exciting didn’t happen every day.

What did happen every day was that people worked. All day, growing rice, vegetables, livestock. They gathered water, and firewood, maintaining a daily existence. No running water, no electricity.

There was no child care; there was no staying home with the kids. Bigger little kids watched younger siblings as mothers and fathers worked in the fields.

James Haorah would describe it, some 40 years later, “Like the 1800s here in the United States.”

Dr. Haorah’s home village in the remote northeast part of India doesn’t even show up on Google maps, but it is close to the district capital, Ukhrul.

That day, the visiting priest asked the gathered kids what they wanted to do in life. Young James was 11 years and 5 months old – looking back, he remembers it almost to the day. “I was a bit outspoken,” he said. He stood up boldly. He would be a doctor, he said.

And they laughed. All the kids laughed. Even the village elders laughed. “They had a very good reason,” James said. At 11 years and 5 months, James had never been to school.

How could he? He had responsibilities. He watched baby siblings. He already had a job. He was a buffalo herder.

But that day, amid the laughter, he made a decision.

When school started, he showed up. He went to nursery school, among the 3-year-olds, and sat down. He was 11 years and 7 months. He remembers it almost to the day.

The teachers were flustered: You can’t bring a baby in here! But James did, still caring for his younger siblings (that was the deal). And each time the teacher tried to kick him out, he said the same thing: “I am sitting here.”

Dr. Haorah didn’t attend school until age 11, but since then his determination has made him a lauded investigator at UNMC.

In 2004, when he returned to the little village near the Myanmar border on the other side of Bangladesh, the teachers remembered him. “Now, for them it is a story,” he said. It’s one they tell all of the kids.

If you work with James Haorah, maybe you have seen this determination, in him. Today he is James Haorah, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of pharmacology and experimental neuroscience at UNMC.


  1. jean says:

    Awesome story of determination and success..An example set for all that have the pleasure of knowing Dr. Haorah.

  2. Mary Bernhagen says:

    I met James while he was working with Dr. Donohue at the VA Research Service many years ago. He is an inspiration and it is an honor to know him. I wish him all the best.

  3. Ann Ashford says:

    What an amazing man and what an inspiration for those of us who take so much for granted!

  4. Carly Ninemire says:

    During my rotation in Dr. Haorah’s lab, he shared his life experiences and determination as a young child, he will always be an inspiration to me.

  5. Howard E. Gendelman says:

    Incredible journey that is pleasing to read and more so to be shared

  6. Kim Morrison says:

    It is such a pleasure to work with James! I have never seen him without a smile on his face. Many of his life stories are inspiring, but it is his genuine kindness that inspires me the most. He is truly a gift to this world.

  7. Babu Guda says:

    Very inspiring indeed. Some people need to take a very long path to reach the same destination as others. James is one of them. I admire his resolution, and his determination to make it a reality.

  8. Mohammed Abdul Muneer says:

    I have been working with James since last 3.5 years. He creates tension free very comfortable working atmosphere so that I could generate good number of first author publications. Not only his child hood stories, the present his nature of work is very inspiring too. He will be an adorable mentor to me always!

  9. Ashutosh says:

    I met Dr. Haorah this summer in a meeting. He is a great person indeed. He made every Indian proud. Salute to his determination.

  10. Simarjeet K. Negi says:

    An awe inspiring life story. Am proud to know Dr. James, an enthusiast scientist, a wonderful person and a great Mentor !!

  11. Vikas Mishra says:

    He is a great mentor, wonderful person with a humble heart and great compassion to help people succeed like he did. I am truly fortunate to have his guidance.

  12. Ayao Vashum says:

    Iam inspired by your Incredible journey, really help me lift my spirits and hope. God does make everything beautiful in his time!Wish you even more success in the near future….God bless

  13. Aziebu Shaiza says:

    Inspiring and it is really hard for me to believe it as I have been to his village and grit and determination has made Dr. James what he is today.

  14. zenith keishing says:

    The story of your exemplary achievement is something all of us (Youngster of Tangkhul ) can mirror and inculcate in our life to achieved the impossible things with the same determination that you have set. Well done… your success is the reflection of God’s glory for our Tangkhul.

  15. Ninglum Wungkhai says:

    It is a great life changing testimony. He hailed from Khamasom Village, Ukhrul India bordering with Myanmar. Who can expect to come out such a great visionary and ambitious man form such an outdated and a remote place. I know him a my special uncle (mother’s family) who is a real gentleman. We are proud of Him……. long live..

  16. I was fortunate to be associated with James during our university days. Indeed he is a source of inspiration to those have met him. Our life’s journey is a path of stumbling blocks. Life has got its problems, trials and hardships, yet my friend James conquered all these on his journey to reach the highest achievement.

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