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This Hackensack Cleaning Lady Is Also A Pharmacist

Clara Sofia Ochoa in her Hackensack apartment, surrounded by her academic degrees and certificates from Colombia and the U.S.
Clara Sofia Ochoa in her Hackensack apartment, surrounded by her academic degrees and certificates from Colombia and the U.S. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

HACKENSACK, N.J. — Clara Sofia Ochoa of Hackensack cleans a BMW dealership in Maywood at night.

It’s a far cry from her old job: she was a pharmacist at a national penitentiary in her native Colombia.

The 32-year-old loved working there.

She has loved pharmacies since her girlhood when she watched her father help people in his pharmacy.

“I always admired what my father did,” Ochoa told Daily Voice. “I have a passion for helping people.”

But it’s one she has been unable to indulge since she came to the U.S. in 2010.

Upon arrival, she learned she couldn’t attend pharmacy school here. A congenital hearing problem made it impossible for her to do an internship.

Was she upset? Yes.

Deterred? No.

She’d always been a straight-A student.

So she kept cleaning— and learning English at the Bergenfield Public Library — even as she earned a bachelor’s degree with a specialization in science in FDU’s Puerta al Futuro program .

“After that, I decided to change my career path,” Ochoa said.

In 2014, she registered for a master’s in administrative science, also at Puerta al Futuro.

“I thought I could use my experience and knowledge as a pharmacist in some administrative position in the health care field,” Ochoa said.

Onward she went, always optimistic, always cleaning.

In 2015, Ochoa got her master’s, along with three certificates.

In 2016, she became a U.S. citizen.

None of this was easy, particularly given her hearing issue. Then again, it had never been easy.

Her childhood was filled with physical, motor, and speech therapies, at some points requiring 90-minute drives from her home village of Santuario, near Pereira in central Colombia.

In high school, she took notes and read lips as best she could and got no extra help.

Even today, Ochoa hears 60 percent of the words someone utters in a quiet environment.

In lecture halls, she uses a SurfLink system. A professor must clip a microphone device to his or her clothing for Ochoa to receive the sound on her end.

Then there’s the issue of other electronics.

“I cannot understand the sound that comes from the TV, the phone,” Ochoa said.

During the last year, as she looks for an administrative health job, many potential employers have asked for phone interviews. Ochoa has trouble understanding them.

If the interviewer shuffles papers on the other end of the line, she hears nothing.

If the interviewer’s mouthpiece moves an inch, ditto.

She needs to get past the obstacle of the phone interview. But so far, she hasn’t.

In her spotless apartment, Ochoa keeps bucking herself up. Now she’s reading “I’ll Scream Later,” a memoir by Marlee Matlin, the famed deaf actress.

She draws inspiration from Matlin’s life story .

And she keeps cleaning.

And hoping.

And applying for jobs. Every single day.

She’s come so far. She knows, she said, that she will go the distance.

Reach Clara Sofia Ochoa at clarasophie84@gmail.com or, by text, at 201-421-6980.

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