“…most challenges I face in my sphere of work are because I look quite young…you get the disrespect here and there and you must constantly prove yourself as competent.” Nancy Gwimo
We had the privilege to interview Ms Nancy Alexis-Gwimo (NG), a diabetes researcher and junior lecturer at North West University. Interviewing her is Mr Maboni Mmatli (MM). We hope her life story will inspire you in one way or the other.
MM: Who is Nancy and what makes her the person she is? Give your life’s background. Where and when you were born, where did you go to school, etc.
NG: I was born in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, I grew up there and attended primary school there. My family moved to South Africa in the early 2000s. Therefore, I got the opportunity to finish my primary school and go to high school in South Africa. So, for the last bit of my pre-teen years and teenage years I grew up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Where I attended, Greenwood Primary School and Alexander Road High School respectfully. I think I am a very strong willed person and my family and faith makes me who I am.
MM: What has your educational journey been? Giving details of the challenges you’ve gone through, endured and overcame.
NG: Personally, my biggest challenging came when I first moved to South Africa, which was language. When I first got here I could not speak English at all, I had to be pulled a grade back because the teachers thought I wouldn’t be able to handle the workload due to not being able to articulate myself well enough in the English language. Looking back at that now, I feel like it was a blessing in disguise, because I then chose to focus on my strength from an early age and that was Mathematics. Maths, was really the only I excelled in in primary and high school and wanted to pursue it in university. When I started university, I registered a general BSc and in my second year I failed Chemistry but excelled in Biology (although I had never done it in school). So, I somehow wounded up to sticking to Biological Sciences and never looked back.
MM: What did you study.
NG: I studied a BSc in Microbiology and Biochemistry, followed by a BSc (Honours) in Microbiology.
MM: When did your love for Microbiology develop? What encouraged you to?
NG: I think my love for the field only came in my second year of studying. The more I got exposed to how wide and varied the field could be, I suddenly discovered my own niche in it.
MM: Why did you choose to study it?
NG: When I first chose it, it was because of pure curiosity. But as I grew in the field I realized that I have been given a unique opportunity to hopefully contribute my knowledge to society and hopefully make a change.
MM: What are you doing now and why that specific work and/or research?
NG: Currently, I work as a junior lecturer at North West University, where I am also doing my post graduate degree. My current research is on metabolic syndrome and I am specifically looking at diabetes. There is currently no cure for diabetes, although there are treatments. I am working on hopefully introducing an alternative form of treatment and hopefully, cure. This is simply by looking at more natural forms of treatments as oppose to synthetic medication. This all through observing how the treatment reacts to human and animal cytochrome P450s.
MM: Now that we know the kind of work you do, please tell us how your day starts and how does it conclude?
NG: My normal day starts at 7:45 am, where I take a class and those do tend to vary depending on the day. Most afternoons I am in the lab from about 13:00 to around 18:00. I can’t really say that I leave my job at work and just come back to relax. Most times when I get home, that’s when the real starts. I have to read articles and work on my thesis, sometimes experiments do run over night and most importantly I have to prepare lessons for the following day.
MM: What are the challenges you are facing as a young black female in that sphere/industry?
NG: I feel like most challenges I face in my sphere of work are because I look quite young. Sometimes, you get the disrespect here and there and you must constantly prove yourself as competent.
MM: How do you deal with the demotivating institutional barriers set up by hundreds of years of the exclusion of black people and females in the field of Sciences?
NG: A strong support system is key, I’m fortunate enough to come from an extremely academic family. Fortunate or unfortunately for me, my mom or my sisters have gone through and still go such barriers. So, having people who are going through similar challenges as me and still manage to rise on top of it all really motivates me daily to get up and keep pushing.
MM: Do you have any mantra? If so, what it is? What keeps you pushing even through the hardest of hardships and obstacles?
NG: I don’t have any mantra as per say, but my strength comes from God. I believe praying and maintaining my faith. I have also learned to set small goals as oppose to big goals. I find that when I break obstacles down into smaller obstacles, they are much better to get over than getting over a huge obstacle.
MM: What are your aims, goals and aspirations for and with this specific work you are doing? As the young generation says, when will you say “I have made it in life, I have arrived”?
NG: I’ve always said that I will feel like I’ve lived a worthwhile life if I can be able to make a significance difference in at least one person’s life. My aim is to go into Epidemiology and Public Health. Traveling through Africa, I’ve seen how in some places people still lack the most basic health care systems. My heart breaks when I see high numbers of people in our continent dying from diseases that can easily be prevented or cured through education or small support systems.
MM: Are you involved in any community projects and if so, what are they?
NG: I’ve been involved in a lot of community projects, I’ve been a regular volunteer to different organisations since high school. I’ve volunteered at Hope World Wide in Port Elizabeth, I’ve worked for Nonelela High School with my church for two years tutoring matric students. I’ve worked for LoveStory in Port Elizabeth. Currently, I still volunteer for Masifunde Training Centre as a homework tutor.
MM: Thank you for granting me the opportunity of interviewing you and getting your life’s story. In closing; What do you have to say to the young black female learners still in primary and high school, and those who are facing hardships in higher institutions of learning pursuing different career paths and are met with challenges and obstacles (some similar to yours)?
NG: I think the most important thing for me is passion, if you are passionate about something, you will always find a way to overcome any obstacle you might face. I don’t think there is anything in life that’s easy, especially our dreams, so working hard is also important. There are hard to chase, especially in the beginning. The key is to just find what makes you passionate and up keep on chasing that same passion and before you know it, you would be exactly where you want to be.