DIFFERENT cultures harbour a belief that words we utter have power and influence on our lives. One, Dr Habib Sadeghi says words we choose shape our lives. That their meaning crystalises perceptions that shape our beliefs, drive our behaviour, and ultimately, create our world.
Their power arises from our emotional responses when we read, speak, or hear them. On his part, Dr Hyder Zahed who is a scientist, author, speaker and a regular contributor to The Huffington Post explains that: “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity.”
Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Similar expressions in Kiswahili that “Maneno huumba” (words have the power to create) describe the same concept as noted above by Dr Sadeghi and Dr Zahed.
And who can attest to these notions on the power of words than Engineer Alice Titus Bakera? Some two decades ago, her teacher, Mr John at Rwamishenye Primary school in Kagera Region was the first person who ‘prophesied’ that she will pursue her education to a PhD level.
He used to say to her: ‘wewe utasoma mpaka PhD.’ True to Mr John’s words, Alice is today pursuing her PhD at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
Her liking of science subjects was cultivated by jokes from her peers. Right at the beginning of O-level, her peers started calling her ‘engineer’.
“These jokes developed the eagerness of wanting to know more about engineering. I wanted to be addressed by the title. This was the beginning of my journey to the future I am in now,” Alice who is a civil engineer and an assistant lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) explains.
Of course, words have power but to realise positive outcomes, Alice notes, one has to have faith and work hard.
She dared to convince herself through adversities that, it is okay, all will be well, and that she can do it. “When you invest time on something with patience, it forms your identity and defines you,” Alice says. She was the best at physics, chemistry and mathematics.
Her excellence was inspired by her O level teacher, Mr Philip Bonaventura, the current Headmaster of Ihungo secondary school. Mr Bonaventura saw her potential in the subjects and encouraged her to do the best.
Alice was born on the 16th June 1992 at the Bukoba government hospital in Kagera. Her father is an accountant (certificate level) while her mother is a nurse.
She does not remember well who encouraged her to go to school, but all she knows is that at the time she was five years and a half, her uncle who was the head teacher at Kibeta Primary School, wanted her to join his school as a way of cheering her up because Alice was a quiet child. That was in 1998.
She pursued her ordinary level at Bukoba Secondary School from 2005 to 2008 and was selected to join Msalato Secondary school, Dodoma, for her A’ level, from 2009 to 2011. She got DIV I at both schools.
Common knowledge seems to suggest that it was not normal [at primary/secondary level] for a girl to opt for science subjects, but this was not the case for Alice.
“I was obsessed with a strong urge to proving those norms wrong. The norms to me were used as stepping stones or charcoals to fire up my enthusiasm,” says Alice.
She has no specific role model but has an ideal future self in her mind which is constructed by inspiring traits she observe from different people she encounters in her daily life. Exploring engineering Without doubts, Alice knew that she would become an engineer one day. She had trust in God and strong self-belief.
During selecting for an engineering degree to pursue at the university level, she found more than one civil engineering degree programmes like structural, transport and water resources engineering.
She wanted to choose a degree programme that she will forever love, and that is when she remembered how she enjoyed working with her father on his small construction projects at home when she was a child.
“This guided me to choose Civil and Structural Engineering degree programme at the University of Dar es Salaam,” she notes.
Fighting for that ‘new and fascinating thing’ Alice was fortunate to be admitted at the UDSM and on her first day of orientation, she observed something new and fascinating. It was something more significant than being an engineer. That was being a lecturer, the person who trains and produces engineers.
I assured myself that from this role, I will impact and touch the lives of many people within and outside the country. On realising that chance, she decided to work profoundly hard toward meeting the qualifications of becoming a lecturer and by God’s grace; she got employed at the UDSM as a Tutorial Assistant after her Bachelor degree.
“I am paving my career to become a Lecturer,” she says.
Hopefully, soon after graduating with her PhD, she will be qualified to be a Lecturer in the department of structure and construction engineering, College of Engineering and Technology (CoET), UDSM. Focusing on the durability of sewer pipes Her PhD focus research area is on the durability of sewer pipes.
She says that the topic is significant, especially in Tanzania, as its population is increasing rapidly, cities are expanding, and industrialisation is becoming the backbone of the economic development of the country.
All these positive changes in the country come along with challenges in monitoring and managing wastewater produced, whose complications are mostly manifested during the rainy seasons.
Recently, the country has been experiencing storms, which have severely affected its infrastructures and mostly residences and importantly, the economy of the country.
All of these indicate the significance of her research, where the government is urged to change the system of collecting wastewater to the modern sewer systems which are considered durable.
“Sewer system as one of the most critical assets of the urban infrastructure of modern societies, serves as a collector and transporter of all wastewater produced industrially and domestically to wastewater treatment plants,” explains Eng Alice.
It is at these plants, where wastewater is cleaned before being discharged to the natural water bodies. Effective sewer system protects human health against water-borne diseases, unhygienic conditions, and noxious smell, consequently improving social living conditions. It also protects the environment against water and air pollution and toxic substances.
There is a great demand for modern and durable sewer infrastructures which include sewer pipes. Alice’s research, therefore, comes in to identify cement that can be used in manufacturing concrete pipes that are durable and sustainable.
Her research aims to improve the existing prediction models for engineers’ applications during sewer system designing process.
Improving civil engineering in Tanzania A budding researcher believes that a lot must happen to civil engineering in Tanzania but more importantly in Tanzania’s academic system especially in the engineering field. She views the system as highly focusing on delivering theoretical skills with limited practical training.
An entire engineering journey depends solely on the student’s selfdrive and connection to the industry. Much as academic institutions strive their best to expose their students to the best practical training; limited time, constrained budget, and little ongoing projects compared to a high number of students, institutions face challenges in monitoring, assessing, and allocating their students to the best projects across the nation.
The young engineer recommends structuring the academic curriculums in a way that teaching integrates and synchronises both academic and industrial experience during the study.
“I would also advise for the initiation of a program or platform that would allow students’ interactions with the industry members such as material experts, professional engineers, sales engineers, and researchers,” she says.
However, achieving this integration would demand support and collaboration from all members of the industry. Thus, Alice notes, the industry must be willing to share their experiences, new technologies, and revolution in the field with students.
Alice is affiliated with Concrete Society for Southern Africa (CSSA), the International Union of Laboratories and Experts in Construction Materials, Systems and Structures (Rilem), and the Concrete Materials and Structural Integrity Research Unit (CoMSIRU) at the University of Cape Town.
On girl empowerment Alice notes that contrary to what is widely believed, there are more other professions that efficaciously accommodate women biological nature in the engineering field.
“It is crucial to foster awareness on the multi-disciplinary of engineering professions to young women at a lower level of education so that they select careers that are less challenging to their biological nature,” she explains.
She argues that habitually, women are easily demotivated and discouraged when the learning environments are not pleasing. And because most schools do not have facilities that carter for the success in cultivating enthusiasm culture in science and engineering in general; a large percentage of women fail to find the motivation to proceed with pursuing this field.
She believes that women scientists and engineers must organize and visit former schools to mentor, encourage, and inspire young women who wish to pursue the fields.
“We should think of what to advise our young self and articulate such advice and inspirations to young women who are searching for the way to success,” she stresses.
She further explains that principally, any profession winds down to determination and focus. However, in the case of science and engineering, more is required.
“With my personal experience, I have realised that interest and love of the profession are of crucial importance,” she says, adding: “The ability to persist in pushing the boundaries without ceasing, and to programme your mindset to look at everything positively also helps to raise the level of commitment to the profession.” Her advice to the youth is that nothing is served to you on a silver platter; it is only through faith, hard work, persistence and the grace of God.
“Life without challenge is doomed, find your challenge and be determined to conquer, there you will find a true meaning of life,” says Eng Alice.
● Emmanuel Rubagumya writes about science, technology and innovation. Email: email@example.com