In a landscape where the voices of African women in STEM are rising, Hellen, an Actuarial and Statistics Lecturer, stands as one of the beacons of inspiration. Her journey is not just about teaching numbers; it’s about breaking barriers, challenging stereotypes, and paving the way for future generations of African girls to pursue their dreams in STEM;
Hello Hellen, it is wonderful to finally have this session with you. You are welcome to Words That Count
Hi Winnie, I am happy to do this finally. Thank you for inviting me! And thanks to Juliet Nakakawa for the recommendation.
Please give our audience a brief introduction about who you are
My name is Hellen Namawejje from Uganda, and I work in the Statistical Methods and Actuarial Science Department at Makerere University in Uganda. At the moment, I am spending the semester at Northwestern University Global Poverty Research Lab as a CEGA fellow.
How does Hellen, a young girl from Uganda, end up becoming an Actuarial and Statistics Lecturer?
I come from a humble family of five, where education was both a cherished privilege and a hard-fought pursuit. Our parents did whatever they could to get us to school. I attended Jinja Kalori and Holy Family for primary school, then Makerere College School for O-level. For my A-level, I joined Buloba High School and finally Makerere University for my undergraduate degree in Education (Mathematics and Economics).
After my undergraduate studies, I was awarded a scholarship to the University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania to pursue a Master of Science in Mathematics. Here, I specialized in disease modeling. Also, after a year, I received a scholarship to pursue my PhD in mathematics at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) in Arusha, Tanzania. After finishing my PhD, I returned home to Uganda and began working with Uganda Christian University in Mukono and the University of Kisubi in Entebbe. I was a part-time lecturer at both universities. In March 2017, I got a job at Makerere University, which was fantastic.
This almost sounds like a smooth journey to becoming a Lecturer in Actuarial Science and Statistics. But, tell us about some of the challenges you have faced
I grew up believing that I was unloved! I assumed that my mother, whom I mostly grew up with, would only be delighted if I attended school, which she valued greatly. Looking back, I know that was a big mistake!
I also remember witnessing my mother struggling to raise funds for our tuition. I started my undergraduate degree as a privately sponsored student. Unfortunately, all my other siblings were also attending university at the same time. So, it was very tough for my mother to take all of us through school at that time. But, she did it.
Embarking on my journey to school outside Uganda for the first time posed another daunting challenge. The absence of a confidant to share my innermost thoughts with left me feeling isolated, grappling with the weight of loneliness and exhaustion. Amidst the uncertainty, the fear of academic failure loomed large, casting a shadow over my aspirations. I would think to myself, “What am I going to tell my family if this doesn’t work out?”. So, I persevered. This “fear within” monster is still alive in me but not as much as it used to when I was in school.
As someone who grew up with financial challenges, I know exactly what you mean. How were you able to overcome this challenge, especially its effect on you?
My mother has been a great support. She is a tough-love mother, no-nonsense, very hardworking, and interesting up to this day. She has never changed, despite her age.
I had role models like Prof. Luboobi S. Livingstone and Prof. Ignatius Kakande who touched my life in more ways than one. The former’s display of humility and willingness to support me not only as my supervisor but also as a trustworthy supporter was acutely significant to my development as a student and a researcher.
Let us talk about your prestigious moments on this journey as an Actuarial and Statistics Lecturer
For someone who has always had the dream of working at Makerere University, I am very grateful for what my education, albeit from a humble beginning, has done for me. I have had the opportunity to tour certain parts of the world whilst attending postdoctoral conferences, short summer schools, seminars, workshops, and so on.
My colleagues have also been immensely supportive; could you believe during one of our department parties, I received a surprise gift for my work as the school’s Statistics and Planning Timetable Coordinator? I was beside myself with joy seeing that my peers had recognized my journey, tears, and struggles.
I was also recognized as one of the young scientists under 40 in STEM in Uganda’s Sunday New Vision.
Wow! We celebrate you and with you!
Who is Hellen outside of work?
I am a farmer. I enjoy farming so much that I make sure we always go to the village on weekends to see our village home. It is beneficial for me to be away from work and my computer just to interact with the village residents.
I am a born-again Christian and I adore Jesus. Some people describe me as reserved, and quiet, but joyful. I am not sure about this; they could be right.
What is your favorite quote?
My favorite quote is “It always seems impossible until it is done” ~ Nelson Mandela.
What is your work of encouragement for any young African girl interested in pursuing a career as a Lecturer in Actuarial and Statistics?
Generally, girls in STEM should come out and occupy the space. STEM is responsible for disseminating global innovations and advancing research. They will be part of a big family of African women in this field.
Thank you, Hellen, for sharing part of your life with the world through Words That Count. Being a Statistician myself, I admire the work of Statistics Lecturers like you. We wish you all the best!