Dare to succeed – Sylvana Sackey-Sam Afua Otuwaa


I got to know Sylvana through LinkedIn after part of her story was posted in a group called Girls in Science and Technology – GIST, based in Takoradi, Ghana. I believe her story will be as inspiring to someone as it was to me. Here is our interview about her STEM journey:

We are honoured to have you with us, Sylvana!
Thank you!

Please introduce yourself to our audience
I’m Sylvana Sackey-Sam but I prefer to be called my Fante name Afua Otuwaa or you can simply call me Afua, haha. I currently do a lot of things but will try and narrow it all down. I am a full time Masters student at the Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture, doing a Master of science in Artificial Intelligence. I am also working as a data scientist at Data Link Consult and FemesTech Africa all on part time bases. I also volunteer at Ghana Natural language Processing (NLP), and a lot more, lol

Wow! You have a lot going on, haha… We enjoy hosting strong women! Tell us how you have reached this point in life.
Humph! This question…

To start with, my history can be summarized as “GRACE”. I am a child of Grace. The mystery behind my birth and all. Probably this will be a story for another time. I don’t mean to sound “spiritual” here but all I can say is that I have come this far and will go further because of the grace of God. I don’t want to keep mute about the God factor here. Those who know me very well can testify.

My childhood experience was not a very interesting one at the initial stage. I stayed with a lot of people before finally settling with my parents. At the time, my mother was not around so I had to stay with some aunties until age 9 or so. I started my basic education at Ideal Preparatory school and from there, went to Association International school. When I finally joined my parents, I was enrolled at Pentecost Preparatory school, Madina Estate in class 4 and completed Junior high school there. From there, I moved to high school and to the university and here I am now.

I come from a family of five; my dad, mum, elder sister and my younger sister. I’m the second girl in my family – in fact, we are all girls with no brother. Hopefully someday in life when I get married, I will find a brother….*laughing*

What have you found inspiring and challenging in life?
Like mentioned earlier, I am a Christian and my faith in God has been my greatest inspiration throughout my life. God is my everything… He sticks closer than a brother. I love the Lord and knowing he is in control of and interested in every aspect of my life inspires me greatly. Also, my inspiration is with the fact that I have a strong support system – my family who always inspire and believe in me so much, especially my mum…*smiles*. I also have amazing friends who have been great inspirations to me. I think I am blessed with good friends. They are few but I can confidently say that the few I have have been very supportive and loyal over these years.

As for the challenges, they are a lot! I am glad you didn’t say failures. I strongly believe the bigger your storm, the greater your rainbow. For that matter, as Rev. Eastwood Anaba, a pastor in Ghana, would rightly put it; “There are no stars without scars”. So challenges are very important to rise on the journey of greatness. It’s the price we pay. If you want to be great, you must be ready to conquer a lot of challenges. The setbacks, rejections, failures, sleepless nights etc. are bound to rise as far as you are determined to make it in life. I think we all need to psyche our minds to it because, everyone has his own set of challenges. What separates the successful from the unsuccessful people is the fact that successful people have resilience and do not give up easily. Let me put it this way, they have the “never say die attitude”

Also, especially as a lady in a male dominated field, I remember when we started the Masters program two years ago, a Congolese course-mate of mine came to me one day and asked, “hey are you sure you are all right? Which normal lady would choose to pursue such a course?” He asked jokingly and we all laughed over it. He explained by saying, he wasn’t expecting to see a lady in the artificial class! Seeing me there was shocking to him. Funny enough, I am the only lady in my class of Artificial Intelligence. So you can imagine the challenge! There were instances where some of my course-mates looked down on me because of my gender thinking I wasn’t qualified enough until I showed them I was worth taking up the course. Some of them went to the extent of blackmailing to date me before accepting to assist me with any academic work…*laughing*. However, despite all these challenges, I think my choleric nature has always been my driving force. I don’t give up easily.

What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I love to sleep. Sleeping is my hobby. I am not a movie person but lately, I’m beginning to love that one too. Yes, I almost forgot, I love to cook as well when I am free. I love good food, hahaha and I love to be with kids as well and to listen to good music.

It’s time to celebrate you, Afua!
Yes, I have achieved a lot in life so far! Leadership comes naturally to me; I am a born leader and I have served in several leadership roles both at school and at church. In all those roles, I achieved a lot. For me, once I am chosen to lead in any capacity, my aim is to stand out and make a difference. So, I have a lot of leadership achievements I must say.

I have received several academic awards too like; the Ghana cocoa board award, Barclays bank Bright Tertiary students award, the Beijing government scholarship award etc.

Do you have a favourite quote?
My favourite quote is from the bible and I quote “All things work together for the good of those who love God”. I believe, when you come into terms and agreement with this scripture, you won’t get too hard on yourself because, you know that even your mistakes will work out for your good.

Lastly, a word of encouragement
I love this song composed by Titiana Manaois… ‘you got to get up and make a move’ *singing*. Sis, get up and make a move! Dare to succeed, dare to stand out no matter what because the world will never see you until you do and when you do, don’t give up when you fall, get up and keep moving. There is no excuse to fail in life because after all, we all have our own sets of challenges. Finally, bear in mind that as a woman, the best form of revenge is to succeed… *smiles*

Wow! Thank you, Afua! This has been an amazing time. I am sure someone will be inspired. Thank you once again for your time and all the best with school. God bless.

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