I met Vera during my employment as a tutor at AIMS in Rwanda. Here is our interview about her scientific journey:
Who is our guest today?
My name is Sylivera Justine Massawe.
What is your current occupation?
Currently I am a data analyst for a private company in Tanzania, that offers mobile/ICT solutions focusing on Agriculture, Health and Women. My main duties include cleaning, analysis and visualization of data from the company’s platforms, maintaining databases, ensuring the best data collection practices and monitoring and tracking projects. I am currently working on a project called eHakiki, which is a platform that enables farmers to authenticate purchased agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers.
What is your life story like?
Well, I consider my life to be interesting especially for the past two or three years. I was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in a family of 3 girls. I attended Kifungilo Girls’ Secondary School for my O’level and Alpha school for my A’level. Throughout my early academic life, I was mostly focusing on science subjects. I later joined University of Dar Es Salaam (UDSM) for a bachelor of science in Actuarial Science. This choice was mainly influenced by my need to study a lot of subjects at once. I wanted a course that would give me a little of everything. Actuarial Science kind of does that, you get good grounding in Maths, Statistics, Finance, and even law!
From my undergraduate degree, I was offered a scholarship by the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), In Rwanda, to pursue a masters degree in mathematical sciences. During this degree, I got a chance to do an internship with the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA). This was a rewarding experience because I learned how to apply mathematics, statistical learning techniques in particular, to find patterns of fraudulent behavior in taxpayers’ data. I was allocated to the Revenue Investigation and Enforcement department where my duties included data analysis support to the department, contributing to quarterly reports writing and the main project which was to identify fraudulent activities using machine learning techniques from 5 years taxpayers’ data.
The last two years, I consider them an epiphany of my life. I learned a lot of interesting subjects and that includes the applications of Mathematics to different fields of science. Of keen interest to me was the extraction of knowledge, patterns and insights from data. This is what we officially call Statistical Learning and Data Science.
What have you found inspiring and challenging along this journey?
My inspiration comes from the desire to see the world as a better place and working to my full potential. Starting with my community, I am interested in finding solutions to the most obvious/common problems, for example, waste management. I stay in Dar es Salaam city where waste has prominently become a problem that the community heads are failing to manage. I long to see a city that has proper waste management systems and I believe mathematical tools like optimization are a part of the solution.
Challenges have been mostly from social, economic and cultural aspects. Economically: The funds to do research, to study in schools with world-class facilities. Culturally, society has not yet evolved to accept a girl child fully venturing or studying science subjects. They still believe a girl child’s prominent task is to take care of the home.
Something outside my work:
I volunteer among different groups in the church and other communities. I am part of the Sunday School team where we teach young girls and boys bible lessons and inspire their growth spiritually. Also, I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction and occasionally hang out with friends.
Tell us about your prestigious achievements & awards.
In 2017, I was awarded the AIMS Scholarship in partnership with Mastercard Foundation to pursue a master’s degree in mathematical sciences in Rwanda. I was among the first cohort to attain a co-op master’s degree from AIMS Rwanda.
I was a class representative during my study years at AIMS Rwanda. This gave me opportunities to interact with high-level professionals on different avenues since I was to present myself as an intermediary between students and visitors who came to the institute.
I was also part of the UN Ivy League STEM program. We conducted successful rounds of mentorship in STEM subjects to secondary school students in Kigali every weekend, connecting with students from Ivy League Universities in the US. The program aimed at inspiring secondary school students, girls especially, to pursue STEM subjects at higher levels by participating in fun and engaging science projects.
From Rev Thomas Bayes; “Under Bayes Theorem, no theory is perfect. Rather it is a work in progress, always subject to further refinement and testing.”
Piece of advice for young girls:
You carve the path you aspire to walk through.
Thank you Vera for taking your time to speak to me.