Sociologist, Student & New ASUiB Chairwoman Naomi Bazira on Inspiration, Advice, and Making Change
Updated: Feb 8, 2021
January 06, 2021
By Eunice Hammond-Mørklid
Photographed by Naomi Bazira
Introducing #Inno-scistories. This feature is part of our series on women of our community who inspire us and the stories they have to tell. From entrepreneurs, students, and consultants starting their own businesses to executives changing the game at the highest levels, we’re lucky to be able to learn from these incredible role models.
Sociology student and ASUiB Board chairwoman Naomi understands what it is like to work your way up in your career and still contribute to one’s community. As a former refugee in Norway herself, she is passionate about integration of minority populations and the welfare of young refugees wherever they are in the world.
Aside being the Chairperson of African Students Union in Bergen (ASUiB), she studies at the University of Bergen, works as a research assistant for unaccompanied minors in Norway, and also in municipality elderly care services. She is used to having a busy work schedule, and understands the importance of having a balanced life everyday to achieve one's dreams so she started working with cultural and art mediation; she has since been part of on-going projects like “The Creators of Oi'' in Bergen and Trondheim and co-ordinates a choir at her local church in Bergen as well.
We got a chance to speak to her about what her journey from refugee status to board Chairwoman at ASUIB has been like, her career and her mentors.
Tell us about yourself and your journey getting to where you are today. Who were some of your inspirations when you were younger?
I am a second generation refugee from DR Congo and because of that, I grew up in Uganda and now live in Norway. I did not inherit land or a high status from my family but I have been fortunate that they believed in education and learning as the key for success. That means that regardless of circumstances, it has always been a priority that boys and girls in the family get educated.
I have also been very blessed to have great women around me, from whom I have learned what it means to be truly strong, have integrity and work hard. My main inspiration has been my family, from which I have learned that our circumstances and background do not have to define who we can become.
All in all, my journey has been one of optimism, hope, hard work and believing that I have something unique to offer wherever I am.
What was the process like of starting to study at the University and being the Chairwoman of ASUiB? What were some of the challenges you faced?
Starting at the university for me was getting into uncharted waters, I did not have a clear picture of what I wanted to do or become, apart from the fact that I knew that somehow, I wanted to work with refugees in future. This uncertainty became good for me because it did not let me settle down, or just aim at accumulating good grades. This is why I have tried a few things, including being part of ASUiB. I have to admit that I have not been successful in all my trials, and that's fine.
I knew that we needed a platform like ASUiB, but I was not expecting how challenging and demanding it would be. Running an organisation is not easy. I am yet to learn how to become a good team player and I am fortunate to be part of a great team of knowledgeable people who I constantly lean on for advice, learning new things and holding each other accountable. I need as much help as I can and I am still working on it.
You’ve made significant changes in your own journey, in particular with your recent launch of ASUiB. Tell us more about how that came about. Did it accomplish what you’d hoped?
When I started at UiB, I did not find a student organisation that represented something I really wanted. So when the former chairperson for ASUiB, Cynthia Njoki approached me with the idea of re-launching the organisation, I jumped to the opportunity. It was exactly what I, and a few other friends, needed. We are still working on what we hoped for, we have big dreams. However, the pandemic has taught us to be flexible with our plans. The main goal however, is still in focus, which is to have a platform for students with African background or those that are interested in Africa in general.
Who are some of the women who inspire you today?
Women in my family have always been the source of my inspiration, but right now, my female friends are incredible women contributing positively to their societies, working hard and building their lives for the better. That inspires me alot. I also have women who have given me an opportunity to be part of their projects, shared their platform with me and so on. All my bosses have always been women and I have truly experienced what it means for women to lift other women. I did not mention any names but I make sure that they know how much they mean to me through our interactions.
What role has mentorship played in your life?
I owe all my success in life to the input of the good people around me. I am not self-made and I will never declare to be. None of the people who have mentored me have the title of a “mentor” per se, some of them are just great friends, family members, community leaders who wish to see me succeed. Mentorship for me looks like someone saying that they believe in me, or a friend calling me out on something I need to be better at and sometimes teaching me a new skill or offering good advice. Because I have gotten so much help, I try to invest in other people as well whenever I have a chance.
What are your goals for ASUiB in the future?
We have a few goals that include being a support organisation for students, acting as a link between the University and students and so on, but for now, we want to build a strong foundation so that ASUiB can keep serving students in future.
What advice would you have for young girls either starting their career or wanting to start something of their own?
There is a lot of great advice out there but what is working for me in these early phases of my career, and what I would share to girls starting out is to stay curious and believe that you have something to offer that someone else doesn't.
For example, working as a research assistant started out by saying hello to another woman at an event I had attended, who turned out to be looking for people like me.
The network I have built, opportunities I have gotten, is because I wanted to find out what that unfamiliar person or thing was about, and what kept me going from there was to identify my value in the situation. However, through all of this, keep learning. Even the people at the top are yet to learn how they can become better. It's just the process of life.
It's okay if some transitions and processes are not clear, or much slower than expected, or even when you become uncertain about the “big dream”. I believe sometimes as we grow, we may outgrow the dream we started with, or even adjust a little as we acquire new information. It helps to be kind to oneself and have FUN with the process. Get yourself a few great friends to keep you inspired and grounded. Good things can take time, so be patient and do not wait for the “end results” to live a little.
I sing all the time. My brain has programmed itself to make me sing even without my permission. This has led to a few awkward moments around people, but some smiles as well.
I speak five languages (English, Norwegian, Swahili, Luganda and Kinyarwanda) and I am hoping to add more. This is one of the advantages of having lived in different countries due to my status as a refugee (now former refugee). It's fun when I get to connect to or even identify with multiple nationalities.
What 3 technology skills would you like to improve on?
I would like to be better at taking and editing videos. I have a tiny dream of having a Youtube channel one day and it will probably be about hair or fun sociology stuff because everyone should have sociology knowledge.
I am learning how to DJ so I am yet to learn how to use the softwares and the technology involved. I had one gig last year and I quite enjoyed it.
This is not a major one, but I want to be better at using Advance Excel.
What’s something you’re reading that you want to tell everyone about?
The Book of Ruth in the Bible. She became widowed at a young age but due to kindness and loyalty, she worked hard to provide for her family, following great advice from her mother-in-law, Naomi; her life changed drastically, even to becoming an ancestor of Jesus. You do not have to be religious to understand that this story reminds us again, that mentorship is necessary, and continue to look for ways to live successfully with whatever life may throw at us, all of this with kindness and working hard.
What’s one thing you carry in your purse that would surprise people?
Probably a tissue napkin. I know it might seem too much for some people to remember that but I like having and using my own tissue napkins.
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