AFFIRM Shero: Dr Bertha Kibona

The AFFIRM Shero series continues with Dr Bertha Kibona sharing her life lessons, memories and motivations in this blog post titled: MY GIANTS.

When I was asked to share my story and inspire other young women, I thought of what a friend recently said because I think it has contributed to me being where I am today. My friend said, and I quote,

“I don’t take it for granted that I feel so much love, and I’m never insecure about that. I never feel lonely… The love shows itself in the everyday mundane acts: the ideas that friends dream about, the random check-ins, the knowledge that I can pick up my phone and call so and so and that they would drop everything, and come through for me, the love language that is food. I am grateful.”

Little Things, Big Memories

I remember, some years ago, in a boarding secondary school, my parents didn’t come for a visiting day that used to happen on the last Sunday of every month. This was the first time they missed out, and of course, it was sad because this is the only time you get to see family, hear about what is happening outside your school world and get some food and snacks from home, even though it wasn’t allowed. Yes, I am guilty; I broke one of the strict laws in my Catholic school. Anyway, that means I only had my friends’ forbidden goods from home that Sunday.

Interestingly, a few weeks after that, I received a letter from my father apologising and explaining why they couldn’t come to see me on visiting day. He first assured me they were okay (he always does this even if they are not) and promised they would be the first parents to arrive at school on the next visiting day. My friends were impressed that my father had time to write a letter and explain himself. I was happy to receive that letter but wasn’t surprised. I thought it was expected, even though I didn’t see it happen with my friends.

Still, in my little bubble, I believed everyone had this strong connection and clear communication with their parents. Clearly, that wasn’t true then and isn’t true now; I am now aware of different stories and experiences. But this and many other stories I can tell are the reason I have always felt loved, understood and supported; I see now that it is my foundation of love which gave me the power to overcome so much.

Lessons from the PhD

Fast forward to a few years later, armed with a PhD (doctorate) and exposure to other people’s experiences, I now realise that I could have broken down or burned out during my studies, but I didn’t because of my parents’ support. While society pressures us to get married, my parents believed in and validated my dreams. They gave me the autonomy to follow my dreams, even if it meant moving to a different country. That belief helped me rise in my responsibilities and helped me get my PhD at 29, even though I believe that we shouldn’t tie our hopes and dreams to our age but celebrate and live at any age.

I also survived the journey because of the intellectual support I received from my supervisors and the emotional support from my family and friends. During the COVID-19 pandemic and in the middle of lockdown, there was a strict restriction on access to the university. However, my supervisor kindly met with me by the university gate to discuss the comments on the first draft of my thesis. This will forever be the highlight, among many other things she has done for me.

The Powerhouse of Love

The conversations with my friends about work, venting about our PhDs and other friends who still have no idea about what I am doing, our discussions about relationships, our imaginations about our future, and everything else we did together, kept me sane. These relationships have been the powerhouse of love and motivation. Between moving from my home country, Tanzania, to South Africa for my PhD and a post-doctoral fellowship, then moving to Senegal for a new job in 2023, I have never felt lonely. I will always acknowledge my privileges for having these people in my life. I am thankful and never take it for granted.

We can be self-made, chasing our dreams and going for everything we ever wanted for ourselves, but it’s easier if we have support.

It makes our journey easier because we travel with less baggage. Today, I am what Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. I have these giants that allow me to cry and laugh with them. They motivate and elevate me. When I run low, they are always one phone call or text away, and I am thankful. Let’s love and support each other.

Who are the giants in YOUR life and how do you appreciate them? Share with us (and them) in the comments section below.

Bertha is a Programme Manager for Training, Grants and Fellowship Programme at CODESRIA. She holds a PhD in Development Studies from the University of the Free State, South Africa; a Bachelor’s Degree in Banking and Finance, and a Master’s in Finance and Investment from The Institute of Finance Management, Tanzania.