In this interview with Financial Times Staff Writer MTAPA WILSON, the former head of the Department of Orthodontics Paedodontics and Community Dentistry at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), PROF FEBRONIA KAHABUKA (pictured), shared her academic journey as a dental surgeon to encourage and motivate more girl students to opt for science subjects. Excerpts…
QUESTION: To break the ice, please tell us a little bit about yourself
ANSWER: My name is Febronia Kokulengya Kahabuka, second-born to the late Mzee Angelo Kahabuka and Mama Laurensia Angelo. I was born 59 years ago in Ihangiro village, Muleba district, Kagera Region. I am married to Cuthbert Asajile Mwakasole, and blessed with three daughters - Gloria, Gellane and Genovive.
I got my O-level education at Rugambwa Secondary School in Bukoba municipality. Then I pursued advanced level studies at Ndanda Secondary School in Mtwara region, doing a sciences combination - PCB (Physics, Chemistry and Biology). I succeeded to continue with further education at the University of Dar es Salaam, and graduated in 1985 a part of the second batch of Tanzanians trained as Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) at the UDSM Faculty of Medicine. Thereafter, I gained a master’s degree in children’s oral health, and did my PhD in dental traumatology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, Netherlands.
Q: What was your first job?
A: I have only had one type of job since graduation; that is lecturing at the School of Dentistry originally under the University of Dar es Salaam and currently under the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS).
Q: Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
A: Being a DDS graduate in only the second batch, there were virtually no seniors to look on as role models. My personal determination has always been crucial in my career. Nevertheless, my late mother Ma Laura’s sense of accountability - as well as encouragement from my supervisor and friend, the late Prof Dr Martin Abraham van‘t Hof –had special impacts on my career development.
Q: What aspects of your current job worry you the most?
A: I do not have many worries related to what I do, but the disproportionate increase of student enrolment versus lesser recruitment of academic staff raises some concerns regarding how and with what means will it stay doable.
Q: What would you say is the secret of your success?
A: Success is attained not in one way but rather through a number of efforts. Above all, I believe it is primarily upon God’s compassion. On an individual basis, accountability, setting goals, and hard work play enormous roles.
Q: What are the best things you like about Tanzania?
A: I like my country. I enjoy the peace, warmth, unity, and of course the feeling that this is home.
Q: What are the things that you hate most about Tanzania?
A: I am not sure whether what I dislike is purely about Tanzania or not, but earnestly I do not like the rife occurrence of infectious diseases anywhere.
Q: What are your future career plans?
A: To support junior staff in routine responsibilities and look for answers for children’s oral health problems.
Q: What do you do to relax after a stressful week at the office?
A: To relax after a long week, first I reserve some time on weekend to work for the Almighty Lord. I am also a member of several social groups. On Sunday or Saturday afternoon via these groups, I meet different people, we do different things together. Sometimes I go to nice places (beaches, restaurants). I find all these collectively very relaxing.
Q: What is your message to young aspiring dental professionals and students, especially women, in Tanzania?
A: To all young boys and girls aspiring to become dental professionals, I say welcome to the profession. It is a good decision; I encourage them to go ahead and join us to serve the community. I urge young female prospective students, and those already in the system, to be courageous and strong, believe in themselves, and work hard while certainly maintaining their dignity.
Q: How can Tanzania realise its full potential?
A: I am convinced that this is possible, and it may be facilitated by shifting people’s mindsets to becoming more accountable.