In August 2001, Chigoziem Emereuwa lost her entire family in a car accident that claimed the lives of all her siblings and parents, The beautiful graduate with Phd in Pure Mathematics from University of Pretoria didn’t let that deter her from pursuing her dreams.
She went back memory lane on the fateful day that changed her life forever and said “I only remember being in the back seat, playing a travel game with my sister and then waking up in the hospital” ,my life switched from one moment to the other, I didn’t even get the chance to mourn properly as my aunts and paternal family made sure I wasn’t alone.
The part-time Assistant Lecturer at the Department of Mathematics at the University of Pretoria, South Africa shares her touching yet inspiring story and what kept her going in this interview.
I loved my childhood, it is one of those times in my life I can’t stop talking about. It was filled with lots of activities, I played soccer, I climbed trees, I rode bicycles, I did a lot of outdoor activities and I also watched a lot of cartoons and movies. During school times, I played a little less because I had to go to school, do my homework and a little schoolwork afterwards. However, during the holiday, my mum wouldn’t register my siblings and I for holiday lessons because she believed that our brains need to rest, so we had all the time to do all the things I mentioned earlier. In a nutshell, that part of my childhood taught me that relaxing and taking a break is just as important as working. So in a way, yes, some parts of it made me who I am.
Losing my entire family in a fatal accident
During the first few years after the accident, I became a little moody, I wasn’t as playful as I used to be. I also began to spend most of my time indoors and my grades went down a lot too. My paternal aunt took me in immediately after my parents’ funeral, her children treat me like I am one them, since the last child is older than I am, I am now the official ”last born” of her family. However, she died after I got into the university but my cousins don’t treat me any differently till today, in fact one of them flew in to South Africa to attend my Masters graduation ceremony. Their unconditional love and support together with that of my paternal aunts, uncle, cousins and my Godmother got me through that painful time.
Being a PHD holder in Pure Mathematics..
I am not a PhD holder yet, I’m still in process. My paternal family helped me make the choice when I was applying for university, I continued with it because I realized that it creates a foundation for a lot of disciplines and career paths. I could be a lecturer, I could go into finance, I could do something that borders between Engineering, Physics and Chemistry which is what I am doing at the moment. The opportunities are endless. At the same time, I might increase the amount of females we have in the field and possibly inspire a few others to join in the fun.
What and who inspire me
My inspiration comes from a lot of people and almost everything. When it comes to academics, I look up to my supervisor, his brilliance is quite intimidating. However, my paternal family has a few PhD holders and at the moment, I am not the only PhD candidate in my family. I have family here, my uncle is a professor in his field and his wife has two Bachelor’s degrees, two Masters degrees and an LLD so when I need a personal push, it’s always a phone call away. There aren’t a multitude of women in my field so anyone I meet or read about is an inspiration for me. Being an orphan, I admire anyone or group of people who try to make life easier for the less privileged especially because some of the people who give their time and resources don’t understand how much their gestures no matter how little gives hope to the less privilege. These things make me want to be in position where I can positively affect lives which in turn makes me want to be a better person. I really can’t make a list of people because it would be endless, I’m a gatherer of inspiration.
How I felt when my story went viral
I was overwhelmed, humbled and at the same time scared. It drew a lot of attention to me and I’m not used to that. It’s always been me, my family and my small circle of friends so when people I didn’t know started telling me how they found the story inspiring and motivating, I began to realize it too. I have lived my life thinking the story was sad and it might attract some sort of sympathy which I didn’t want so it wasn’t always the first thing I said. Now I am honored that people can draw motivation and inspiration from it.
Personally, I find joy in teaching and interacting with students. When I get a result after so much work, the feeling is priceless. There is no greater reward than joy and affecting peoples’ lives positively.
The greatest challenge is being in the right frame of mind. My career requires a lot of studying so my supervisor always reminds me that being in the right frame of mind is the key. This is because we have no external equipment, it mostly come from our minds, so even if we have all the tools we need (e.g theorems, articles…) and the books, we could spend months on a problem only to solve it in a matter of days when you’ve gotten the right momentum and focus. That is when that extra hour of study or the late nights pay off.
Women in my line of study have been given enough room to soar…
We are in a time where women empowerment seems to be the goal of a lot of organizations and institutions so we are given some sort of support and funding. Academia needs funding, with it you can attend conferences, buy the necessary books, sponsor your education and supervise students as well. For students, there are funding opportunities and some that are dedicated to women like Margaret McNamara Memorial fund, L’Or´eal-UNESCO for women in Science Programme, etc to help bridge the gap and motivate younger women to further their studies in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics(STEM) fields. There are also associations like African Women in Mathematics, that help give and find the necessary support that we need.
Other projects and activities
Currently, I chair the Student Postgraduate Committee of the Mathematics and Applied Mathematics department at the University of Pretoria, I also represent my department in a similar committee at the faculty level. Occasionally, I do volunteer and assist with drives to gather supplies and clothing for the homeless.
On giving up
Well, it gets hard at times and I get tired, I need breaks which I take and wish could last forever but giving up is not an option and I remind myself that there is no room for that feeling.
I am a Woman of Rubies
I am someone who believe in possibilities. I am trying to lead a life that shows that we have to work hard to get to wherever we want to be but at the same time, understand that it is okay to ask for help when you need it.
Final word for women who have lost hope or in the process of giving up on themselves
All I can say is that life is beautiful, there’s always at least one person who hasn’t given up on you. So pray if you believe in God, focus on all the good things that has happened in your life so far and have faith that everything always works out in the end. When you find what you love doing, stick with it because in the long run, you will be grateful that you did and you might turn out to be a source of inspiration for someone else.