Today on Pearls And Heels we feature Barbra Muruga. Barbra Muruga is a Queer African Feminist Writer/Blogger. She is also a social justice activist with a focus on feminism and gender justice. Barbra is currently the Executive Director of EATHAN.org (coming soon!); an organisation focused on eliminating transphobia in East Africa through awareness raising. She is also a Gender & Sexual Diversity Research Consultant and she conducts research and conduct workshops/sessions on gender, sex, sexuality, identity and expression.
Barbra says, “other than that, I am a simple girl with big dreams. I love to cook, watch movies/documentaries and read books. I’m pretty fun to be around but I often prefer to be at home with my family. In my spare time, I blog at muruga.me.”
- Describe your typical day.
My work is diverse. I don’t have your average “day job” and as such, my typical day is just not so typical! On average, I wake up at 7.00 AM and prepare for my tasks for the day. Often this involves going through my emails and either filling out proposals or developing a research report. Sometimes I have meetings on end and once in a while I am attending a conference or conducting a training/workshop. But my best days are when I have nothing on my plate for the day! Chill time! My family still doesn’t understand what I do lol.
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a Banker. I remember admiring my aunt who is a banker and her life and I thought to myself, “I could do that too!”. I shifted my schoolwork to get into banking. I did accounting in high school when everyone else was doing commerce (remember the days when we did 14 subjects in high school?). I went on to study ACCA but I never finished. I did eventually become an accountant, but I had a calling into social justice activism and here I am now. I still call myself an accountant though!
- If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I often wonder “What if I finished my ACCA training? Where would I be?”. Then I realise that in this world, the Universe knows where you are at the moment you are in and why you are in that moment. I also realised that everything happens for a reason. The good, the bad, the nasty. All of it. So I am sure I wouldn’t change a thing. I still wonder what kind of life I would be leading had I not made the decision to transition into social justice work.
- What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
I believe there are many skills required in my job. The top three that come to mind are:
Integrity. There is something about someone who has integrity. Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. It is generally a personal choice to uphold oneself to consistent moral and ethical standards. It is a quality/skill that really puts you in a position to be trusted with large amounts of money in this line of work and/or large delicate projects with tight deadlines.
Patience. Sometimes I do not get the necessary support I need for some of my projects and I experience serious delays. It requires some special kind of patience to be able to wait for funding for six months or so, for example. Other times I work on a project for three months or so and the pay comes three more months later. It can be quite a challenge if I haven’t put measures to ensure I am okay and that work still goes on.
Strategy. Some people throw this word around since it sounds ‘professional’. I believe that strategy is a skill everyone needs to develop. I am still developing it myself! Being able to achieve high-level goals/plans in times of uncertainty and often with limited resources is a fete not everyone can achieve.
- As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Nairobi, where it is right now, is perfect for my work. It is such a diverse city with many diverse people. I wouldn’t want to work from anywhere else in East Africa. I know that sounds awful, but, well… strategy!
Many of us believe that everyone is the same. Yet everyone is different. We try to copy one another in our careers or our social lives yet we forget just how unique each of us was created. I believe that if we all put just a little more effort into finding that unique thing about us, we can better ourselves.
- What motivates you?
My personality is INFP, “The Mediator”. I am a people pleaser. I seek to find the good in everyone. I am motivated by my work because I get to please people. I get to do things that go on to improve the lives of others. That makes me happy and drives me to keep on doing what I do.
- How do you define success?
Success for me is when I have achieved happiness. If I am happy, I am successful. I do not believe that you need a big job, big car, big house etc to be deemed successful. All material wealth deteriorates and nothing is really definite except death. To find out what makes you happy, and go get it.
- Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My mom. Sounds kinda corny but she is my motivation. My mom is the kind of person who takes adversity with stride. I’ve struggled with a couple of ‘illnesses’ in the last few years (including depression) and she has been my rock all through! I want to be like her.
- What is your favourite aspect of your job?
Travelling to new countries, new cities! I absolutely love that. For example, I have never been to Brazil. This year, I get to go there for a week and I am simply elated. I wish it was for football though.
I also love meeting new people in the different spaces I occupy. I get to interact with people from so many diverse backgrounds and when we share our stories we connect and I learn from them, they learn from me. It inspires my work and gives me a better understanding of how to do my job.
- What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
Many of us believe that everyone is the same. Yet everyone is different. We try to copy one another in our careers or our social lives yet we forget just how unique each of us was created. I believe that if we all put just a little more effort into finding that unique thing about us, we can better ourselves and be successful. The rest will come to you if you listen.
- What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
I would tell them what I tell my younger friends/colleagues/cousins etc. who just completed University or college. Find an internship and grow from there. There are a lot of NGOs that have internship opportunities. I started this line of work when I took the risk to leave a paying accountancy job and go do a six-month internship. I was not sure whether I would be absorbed into the organisation but that was my goal and I worked hard to achieve it. Eventually, they did absorb me in and as they say, the rest is history.
As I said, work hard. Do not underestimate the power of networking. Be careful of people who want to use you (especially us ladies!). Practice patience. Do not jump from one place to another, employers do not like a busy CV. A busy CV says you are not someone they can trust to work with them for a long time. Most of all, find what you like most, what makes you happy, and work towards it. You may need to work in places that are not in what you want but always remember your goal and work towards it. It will happen. Instant gratification and success are utopic.
- What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
The most satisfying moment of my career was when I decided to leave a high-paying job and start my consultancy. It was also the most stressful! I still wonder what if? …But I know that had I stayed, I would have been miserable. I am happy where I am now.
- What makes you happy?
That’s simple. Spending time with my family and close friends. And seeing the people I serve improve their lives.
- What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
I like to cover myself in a duvet on the couch and catch up on the latest series or movies. Often I will prefer to watch Nat Geo or Discovery Science because I discovered I learn better through watching documentaries. I love to cook so every weekend I challenge myself to make something new. But because of work and travel, this goal is yet to be realised fully :-(. I also take time to write on my blog, do some social media and just chill. On occasion, I love to go on long walks and ride bikes at Karura.
- Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
My life plan says that in 10 years I will be married, hopefully, retired, owning a home and taking care of my children. I do not want much. I want to be happy with my family and work in a space that doesn’t infringe on my happiness.
If you would like to interact with Barbra you can find her on Twitter at @brbzy.
Pearls And Heels: Dr. Radha Karnad