25 August 2020 | Story Andre Damons | Photo Supplied
Dr Sabeehah Vawda, a pathologist in virology and a Senior Lecturer in the Division of Virology at the UFS, is one of the University of the Free State’s champion women.

As South Africa commemorates Women’s Month during August, the UFS shines a spotlight on women who are making an impact on our three campuses on a daily basis.

Dr Sabeehah Vawda is one of these women – a medical doctor with a postgraduate degree in medical virology. Dr Vawda’s work involves overseeing diagnostic virology laboratory tests, providing virology-related advice to other healthcare workers and diagnostic laboratories in the Free State and Northern Cape, research, and teaching and training undergraduate and postgraduate medical students. 

“I like that I work in a clean and (mostly) very controlled environment. In addition, virology has an ever-evolving nature; there is always something totally new or revised about viruses and our knowledge thereof,” says Dr Vawda.

Originally from KZN, Dr Vawda studied and worked in quite a few provinces. She studied in Pretoria (Tuks), did her internship in Pietermaritzburg, community service in Kimberley, and postgrad studies in Bloemfontein, where she has (surprisingly) remained since completing her studies. “I am currently employed by the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) as a pathologist in virology and by the University of the Free State (UFS) as a Senior Lecturer in the Division of Virology.”

Dr Vawda talks about what inspires her, challenges she faced, and what makes a champion woman.  

Is there a woman who inspires you and who you would like to celebrate this Women’s Month, and why?

My mum. She is a tremendous inspiration because she is always motivated, sees the ‘bright side’ of dreary matters, and encourages both my sister and myself to do the same. My dad tragically passed away when I was 18 and my mum very courageously took on her dual role, encouraged my sister and I to pursue our dreams, and with the Almighty’s mercy got us both through medical school. She is continuously encouraging us to strive for more, both in our careers and spiritually. My mum remains my ‘go-to-person’, and as a new mum myself, she continues to be my tower of strength as I experience this new phase of my life.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your life that have made you a better woman?

My dad’s unexpected demise felt like the end of all our lives. At the time, I was completing my first year of BSc and was trying to get into medical school. A month later, I was accepted by the University of Pretoria to study medicine and had to make the arduous decision whether to leave home or not. Being an introverted, quiet person, moving provinces without any idea of how to fund my studies was quite a daunting challenge. 
With my mum’s encouragement and the mercy of the Almighty, I accepted the offer and eventually received a full bursary. Retrospectively, being ‘thrown in at the deep end’, moving provinces alone, prolonged periods away from my loved ones, living without the comforts I had been accustomed to, and having a restricted budget, forced me to become independent and essentially moulded me into the person I am today.

What advice would you give to the 15-year-old you?

Your life is probably not going to follow the plan you have envisioned, because trials and tribulations are all part of life’s experience, but with faith and determination, everything somehow eventually falls into place. Always remember that the Almighty never gives a burden too tall. Remain humble despite your achievements and continuously strive to become a better version of ‘you’.

What would you say makes you a champion woman [of the UFS]?

At the outset, I have to state that I actually don’t consider myself to be a ‘champion woman of the UFS’ (yet, LOL), and was genuinely surprised and humbled when asked to be part of the Women’s Day feature. 

So, what makes a champion woman in the academic setting? To me, it is someone who excels in her field of expertise, is willing to go the ‘extra mile’, and continues to perform well under stressful conditions. A professional person who is approachable and willing to assist her students/colleagues while remaining respectful to those above and beneath her. 


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