Ukamaka Okafor Pharmacist/author
By Temitope David-Adegboye
Ukamaka Okafor is a pharmacist and an author, with over 24 years working experience. In this interview, she shares with us the inspiration behind her new book, Giving: A pathway to fulfillment. She also speaks on how women can make a success of the career and home simultaneously.
What inspired you to become a pharmacist?
I love science subjects, especially chemistry and I didn’t want to
study medicine. In addition I had a cousin, Ngozi, of loving memories, who was a Pharmacist and was doing well at both family and career levels. She was particularly kind and generous, so I was looking up to being like her.
If you were not a pharmacist, what other profession would you have liked to pursue?
Public Health or Guidance and Counseling
Public Health is all about preventive health and many of the common diseases in Africa can be prevented by simple lifestyle changes and environmental manipulation. Secondly, I love mentoring people, especially the youths and women to focus on their areas of competencies and take responsibility of their own lives. I find joy in assisting people to improve on their own lives and that of others.
Why did you decide to write a book?
My main aim of writing the book, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to make the act of giving very attractive to people. I was inspired to explain to people that the act of giving goes beyond the demands of philanthropy or the need to simply alleviate the pains and sufferings of the needy. Giving is a pathway to the higher life, it is a divine mandate.
Why do you think people don’t like giving?
People give various excuses, ranging from reasons of insufficiency, disability, fear of insecurity, priority on personal and family projects, business setbacks, unemployment, too much money in the church, illness and bereavement, to the ‘why only me syndrome’. This is rather unfortunate because there is no justifiable reason for one to exclude oneself from giving. In fact, one should always crave for opportunities to give. Money is not the only object of giving. You can give your time, listening ears, other skills and resources that God has placed in your hands. ‘Happiest are the people who give most happiness to others’.
How can we inculcate the act of giving into our children?
Very simple, just by making ‘giving’ a family culture. I learnt the act of giving from my mother. My husband learnt from his mother. All our siblings are addicted givers. When you are a giver, you cannot hide it, your children see you doing it and it flows naturally into them. Proverbs 22:6 says: ‘Train up a child the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it’. The best way to learn it is to start giving and continue to give without expecting anything in return. With time, the desire to give will continue to grow in your heart with a corresponding amount of joy and fulfillment.
What are the challenges of being a pharmacist in Nigeria?
The major challenge is that the society feels medicines are just any other article of trade, so everybody, including school drop outs want to practice pharmacy. They think it is all about money. Even some highly placed government officials and businessmen feel they must include income from the supply and management of medicines in their multiple streams of income before they are fulfilled. Also the professional rivalry among members of the healthcare team is very discouraging. These situations are not so in other countries, even in neighboring West African countries.
As someone with years of experience as a pharmacist in Nigeria, how would you assess the young ones just coming into the profession?
Just like when I was graduating, they are full of expectations and enthusiasm, having gone through very vigorous years of study, from laboratory to classroom. After some time, the enthusiasm wears off when they are confronted with the challenges of the contemporary pharmacy practice in Nigeria. However, many of them are more interested in marketing jobs than in clinical and industrial practices.
What was growing up like?
I grew up in a Christian home. My parents are great disciplinarians and I am very grateful to them. The focus was for all of us to grow up with both high academic and moral standards and I thank God for crowning their efforts with success. My parents suffered one or two difficulties after the Nigerian civil war, so bringing us up was not easy but they inculcated the culture of hard work and humility in us and made us to believe that we can survive any situation by the grace of God.
Did you have to do odd jobs to assist your parents financially while growing up?
Pharmacy is a five-year programme and during my school days, public education was stable and semesters were as planned, hence there were usually structured long vacations between July and September, and for those five years, I did vacation jobs every long vacation in a community pharmacy, close to my house. I can therefore happily say that the remuneration was a source of assistance to my parents.
Who would you say influenced you most in life among your parents?
My mother. She is very dogged and stubborn to whatever good she believes in. During those difficult years of our upbringing, she was very focused on what she wanted, without allowing the distractions of the difficulties to influence her. I always say that if my mother, like Joseph in Potiphar’s house, was not pushed into any evil habit because of hardship, no condition on this earth will ever push me into nursing an evil act.
What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you and who gave that advice to you?
My husband once advised me that I should never quarrel with my boss because when issues concerning me will be discussed, I will not be there to defend myself. This advice has guided me in all aspects of my life, even towards him, because, after God, he is my next boss.
How did you meet your husband and why did you choose to accept to marry him despite proposals from other men?
I met my husband on phone; then only NITEL table phones were available. He called to speak with his brother, who I was working for. The brother was not on seat and I picked the phone. One story led to the other. I did not choose him, God having prepared me for blessing of a good home just guided my footsteps towards him. You won’t understand. If it was me, I would have made a very costly mistake. He has been a tremendous source of support to me in all aspects, not just in career. Once I receive an inspiration to do anything, he makes sure that it comes to pass.
How do you juggle your many roles and strike a balance?
A woman is never successful until she is enabled by God to find a balance among her family, spirituality and career. With this in my consciousness, I just identify my priorities in the three areas and address them, but it has not been easy. Women, from creation, are multi-task creatures and the basic tasks revolve around these three areas.
People are of the opinion that most career women don’t have good homes. What do you have to say to that?
It is a wrong notion. It is not the career that makes a woman not to keep a good home but her upbringing and understanding of marriage. I can vividly remember my mother, in those days, always asking me whenever I failed to do some chores at home ‘Ukamaka, is this how you are going to live in a man’s house?’ She was simply tailoring her daughters to understanding that we will end up living in a man’s house and of course, rendering some services to him and the rest of the family. Secondly, every institution including family, workplace and religious body, has a head, and the husband is the head of a family, hence should be respected as such. I am granting you this interview with the permission of my husband. I got married in 1990 and it has been a wonderful moment. Challenges and misunderstandings must come but they are the things that strengthen the bond of marriage. Every challenge takes us to the next level of love, it’s amazing!
What would be your advice to women on how to make a success of their career and marriages too?
Once a woman understands that her marriage is her place of primary assignment, life becomes very simple. Careers come and go, but marriage remains until death do us part.
Who are your role models?
Mother Theresa, St Vincent De Paul, Oby Ezekwesili and Oprah Winfrey.