Who is she? Well, she’s a Zimbabwean woman, a wife, a mother, budding entrepreneur and Ireland’s first black female environmental health officer (EHO). Talking to her, this is not all just a stroke of luck but a tale of persistence to achieve a dream set when she was just 16 years old.
Tariro was born in 1985 in Harare, Zimbabwe andwhen she was in high school, set her eyes on be- coming a lawyer. However, she discovered environmental health, a field that combines science and law enforcement and remembers telling her friends that she one day, she would become an environmental health officer in Europe. That was her proclamation at the age of 16. Before she left Zimbabwe in 2004, she’d applied to study environmental health at Solusi University in Bulawayo but was offered a different degree. She then made the decision to join her mother who was already in Ireland.
In Ireland she enrolled at the Technological University in Dublin in 2007 and graduated four years later in 2011 with a BSc in Environmental Health, and her first child. Unfortunately, it was the peak of the recession and she was simply unable to get a job in the field no matter how much she tried. Tariro ended up working for seven years after graduation as a health
care assistant. During that time, she had two more children and never lost sight of her goal.
“…l never stopped hoping and praying that someday l’d be able to practice as an environmental health officer. Then God remembered me in 2018…”
In 2018, a good friend of hers who was already working as an EHO called to tell her that the Health Service Executive of Ireland was recruiting other EHOs. Her chance had come, but it was nearly lost. “On the very day that the role was advertised, the email went into my spam folder, but fortunately, my friend called again to remind me to apply.”
She applied, was shortlisted for an interview and offered a position. “lt took seven years to get there but l believe God was molding my character and preparing me for the future as my role is such a huge responsibility.” Achieving the dream meant she had to relocate to another city, but she took the risk and moved with her family.
“While promoting and protecting health, the approach of the EHO is somewhat different because much of the work is done by enforcing regulations.”
So, what does the role involve? As well as working as an EHO in the community, she’s also a port health officer (PHO). Her key responsibility is to protect public health by inspecting food businesses to ensure that they are functioning in line with EU legislation as well as government guidelines. She advises food businesses in terms of food safety, sunbed legislation, health and safety of swimming pools, water quality legislation and air quality and tobacco inspections by monitoring compliance.
As a PHO, she monitors the import control of foods of non-animal origin and other products that come into contact with food such as plastic plates. She also monitors compliance to ensure that food and food contact material which may pose a risk to human health are not allowed to enter the Irish market. “If a food or food contact material container comes into
the country, we take samples for analysis based on the set guidelines by legislation. If all is safe, we allow the products to go into circulation for sale. If not, then there a range of steps to follow which may end up in the products being destroyed. Tariro is also a voluntary port food safety representative which means she relays any new information in line with food safety to her colleagues in the port.
What’s a typical day like for Tariro? “Well, it’s an early start at 530 in the morning as it’s the only way to organize my day and get all I need to get done!” The first thing she does is meditate then listen to motivational talks by Grace for Purpose. With her husband, she gets the children prepped and ready for school. After the school run, she heads to work where
she gets stuck into administrative duties, drafting inspection reports and answering phone calls.
“No two days are the same. Some days l carry out inspections, while other days l’m in the office.”
After work, at home, she’s back to being a mother, helping the kids with their homework and chatting with them about their day. “We have dinner, l tell them a children’s bible story and a moral story too and pray with them. Then l put them to bed and set up their uniforms for the next day. I find that being well-organized is essential to ensure my days are as smooth as possible.”
How does she juggle it all? She says for her it’s a matter of work and life balance. “At work l do my best to finish everything so that I don’t take any home. At home, l concentrate on being a wife and a mother. I have an order of importance of events in my life: God, family and work.
Tariro has now achieved one of her life-long dreams set as a teen and now has a life in Ireland. We talked about what inspired her? “My mother, grandmother and aunts are a huge inspiration. My mom taught me that l should not just be content with marriage but
also serve the world with my God-given abilities. My grandmother was a nurse and raised seven children; on top of that, she was the second black woman to drive in Mutare.” That as you can imagine was a big deal in pre-Independence Zimbabwe. “Their advice, resilience and hard work inspired me to also pursue my dreams.” She tries to pass on the same spirit to her children.
“I want my children to embrace their individuality and uniqueness and know that every person has their own unique path in life. They just have to believe in their own God-given dreams and pursue them.”
She certainly had to call on her family’s inspiration back in the early days in Ireland. “It was such a big culture shock.” She remembers being introduced to someone older than her; at work, by their first name.” As you know we refer to adults in the work place as Sir or Mr or Mrs. lt was truly heavy on my tongue to refer to my boss by their first name, but
now l’m so used to it.”
But she still keeps the Zimbabwean culture alive in other ways. For one, the family eats Zimbabwean foods together. “I also speak to my kids in Shona an have taught them how to greet others in Shona as well. They are very fascinated by the language.” In addition to that she says she shares Shona stories or ngano and songs that her grandmother taught her.
Being the only black woman in the field in Ireland means that of course she’s noticed. When she’s out on inspections, a lot of people ask her what they can do to become an EHO and others are curious to know how she got there. It’s meant that she’s also increasingly impassioned about encouraging more women into STEM. With more and more women entering the field, it’s important that she and others already in the field are there to act as mentors. “You know when women support each other great things happen.”
Her advice now to any woman who wants to go into environmental health is to be confident. “Self-confidence is essential to this role like it is in any other profession.” She also suggests seeking volunteer opportunities when studying to lay a solid foundation of practical experience. Networking for advice and guidance is also important.
For Tariro becoming an EHO…and making history is truly a dream come true. “I’m truly happy and grateful to have been chosen for this role. Some days l am overwhelmed and cannot believe that this is happening to me.
I’ll keep working hard and hopefully become a role model for other girls and women. I hope I can inspire them.”
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LinkedIn: Tariro Nyaungwa