A mother and a counsellor were the words used by students to describe the outgoing Director of Student Affairs (DOSA), Olivia Ayo Birabi. The Vice-Chancellor, Dr. John Senyonyi announced last week during the community worship that Birabi would be leaving the university following the expiration of her contract.
Mrs. Birabi was hired as the Director of Student Affairs (DOSA) in 2016 making her the first female DOSA at the university. Birabi replaced the Rev. Milton Tweheyo.
Birabi says that coming to UCU was a huge change for her, from what she was used to do.
“I had served in Makerere, a public university, where I spent most of my time in administration, but also did some lecturing. I had never worked in a Christian University before and, joining UCU was such a total new experience.”
Senyonyi described her as a wonderful employee and prayed that the Lord would continue to bless her in her endeavours.
“Birabi has played a vital role in the UCU community and we will dearly miss her,” Senyonyi said.
Birabi’s journey to UCU
When the Rev. Tweheyo’s contract ended in 2015, there was a state of uncertainty within the university circles over who would replace him.
“My predecessor was a very strong person that people were not sure anyone would ever fit into his shoes,” Birabi says.
So when Birabi took over the office, her first task was studying the surrounding to see how her feet would fit in Tweheyo’s big shoes.
Birabi says that as she studied the situation, inside her she knew that the job of the DOSA is one of the most complexones and that it was the reason one needed to tread careful.
“The job includes ensuring that both the students and the staff work together. This is no easy fit,” she says. “I have had students calling me at midnight for different issues including need for counselling.”
Birabi adds that while she was known as the DOSA for the main campus, she was doing more work like the Dean for all the UCU campuses as she served the students in other campuses.
“The connection between the main campus and the other campuses should be made smoother, because other campuses are often left out in terms of activities carried out at the main campus,” she says.
For the three-and-a-half years Birabi has been in office, she says her focus was on mentoring and counselling students.
“Many of parents bring their students here from different walks of life and some have problems that may affect their stay at the university, calling for regular mentoring and counselling,” she said, observing that the advantage that comes with counselling is that the students will know that they have someone they can rely on and hence stabilise.
Birabi, however, said that her greatest disappointment came in 2016 when a group of students attempted to strike, as a result of the tuition increment that had been made by the university that year.
“Students did not get to know what really happened during that period. We talked to some of the guild leaders about it so as to find a solution to the problem,” she said.
She, however, intimates that UCU students remain unique because of the university’s core values and student code of conduct.
Birabi says the other challenges she faced was the problem of the university policies being compromised. These included the dress code policy and the student code of conduct policy.
“Many students only realise later that such policies were actually meant for their good and not to harm them,” she said.
Birabi says after leaving, she intends to go back to pursue a PhD and hopefully that it will lead her to other opportunities.
“Unfortunately, I delayed to go back to complete my PhD which I had started and therefore I need to restart the entire process again. I am ready for it,” she said.
Advice to next DOSA
Birabi also passed on some advice to the next DOSA. She said the next DOSA should have genuine love for the students.
“Love makes it easier to step into the shoes of students and understand what they are going through,” she said.
She also told students who are worried that she is leaving that “the world is round and that there is a probability of meeting them again.”
What the university says?
Ayub Mutaasa Mugereza, the students’ affairs administrator at UCU says Birabi is an extremely wonderful team leader especially when it comes to handling students.
Meanwhile, Richard Ekadu, the catering officer at the Janani Luwum dining hall said she was approachable.
“She always encouraged and motivated her staff and hence they supported her. She often did follow ups whenever the catering staff was involved,” said Ekadu
Who is Birabi?
Birabi was born in 1962, to Obonyo Ochwo and Alice Akello Ochwo of Tororo district. Both Obonyo and Akello are now departed. She is married to Dr. Allan Birabi and the couple has four children.
“We have been married for over 34 years,” said Birabi.
Birabi went to Rock View School in Tororo and Kamonkoli Girls’ school in Mbale for her primary education. She then joined Gayaza High School for her O’level and later Tororo Girls’ school for A’level.
Birabi’s has taught students both in high school and university level.
“I did my internship at Nabisunsa Girls’ School in Banda and soon after, I was hired at Mengo Senior School,” she said.
She also lectured at Makerere University for a while before joining UCU.