Immigrant Heritage Month is almost over, and we want to join other City departments in celebrating all that immigrants bring to Philadelphia.

Every quarter, we feature a personal essay in the PWD Perspectives newsletter to highlight the rich variety of experiences and cultures shared by our more than 2,000 employees. Below, we're sharing one of those stories here on the @PhillyH2O Blog.

Meet Nafissa Bizo, an Environmental Engineer who immigrated from Niger and now works as Acting Plant Manager at our Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant.

Finding Purpose, from Niger to PWD

Ilimi is a word from the Hausa language meaning “search for knowledge with humility and purpose.”

Nafissa Bizo, an Environmental Engineer, gives a tour at the the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant.

Nafissa Bizo, an Environmental Engineer, gives a tour at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant.

Along with my father’s legacy and sheer determination, ilimi was one of the key stepping stones that allowed me to make the long and challenging journey from my childhood home in West Africa’s Niger to a career with the Philadelphia Water Department.

After graduating from high school, where I focused on science, I joined my brother, who was already a student in Philadelphia. Being a native French speaker, I enrolled in a nine-month University of Pennsylvania intensive English-language program.

Office of Immigrant Affairs

Immigrants are an important part of the PWD workforce. The mission of the City of Philadelphia Office of Immigrant Affairs (OIA) is to promote the well-being of Philadelphia’s immigrant communities. They do this by recommending and developing policies and programs, which in turn provide opportunity and access to services.

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That allowed me to take courses at Drexel University and Wilkes University, and today I have a B.S. in Environmental Engineering.

Through all that, the long-term goal that always pushed me was to strive professionally, so that I could become a role model for girls and women around the world—especially in Niger. And helping to create a more humanitarian world, for me, was the way to go.

Working for the City of Philadelphia’s Civil Service through the Water Department became my door into achieving that. Here at PWD and in my community, I have found those possibilities, and I constantly have opportunities to give back to girls and women in many places and in a meaningful way.

I also learned that change often starts with an individual.

I believe it is my responsibility to contribute to my community and the people I can reach by doing what is possible. That work starts with my daily contribution at PWD: helping to clean a large portion of Philadelphia’s wastewater so that the effluent meets the highest standards, protecting the Delaware River.

Outside of work, I enjoy mentoring girls interested in STEM careers and contributing to nonprofits that provide immigrants with access to resources, like afterschool programs and dental care, while guiding them on ways to integrate themselves into our city and community.

Personally, I am family oriented. I love cooking and spending my free time trying various recipes from around the world. And West Philadelphia holds a special place in my heart, having lived in this area for more than 15 years.

This is the neighborhood where I went to school and where I met my husband. And it is where I am currently raising my two children and practicing my religion. I can walk along the streets around Baltimore and Woodland Avenues and get a true feeling for the vibration of my motherland. Even the restaurants provide an authentic taste of West African cuisine.

In my professional life, and in pursuit of excellence, I learned how to work with a team of people from many backgrounds. Together, we can design action plans and standards that are truly the key to quality work.

This practical diversity is something that allows me to pursue what I consider life-long learning experience—my ilimi.

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