Lejla Arifović: An Unanticipated Pioneer

Lejla working in a lab.

Leila Arifović currently works as the Laboratory and Process Manager of JP Vodovod d.o.o. Bihać, a wastewater treatment plant in Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina. She earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Sarajevo.

Bosnia & Herzegovina –
In Lejla Arifović’s first year studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Sarajevo, she was one of 100 students pursuing the degree. By her fourth year, she was one of 10. Lejla chose this path for this very reason: knowing that opportunities do not come easy or often in her country, she chose to get her degree in a field that often lacks trained professionals due to its rigor.

A selfie of Lejla and a friend.

This ambitious move paid off for Lejla. As a brand new wastewater treatment plant was opening in her hometown of Bihać, she was the only Chemical Engineer that applied for the position. The wastewater sector was not a path she would have taken, but it was the opportunity presented to her. There was no choice to be made. She accepted the position.

Lejla has found her passion in the wastewater sector. She has seen a difference in the three years the wastewater treatment plant has been operating, and she loves the puzzles that face her on a daily basis. She always knows how her day will begin, but never how it will end.

“Basically all around Bosnia there are not a lot of women in the engineering sector. But in my firm I’m the only woman engineer.”

Lejla’s biggest obstacle in her career has not been related to her position as the only female engineer; instead, it relates more to her position as the only chemical engineer. She has to fight everyday to explain why her laboratory needs more funding. With few chemical engineers in the country, Lejla finds it difficult to explain to management why her chemicals, instruments, and analysis costs as much as it does.

“Because except clean water and healthier river, we don’t produce anything. And people don’t see it like that. People see that like we’re just spending money and not doing anything at all.”

“I can see the improvement in every year. We are better equipped. We have a lot more experience which really helps us with leading this wastewater treatment plant. I can also see we have a river, Una, here in Bihać, and we are insanely proud of it because it’s the most beautiful river in the world… So in three years the wastewater treatment plant is running, we can totally see the difference in the river. The animals are back, the water is cleaner, greener, there is a lot less algae, so it’s beautiful now. There were some parts of the river where there was a lot of junk, and now there isn’t any, so that’s an improvement.”

The Una River in Bihać

Una River in Bihać [Online image]. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://imgur.com/r/cityporn/bFHbaB9

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