Our Team

The founders of Barwaaqo were behind the incredible success of the Abaarso school, a 7th-12th grade, co-ed boarding school in Somaliland, whose graduates have scholarships to top universities such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown and MIT.

Joy Oghogho Isa


President Joy Isa is passionate about education and counselling. She has a first degree in French and Linguistics, an MSc in Multidisciplinary Studies and holds a Certificate in International School Leadership. She is a certified Youth Counsellor, and Child Protection and Safeguarding Officer. She is currently completing a doctoral degree in Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (EdD) from Walden University. 

She has worked in leading international schools across Nigeria but has also partnered with several NGOs working in impoverished areas, facilitating professional development for educators using both face-to-face and online platforms. She has worked with the Corona College of Education in Nigeria and received an award for outstanding facilitator of the year (2018). As a firm believer in on-going professional development, she has completed courses run by the prestigious Harvard Graduate School of Education.  She is married with two young adult children.  

Gabriella Harris

Director of Mission and Student Services

Born and raised in Brighton, the UK, Gabriella graduated from University College London with a BA in Classics with French. Through this time, she worked in research and with refugees and asylum seeking people with NGOs in France and Slovenia, in detention centres and law firms in London, in alternative education in London, Sri Lanka and Myanmar and on ancient history documentaries. She moved to Sudan where she taught at a community primary school in Khartoum. She then joined Barwaaqo University as it set up its campus in Baliga-Cas. She taught a variety of liberal arts and education courses and worked on many different sides of the university, especially in communications and student life, health and wellbeing. She joined the University of Cambridge as a postgraduate to study Knowledge, Power and Politics in Education where she wrote her master’s dissertation investigating ideas for decolonial initial teacher education in Somaliland, working with student volunteer research assistants and participants in the country. She is excited to return to Barwaaqo to see its second and third classes through to graduation in her new role. She loves working with students, reading, being outside and is desperately trying to improve her Somali and Arabic. 

Elizabeth Ollerhead

Director of Academics

Liz is from Northwestern Ontario, Canada. She has a bachelor’s degree in commerce from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Master of Arts in English Philology with a focus on adult language education from LCC in Klaipeda, Lithuania. She is a candidate for a Master in Public Administration from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada.  She has worked in corporate training and development programs in South Korea and Czech Republic, with military language training programs in Kuwait, and public and private high schools in China. 

At Barwaaqo, she started in the role of Teacher Specialist in the fall of 2020 where she worked with the faculty professional development programming. In her current role as Director of Academics, she is focused on developing quality academic programs at the university in the Faculty of Education and the coming Faculty of Business.  Liz also teaches courses in the Faculty of Education and Faculty of English.

Jin Sasaki

Director of Operations & Logistics

Jin has lived in East Africa for the majority of his life, in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Kenya. He graduated from Cornell University with a BS in International Agriculture and Rural Development with a concentration in business economics. He first came to work for Abaarso in 2017 and was part of the faculty of STEM, while also managing operations and finance. In 2021, Jin joined Barwaaqo University as the Director of Operations and Logistics bringing with him the knowledge and skills gained from his time at Abaarso. Jin strives to improve and streamline operational systems to ensure affordable educational access for women across Somaliland.

Vidas Varma

Head of Finance

Vidas grew up in the tiny island state of Singapore. He graduated with a degree in Finance from Murdoch University in 2017. Coming from a country just over 700 square kilometres, Vidas has had a great impetus to travel out of home to see more. From backpacking across the mountains of Japan and New Zealand, training in the valleys of Germany and teaching English in a small town in China, he appreciates the opportunities to experience the differences between his culture and others. Vidas is currently in the Barwaaqo University finance department.

Unity Gwindi

Staff Onboarding & Welfare Coordinator

Unity Wadzanai Gwindi was born and raised in Zimbabwe, Southern Africa. She holds an Honours Degree in Law, graduated class of 2017 at the University of Zimbabwe. She also holds Certification in Leadership and Entrepreneurship Training. She worked as a Procurement Officer and Legal Advisor for a mining company in Zimbabwe for 3 years before joining the Abaarso Network as Faculty at Barwaaqo University in January 2021. She is Faculty for Computers and the Faculty Onboarding and Welfare Coordinator for Barwaaqo. Her passion for the emancipation of women and education for African women to climb the corporate ladder is what motivated her to join Barwaaqo University.

Gretchen Torrence

Technology & Software Coordinator

Gretchen Torrence (Gigi) graduated Cum Laude with a degree in International Studies from California State University, Long Beach. She worked as a corporate trainer and Compliance Manager for 16 years before leaving the position to work in education. After teaching in China for a year, she was inspired to get her master’s degree in Learning Design and Technology from Purdue University.


In addition to teaching English and other classes at Barwaaqo University, she is part of the technology team that manages the school software and online learning modules. She came to Somaliland because she has a passion for teaching and loves the idea of empowering women in a global perspective.

Farxiya Abdilahi


Farxiya Abdullahi Hussein is an Abaarso alumnae, graduating with the class of 2020. After graduation, she started working at Barwaaqo University as an intern. Farxiya likes to fix things around campus–she learned a lot from her high school computer science teacher and this is something she is especially grateful for. Farxiya enjoys playing chess and basketball in her free time. Her favorite shows are Silicon Valley and The Simpsons.