Flora Nkirote Waiganjo (Class of 2014): The Importance of Doing What You Love – And Helping Others to do the Same | Aga Khan Academies

Flora Nkirote Waiganjo (Class of 2014): The Importance of Doing What You Love – And Helping Others to do the Same

For Flora Nkirote Waiganjo, life is about pursuing what you love, even if doing so means challenging those around you. What’s important, she says, is realising that being different is not a weakness but a strength to be embraced.

“It’s better to do something I love than to be forced to do something else,” she says. “I have so many friends – so many people who have failed or dropped out [of school] because they just don’t like what they’re doing. So I tell them that irrespective of whether you can make money with it or not or get a great job with it or not, I’m just going to do what I love and have fun.”

Flora graduated from the Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa in the spring of 2014. She found that her time there not only helped her excel academically, but also instilled in her values that she plans to take with her to university and beyond.

A native Kenyan from Eldoret, Flora initially found the transition to the Academy and Mombasa in general to be a tough one. She came from a Christian school where everything was solely Christian-based. When she arrived at the Academy, she was exposed to different religions and a diversity she had not seen before. She struggled to adapt, at first, paying too much attention to the nuances of her new life rather than focusing on ways to assimilate.

That’s where AKA,M and the IB programme came in. Staff reached out to her and helped her feel more at ease, and the programme pushed her to new levels, both academically and socially. She became more focused, confident and culturally sensitive.

“Coming from a school that was very black and white, I feel the change through Aga Khan which promoted open-mindedness and diversity,” she says. “I feel like that’s one thing I’ll take with me forever. The fact that other people can be right as well in their own way and just accepting people and wanting to understand other people from different backgrounds who think differently. I think it’s a value that I had to learn how to incorporate, and I think it’s very important that you can be able to live anywhere around the world and be able to understand other people and accept them for who they are.”

This newfound world outlook has allowed Flora to not only discover what she’s truly passionate about, but to also look beyond herself and think about what kind of impact she wants to make on others in the future.

So far, Flora has put her Academy lessons to work by fearlessly following her passions.

“I decided that for university, I better do what I love instead of doing what someone else has told me and then going there and not liking it so much,” she says.

For Flora, that means acting. She’s been in plays from a young age and used to act as a supplement to her everyday education, taking classes via the London School of Dramatic Arts. Now, she says, she’s going to major in drama at the University of British Columbia, where she will enrol in the fall.

When Flora is on the stage, she’s not just an actress, she says, she’s a bold storyteller with a larger purpose: conveying empathy in a captivating way.

“I’m a very shy person when I’m offstage, but when I’m on stage, it brings out the best in me,” Flora says. “I’m very comfortable. I love the experience of sharing someone else’s story with an audience. I feel that it is a very good experience for people to understand people’s issues – not just to be told about them, but to see them in an entertaining way.”

This tenacity and drive to help others has won Flora a merit scholarship to UBC: The International Leader of Tomorrow Hope Award. It’s an award she set out to earn upon her arrival at AKA,M, and it’s one that celebrates well-balanced young leaders.

Although she has yet to begin university, Flora has already thought about her role as a youth leader.

After she’s finished university and made enough money from a job, Flora plans to return to Kenya to start a business dedicated to the arts. It’ll be based in Kenya at first, she says, perhaps in her hometown of Eldoret, but the goal is to expand its reach to all of Africa and give people an opportunity to become international.

With the current state of arts affairs in the region, Flora says a dedicated arts program would allow others to receive the same kind of chances she received -- and perhaps in a less cumbersome way.

“I definitely want to start it in Kenya – and especially bring people from Eldoret irrespective of their financial status,” she says. “I feel like I had to move very far to get a bit of that opportunity, but if it was nearer and if the society saw it as a legitimate career, maybe I would have had the opportunity to do more from my early age.”

Part of her goal, too, is to raise awareness about the arts and alleviate some of the negative perceptions associated with such a career.

“Right now there’s a lot of stigmatism towards the performing arts or of someone studying arts,” says Flora. “For example, when I tell people what I’m going to study, I feel like they think that I’m going to waste those years. But then I know there are some people who are talented in many ways like cooking, instruments, but then they can only keep it as a hobby even if they would like to take it as a career. So I get that idea – that motivated me to want to help other people.”

If she had all the resources at her disposal, Flora says she’d take this dream to a new level.

“I would invest a lot in infrastructure and make sure people have good healthcare and access to education so that they can do whatever they want and they can do it for themselves instead of depending on the government for virtually everything and depending on foreign aid,” she says. “I feel like there’s a lot of stereotyping in our minds...so I feel like spreading awareness... just to make people aware about how to make their lives better for themselves.”

By Farah Mohamed