Aleesha Suleman (Class of 2012): Dedicated and determined | Aga Khan Academies

Aleesha Suleman (Class of 2012): Dedicated and determined

For Aleesha Suleman, a 2012 alumna of the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa and now a graduate student at the University College London (UCL) in Qatar, her one enduring dream has been to return to Kenya after completing her education and give back to her community. For her, working towards the development of the country is an important responsibility and it reflects the mission and vision of the Aga Khan Academies. 

At UCL- Qatar, Aleesha is completing a Master of Arts Degree programme in Museum and Gallery Practice. This programme, Aleesha says, “brings together my many loves – art, museums, culture, education, development and social justice.” 

Aleesha also has a Bachelor of Science degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University in Qatar. She notes that whenever she was studying, she never lost sight of her connection to Kenya.

“For one, whatever classes I took, I would find ways to connect my research back to Kenya, its history, its politics and its socio-economic issues. University classes related to the African continent would light a spark in me that made me realise how passionate I was about making a positive social change to the continent in whatever way I could,” she states. 

Being admitted to the Academy was the beginning of a transformative journey for Aleesha. Coming from a more conservative background, it was a culture jolt initially. “I distinctly remember feeling the shock of a co-ed classroom for the first time and feeling like I would never be comfortable in the Academy’s school uniform.”

However, as Aleesha began to be exposed to a plethora of experiences, she adjusted quickly to her new life. She engaged in a number of extracurricular activities, including singing and playing musical instruments for the school band, hiking and mountain climbing through the President’s Award Programme. She also took on a leadership role within the growing residential programme as a Dorm Captain. 

Following her graduation from Georgetown University, Aleesha returned to AKA Mombasa to become an Academy Fellow for two years. During this time, Aleesha worked as a mentor and residential parent to students, while also working in the Communications Department. Once her fellowship ended, Aleesha became the Communication Department’s official Communications Officer. 

Always a champion of social enterprise and progress, Aleesha started an organisation called Kreatives Konnect when she became a part of the Academy staff. The focus of the organisation is to provide opportunities for creatives in the coastal city of Mombasa to showcase their talents, network and collaborate with others, while also co-creating opportunities for development. Not only did the staff at the school back her in this endeavour, but the Academy students and the wider AKA community also helped her make this vision a reality.

“It made me feel very privileged to be part of such a community,” Aleesha recalls proudly. “I realised that just as the Academy supports students in making their ideas come to life, the school also supports all projects that impact the broader society.”

What does Aleesha envision she will do for Kenya?

“My long-term goal is to build high quality, accessible creative spaces in Kenya, specifically in my hometown of Mombasa. I hope to establish start-ups around this idea, incorporating the ground-work already started through Kreatives Konnect.”  

A firm believer in the power of good art bringing about social change and moving communities forward, Aleesha says her goal is to work with artists to raise the level of development of the country in a sustainable manner. “I would like to work on creating cultural policy and instituting cross-cultural collaborative programs that would revolutionise the creative industry, not just at a local level in Mombasa, Kenya, but also at a regional and international scale.” 

Aleesha recently worked on an interactive online exhibition with her Museum and Gallery Practice colleagues. It is titled Umoumah: Becoming a Mother and takes the visitor on a journey through pregnancy and motherhood, especially focusing on how the mother can be supported by loved ones and most importantly, herself. Aleesha sees this project as a crucial learning experience in how support and positive social change can be achieved through digital platforms. “Especially now with COVID-19, we’re all having to find alternative ways of communicating and connecting with others, and having a fully online exhibition is simply a testament to that. It opens up a lot more cross-border avenues for the future that transcend physical constraints.”  

Aleesha has fondly come to regard the Academy as her second home. Reminiscing about her period at the Academy, she offers a bit of advice to current Academy students.

“Be highly proactive. Do your research. Learn about yourself. Keep your options open and stop letting other people define the next steps of your life. Don’t be lazy about this process because it defines the next few years of your life. No one is going to just hand you things – you have to work for it. There are lots of amazing young people around the world who are deserving (especially if you’re looking for scholarships) You have to show the admissions team why you are unique, but there has to be evidence to show this. This evidence comes through your active and consistent participation in the activities and causes you truly care about.”