Erica Byenkya (Class of 2014): Contributing to society with love and generosity | Aga Khan Academies

Erica Byenkya (Class of 2014): Contributing to society with love and generosity

Erica Byenkya, who is a fourth-year student at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada, is a graduate of the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa and originally from Uganda. Since leaving the Academy in 2014, Erica has been pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce at the university with a double major in marketing and computer and information systems. She is expecting to graduate from the university in May 2019.

“I think that my Academy experience was vital in my success in university so far,” Erica says confidently. 

The Academy, she says, nurtured within her a love of volunteering that helped her make connections and friends and ensured she remained connected to her local community. 

“I think that we were definitely more focused on encouraging independence and community service than the schools attended by other students,” Erica comments.

The experience of living in residence at the Academy, she says, also helped her become more self-sufficient and taught her how to take care of herself – this was useful when she moved to Canada for higher education.

At university, Erica has worked through three work terms as part of the cooperative education programme. In these three terms, she has worked as a marketing coordinator for a software development company and at a non-profit organisation focused on encouraging students and faculty in the sciences. She has also taken up volunteer work, including with a local after-school youth programme and as the public relations representative of the Saint Mary’s African Student Society (SMASS). She is currently preparing for her second year with SMASS.

Erica is also doing well in her academic work. She received an entrance scholarship from Saint Mary’s University, which was increased last year due to academic achievement. Erica thanks her counsellors at the Academy in Mombasa for supporting her with her applications.

“I had a very hard time writing my personal statements for my university applications and I know that without the help of my counsellors, I would not have been accepted into all the universities I applied to.” 

At the Academy, Erica was one of the founders of a service group that aimed to support local farmers in the area by consulting with them about their families’ needs and fundraising to help meet those needs. Through their efforts in the first year, they helped one family send their youngest children to school, build a small shop to sell their wares and buy new seeds. The service group also helped pay the exam fees of the entire graduating class of a local school so they could all sit their final exams. 

One of the many things Erica misses at the Academy in Mombasa is her wonderful friends.

“I am still in contact with some of them online but being able to spend so much time with them was a gift I am very thankful for,” she says. 

Her most unforgettable experience at the Academy, which she is very proud of, was learning to play the violin; this, to her, was the most difficult to learn among other musical instruments. She fondly remembers her teachers: Mrs Mwandawiro, her dorm mother and chemistry teacher, and Mr Dudi, whom she calls, “my wonderfully dramatic English teacher.”

“They both pushed me very hard because they had high expectations for me, and while I did not perform as well as I hoped in chemistry, their expectations always encouraged me,” she says.  

Erica chose to participate in the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme because she felt, and still feels, it offered her greater flexibility in her choices for the future.

“With the national curriculum, you are restricted to three subjects in your final two years," she says. "But I was unsure about the career path I wanted to take, so I really appreciated being able to further study interesting subjects in the IB programme while deciding what I wanted to do with my future."

Erica says her plans after graduating from university are to stay and work in Canada for a while and then eventually make the decision about whether to pursue a postgraduate degree.

“I do see myself coming back to Uganda, but before that happens I would like to travel more.”

When asked what she would focus on to improve the lives of people in her country if she had all the resources at her disposal, Erica hoped that one day she could contribute to the renovation of the Ugandan library system. She believes this would benefit all the citizens of Uganda, especially the young students whose schools may not have large libraries or who seek safe and productive spaces to spend their free time.