Josephine Awino (Class of 2018): Cultivating a passion for sustainable agriculture | Aga Khan Academies

Josephine Awino (Class of 2018): Cultivating a passion for sustainable agriculture

Josephine Awino, alumna of the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, will be attending Wellesley College for her undergraduate studies in environmental science. She shares a reflection on her personal journey at the Academy in which she developed a sense of self and fostered her passions.

I was born in Mombasa, Kenya where my father worked as a photographer and my mother was a housewife. When I was three years old, however, my father died due to a tetanus infection. With no support from anyone in Mombasa, my mother was forced to move back home in Kisumu where the extended family was. Upon moving back, she had no job but still had to find a way to support my family as no one else would. She started farming vegetables at the family farm and sold her produce at the market and that’s how we survived for some time. At that time, farming wasn’t enough to support family needs and many times my family would go without a meal even for a whole day. Despite my mum farming food crops we still ended up having no food many times. I was enrolled at Tido Primary School where my siblings and I were fortunate to get sponsorship from an NGO who were willing to pay for our fees given our performance in class. My mother tried to carter for our uniform and food but she still wasn’t earning enough; when the NGO stopped supporting us educationally, I found myself home due to lack of fees. At that time, my mother wasn’t even able to pay for exam fees and went home without doing exams for the next grade. Coming from this background, where I hated my life and surroundings, I never stopped hoping for a better future for myself and my family. I just wanted to live like a normal child, doing normal things and not having to worry about whether I’ll have food for the next meal, or enough clothing, or if I’ll be allowed to attend class without the required fees. 

Looking back at my mother who was raising five kids playing the role of both a mother and a father, I knew that she was doing the best that she could to raise and provide for us and I wanted to be able to help her in the future. I not only wanted to help her, but I didn’t want any family to end up like mine and kept on wondering what would happen if my mom went to school. She’d probably have a job and be able to support all of us comfortably. This is what motivated me all throughout my primary school, despite wanting to give up most of the time. I had managed to remain one of the top performing students in the class and my name never failed to be in the top 3. In grade 6, as one of the top 3 students, I was selected by the school for an interview for the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa where, if I was successful, I would get a full scholarship. I passed the interview and joined Aga Khan Academy Mombasa in January 2012 pursuing world class education in an environment that allowed me to focus on education while also taking part in extracurricular activities.

After high school, I will be joining Wellesley College in USA where I plan to venture into environmental science. Getting higher education abroad is particularly important for me. Since I am passionate about the environment and development, studying abroad will allow me to look at both issues from an international scale teaching to apply different solutions to local problems that Kenya currently faces. I will also be getting to know the bigger picture about environmental instability and development not only for Kenya but for the world at large; this is something that would be very hard to get at a local university. Getting to learn with people from all over the world is also another thing to add as I don’t only get to interact with them but I will get to know the kind of world they live in and what issues they face and how they approach them. This is beneficial for my growth and development in terms of applying different approaches to a problem, based on different perspectives from people all over the world.

After my studies I plan to come back to Kenya where I intend to apply all that I have learnt to solve local problems within my community and my country at large. One way I would like to do this is provide more educational opportunities for girls to attend school, making it a right rather than a choice so that less people end up like my mother did. I also want to venture into sustainable agriculture in a way that they would maximize their output while still not harming the environment. I want to make agriculture a reliable source of income for people in my community.

In my free time I like to read a lot. I read books and also read online. Reading helps me learn more about the world and also walk in other people’s paths of life. Through reading novels, I live another life. Through reading online, I tend to learn more about myself, exploring different things about myself while also learning about different issues affecting the world today. I research a lot about current issues mainly related to the environment and development just to keep myself up to date as well. As a person I would say that I’m an inquirer as I always want to know more and just look at another perspective on an issue. This helps me keep a balanced and understanding point of view especially when I interact with people.

I am also quite independent. Growing up and having no one to really rely on, I started sorting out my issues on my own without bothering my mum - this has really helped me grow to become my own person. My absolute passion lies with the environment and it’s beauty. This is something that I have been interested in from childhood because I’ve always felt a connection with nature and because of the different forms of environmental degradation I’ve seen which still haunt me up to date. When I see the environment degrading, even when I have no connection whatsoever with the issue, I usually feel responsible for the issue and grow this urge within me to stop the issues from carrying on. I have taught about the importance of the environment to various people in my community including students from my former school where I held my personal project - this has improved environmental conditions in my community. 

By Josephine Awino