Lilian Odera (Class of 2015): Passionate about change in the community | Aga Khan Academies

Lilian Odera (Class of 2015): Passionate about change in the community

Lilian Odera, a bona fide leader and advocate of change, is a 2015 alumna of the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa. Born in Kenya and raised in both Kenya and Germany, she speaks English, Swahili and German. Owing to this culturally diverse background, Lilian's parents were prompted to send her to AKA Mombasa, a pluralistic community she could thrive in.

The Academy nurtures future leaders through its unique curriculum and this provided the perfect environment for Lilian to hone her leadership skills. In addition to being an active sportswoman, Lilian served as a House Captain and member of the Student Representative Council. While in her last year of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, she was awarded the Karen McKellin International Leader of Tomorrow (ILOT) award to study at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The award recognises students with superior academic achievement, leadership skills and involvement in community service.

“I would say my experience at the Academy was like a springboard into my future,” Lilian says of her time at the school. “I had amazing mentors and none of what I achieved would have been possible without their support.”

While at UBC, Lilian continued to pursue opportunities in line with her passion to effect change in the community. She has participated in several community-based projects including organising the first Afrocentrism Conference, which celebrated the identities of people with African descent. The successful event, which pulled in over 500 attendees and raised CAD $60,000, had acclaimed Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o as the keynote speaker. As part of her work as founder and event coordinator for a project that actively involved working with the community around her, she was awarded the prestigious Nestor Korchinsky Student Leadership Award in January 2020. In addition, she also recently marched with the Black Lives Matter movement in Vancouver, Canada. Lilian also won a $5,000 scholarship in 2019 and got into cooperative placement. In a nutshell, her experience at UBC was quite transformative, as she says, “I’m leaving UBC a different woman than I came.”

Although she has graduated with a Bachelor of Media Studies, Lilian is now looking to venture into education. While it is not a career path she imagined, her passion for directly working with people to creatively find solutions to issues is part of the reason she wants to get into education.

“I’ve witnessed how one event, how one change in policy can have a direct impact on how students adapt to new places, develop new relationships and understand themselves and the world around them,” says Lilian. “Although I’ve previously been shy about considering myself a leader, I've come to own that title in part because I've seen the level of trust and confidence people have put in me to execute a project. Being a leader comes with a lot of responsibility and I've never particularly been shy of putting in the work - just witnessing people's reactions, their joy, relief and celebration, is such an amazing reward in itself.”

If there's one lesson from the Academy she has continued to carry with her, it's the importance of being part of a community and working with the community. This has become apparent in all the community-based initiatives she has undertaken ever since leaving the institution.

"As I've grown, I've realised that my continuous involvement with community organisations here in Vancouver is in part influenced by that," Lilian states. "It is through community work that I learn more about myself and the world around me."

So what advice does she have for the young leaders at AKA Mombasa? “It's very easy to be narrowly focused on just grades. Yes, they are important, but life is not measured purely in letter grades. I recommend students seek out adventures and experiences to supplement what they learn in the classroom - whether it's travelling, volunteering at a charity, starting or joining a club. It's important to become holistic and wholesome, to be rich in experience and knowledge.”