Saifan Aswani: Helping the environment through reflection and determination | Aga Khan Academies

Saifan Aswani: Helping the environment through reflection and determination

Incredible things happen when you slow down. When you take the time to look, listen, watch and reflect. You see the beauty and apparent simplicity in the world around you.

Saifan Aswani, a student at the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, knows the value of taking the time to appreciate his surroundings. In fact, he says he is “bonded with nature”, and loves to sketch and photograph natural landscapes. His ambitions would see him taking to the skies in the field of aeronautics, bringing his passion for being in nature to another level. 

Saifan’s penchant for reflection has instilled in him tremendous gratitude for his current good fortune to be studying at the Academy. He shares his personal journey of growth since arriving in Mombasa from the Congo: “Before I joined, I used to be a student who didn’t work hard and wasn’t independent. Coming to this Academy has changed a lot for me, not only increasing my knowledge of the concepts taught, but also developing self-respect and respect for others.” He continues, “The Academy doesn't only teach theories, but connects the concept to the real life. Living here makes me learn more about cultures as we have students and dorm parents who come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.”

When you add all this up – a deep sense of reflection, an appreciation for nature and an education designed to support students to connect with others and improving the world around them – it is no wonder that Saifan has recently won an award for his work in the field of environmental studies. 

Taking part in the seventh edition of the Golden Climate International Environmental Project Olympiad and representing Kenya and the Academy, Saifan won a gold medal in the agriculture category for his creation of a desalinisation unit.

Saifan first thought of his project idea in 2017 while contemplating the Indian Ocean which graces the shores of Mombasa near the Aga Khan Academy’s campus – he had slowed down, taking the time to look, watch and reflect. As Saifan explains, the salty water of the Indian Ocean can hinder the growth of plants in the surrounding area. Saifan developed a desalinisation unit as a low-cost, eco-friendly solution to this problem. He hopes it will help the local flora and develop more productive agricultural practices.

Compassionate and motivated, Saifan explains that, “The innovation came up as a result of research and investigating local issues surrounding my environment.” He then designed and built the desalinisation unit himself. In the same way that an artist combines simple shapes into a masterpiece, Saifan imaginatively transformed natural processes into a solution with real life applications: “The innovation consists of basic applications I studied in class: evaporation, condensation and solar energy.” 

As the youngest participant from his school, he encountered many challenges in creating his award-winning design. The determined and hard-working Saifan recalls sound advice from his supervisor that helped him to persevere: "He told me, ‘I'm not telling you it’s going to be easy. I'm telling you it’s going to be worth it.’" 

Throughout his time at the Academy, Saifan has realised that there was more to education than concepts, numbers and exams. As he says, “We are the leaders of the future.” He credits his experience of the past three years at the Academy for instilling in him the discipline of hard work, an appreciation of diverse cultures and the motivation to pursue this responsibility. As he has learned, “There is no elevator to the floor of success. You have to take the stairs!"

By Asif-Aly Penwala