The Alumni Challenge is a way to showcase the strength and impact of alumni in the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda). Our alumni action heroes have designed and developed interventions that they think will be successful in addressing issues pertaining to Security and Rule of Law.
After receiving more than 60 very promising proposals, the winning ideas were chosen by Nuffic, the NAAs and the Embassies. The winning ideas will be presented during the online conference on 4 November 2021. The aim for this event is to create a regional online platform to develop capacity in the selected thematic areas and to foster networking and stimulate collaboration between alumni, sector specific stakeholders, knowledge institutions and governmental bodies.
All winners will pitch their ideas during the conference. You will have time to ask questions and give feedback about the presented ideas.
Next to the pitches by NL alumni, the programme contains speeches by: • Titia Bredée, Director-General of Nuffic • Henk Jan Bakker, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Ethiopia • Adrine Atuiine, Research, IT and Knowledge Coordinator at RTF
This is our sixth alumni story and we are making good progress with our alumni story segment. Yes, we are getting global recognition as members are sharing their amazing journeys from academic to professional work.
This weekly project helps curate stories of incredible, inspiring, powerhouse men and women.
Today, we feature Ir Buoga, Jared Omondi. Jared is currently the Delivery Director, President’s Delivery Unit (PDU) in the Executive Office of the President, Kenya.
He is also an alumnus of the ITC Faculty, University of Twente.
This is key because we want to change mindsets, inspire and challenge others that indeed Kenyans are capable of doing great things in an excellent way.
Drum rolls Water and Climate at ITC, University of Twente, The Netherlands ………………………………………………………….
Small Vital Steps and Actions that Make a Difference
Am neither a good story teller nor a writer, but I will try.
I will start my story by acknowledging that studying abroad and especially in the Netherlands through the Dutch Government Scholarship (OKP, formerly NUFFIC) that I was a beneficiary o, is one of the best experiences one would ever have. But, how did the journey begin?
My desire to follow my passion in natural sciences began at a tender age. This was exhibited by my stellar performance in the sciences and geography coupled with practical engagement in nature oriented field activities, exhibitions, presentations and studies. Maseno School was my high school where I took part in Science Congress competitions and progressed until the National stage, the science congress platform inspired me to pursue natural resources management.
From Maseno School, I joined Egerton University, Njoro Main Campus to study Natural Resources Management in August 2002. Egerton University shaped my life and worldview about conservation and management of natural resources.
I joined the Youth Wildlife and Environmental Movement (YWEM) Egerton Chapter in first year. There was an election for YWEM leadership during the same semester in the month of October, occasioned by vacation of office by senior leaders who were due for graduation later in the year.
I vied for the post of Deputy Director and won. During our tenure, we revamped the movement to greater heights. I led in organizing the annual Youth Environment Symposium (YES) where we invited high profile guests from UNEP, Government Agencies and Departments to speak to members.
I coordinated and rallied students to participate in the Annual Egerton University conservation week. The annual conservation week was a very spectacular event for the University. It brought all stakeholders in efforts to conserve Mau Forest. It gave me a chance to interact with many dignitaries across the globe who joined the annual event.
The then University Vice Chancellor Prof Ezra Maritim was very supportive of the program and exposed us to numerous partners both in the private sector and academia. When I was later elected as the Director of theYWEM, it was a norm that the VC would rely on our input when planning and executing environmental and natural resources management activities in the school.
I led the student team to the Annual East African Environment Network (EAEN) Conference for four consecutive years among other notable events and activities. I led a comprehensive tree name tagging ever done in the University.
Community Work My aspiration to reach out to many youths and prospective students to join Natural Science courses inspired me to register Tembea Youth Centre for Sustainable Development community organization in Siaya, my home District in April 2003, while I was a second year student.
The organization that would later be my employer after my graduation in 2007. For close to a decade it played a significant role in incubating and nurturing skills, innovation towards conservation. My first experience and interaction with Geoinformation Science (GIS) and Remote Sensing came about when I learnt about the GIS Day during the long holidays of May – Dec 2004.
I was invited as a Director of my young organization by Ugunja Community Resource Centre (UCRC) to a meeting to coordinate and host the Nov 2004 GIS Day. I took a lot of interest in the application during the period. We were led by one illustrious lady called M’Lis FLin from Australia who had come to volunteer with UCRC at the time. She was so passionate about GIS, she was inducted in GIS and RS.
I found out that GIS was very instrumental in the course I was following at the University. She inspired me and gave me inspiration to follow the dream of applying GIS and RS in natural resources management.
Geoinformation Science and Remote Sensing Inclusion Drive
In Jan 2005 when we resumed our studies, I was burning with passion to share with my student colleagues and our YWEM patron and faculty dean Prof Lelo about GIS. My first stop was at Prof Lelo’s office. I impressed on him how important GIS and RS is very essential for our class and our course. I shared with him the CDs with demos showing how to manipulate geographical data and its application in natural resources management. In short, we needed a course unit on GIS and Remote Sensing to be included as one of the units to be taught to us.
I shared the materials and information with my colleague students to get enough support over the same. It wasn’t an easy process to quickly accommodate our class to be taught by Dr. Onyando, who was from the Faculty of Engineering. As a cohort, we did not succeed to get the unit considered. But I am to report that out of the pressure and efforts, subsequent cohorts benefited.
However, at a personal level, I became a private student of Dr. Onyando, who took me through the basics of geoinformation science and earth observations. It is Dr. Onyando and later Dr. Ogola who taught us photogrammetry that first mentioned to us about ITC Faculty of Geoinformation Science and Earth Observations, The Netherlands.
During the course, I shared my predicaments with the Course Director – Dr. Rozemeijer, Nico, a jovial fellow. He encouraged me to try again and gave me some insights. The NUFFIC had just opened the system for applications running through to 15th March 2013 at the time. On this last stab, I was placed on a provisional list of prospective scholarship recipients. I was so excited when a confirmation came in July 2013, that I had been selected.
Life at ITC and ITC Hotel
Life at ITC, the Netherlands is amazing in all dynamics. Rigorous academic program. Lovely people. Delicious food. People riding bicycles. A host of international students. Seasoned lecturers and professors from all Ivy League Universities and Institutions – that come adorned in a cocktail of characters and personalities – lovely, humble, compassionate, enthusiastic and strict in the same measure.
As a Kenyan student, you enter the academic theatre and you encounter rigor, and you fall in love. Indeed we absorbed from the best. The Core module is a precursor as to whether you shall stay or take the next plane back home. After classes, we retreat back to the ITC Hotel. My room, the 118 on 1 floor was the debriefing space. At room 118, all Kenyan Students of our time would converge, to wine and dine. Life was good
We toured Europe, the same way we traverse our counties here at home. If you didn’t visit Germany for shopping, and Belgium for a tour, then you missed a lot.
Professional Training and Guidance
One very important nugget, an ITC Student and more so a Dutch Scholarship recipient receives the best professional and technical guidance and training. We got the best. Our university introduced us to an array of global programs to choose from during thesis writing. During our time, I had the privilege of doing my research under the Mau Mara Serengeti (MaMaSe) Sustainable Water Initiative project.
Whereas some of my colleagues chose other programs, I chose MaMaSe to appreciate homegrown approaches and scientific application of GIS and RS in our rangelands of protected areas and conservancies. My thesis on “Quantifying Spatio-Temporal Drivers of Rangelands conditions in the Maasai Mara” is available at the ITC Master Thesis central depository for reference.
Back home and opportunities
Upon return in March 2015, my desire was to put my professional skills into practice. I must appreciate and acknowledge the effort that Dutch Embassy in Kenya has made to her NUFFIC recipients Alumni network. As the current Chairman of Kenya ITC Alumni Association, I must point out that the regular networking cocktail dinners that bring former colleagues and new graduates provides wonderful opportunities of connection and job placements. Opportunities and linkages are shared that keep the Community of Practice strong and vibrant.
Professionally, I have had the honor to support as a consultant to European Union Funded Projects in the rangelands under various organizations in the region and across Africa. I serve in School Boards and offer my professional services through Leaf Magnet Research and Development Ltd. I currently serve as a Director, Deliver President’s Delivery Unit in the Executive Office of the President.
I must thank great people that inspired my story as I might have inadvertently left out some crucial bits that have shaped my career trajectory.
Our communication volunteer Thomas Bwire this week reached out to one of our alumni member from Vihiga County. Florence Wesonga Okwero is in love with matters to do with Food Security. She was excited when we reached out to her and agreed to open her professional journey to where she is now.
Ms Wesonga Okwero is a lady wearing different hats and building the nation in her respective capacity.
NAAK:Please start by telling us about your professional background
Florence Wesonga Okwero: I am Florence Wesonga Okwero, an agriculture extension officer in the Department of Agriculture, Directorate of Livestock Production, County Government of Vihiga.
I am an alumnus of Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. I studied the Master of Management of Development; Rural Development and Food Security academic year 2015/2016.
The mandate of the directorate of livestock Production is ‘’ to promote, regulate, and facilitate Livestock Production for socio-economic development and industrialization.
My duties entail training livestock farmers on upcoming technologies, Climate-smart Agriculture, and Market trends.
NAAK: What other role are you playing?
Florence Wesonga Okwero: I also support the Agri-Jobs 4 Youth Initiatives which is a programme by the German Development Cooperation (GDC) DEUTSHE ZUSAMMENARBEIT, through the Germany Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH) in partnership with the County Government of Vihiga (Department of Agriculture).
The program focuses on empowering youths with employable skills in Agribusiness. All this has been made possible due to the skills I acquired while studying in the Netherlands.
NAAK: Did you mention that you also went back to school?
Florence Wesonga Okwero: Oh yes I did, I am currently enrolled at Makerere University, Uganda, undertaking Ph.D. studies in Agricultural and Rural Innovation.
These efforts have been successful due to a strong relationship between the VHL Alumni and the lecturers; Master of Management of Development (MOD).
NAAK: What motivates you daily?
Florence Wesonga Okwero: My motivation is to support farmers in Vihiga County and beyond to access adequate food through improved incomes for resilient livelihoods. When the farming community is resilient to changing climate and market trends, then we have a happy population that could exercise their rights to food.
This also enables the county to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2 of the United Nation.
I support the department and other stakeholders in ensuring the dairy sector in Vihiga County performs to its potential.
Together we have supported dairy farmers at Vihiga Dairy Cooperative to increase production and milk value addition through the strengthening of dairy value chain nodes. The collections have risen from 400 liters per day in 2014 to 1300 liters in 2021 which translates to an increase of about 200%.
I love being the agent of change. I lead my colleagues in focusing on improving the volumes and having an organized Dairy value Chain.
Currently, the Cooperative is now doing milk aggregation, chilling, and processing of Mala and Yoghurt. As the department of agriculture in Vihiga County, we are looking forward to milk pasteurization in the near future.
NAAK: Do you attribute your immense contribution to your educational background?
Florence Wesonga Okwero: Definitely, having undertaken further studies in the Netherlands greatly improved my work performance.
I am able to work and interact with stakeholders from diverse backgrounds and cultures. I am able to handle different work situations with ease.
I enjoy my work.
For instance, interaction with the Dutch community while in The Netherlands helped build my confidence, and to have a focused mind.
A visit to dairy farms in Rural De Kraats at Bennekom , Gelderland made me realize the global challenges in the dairy sector. I learned that a Dutch dairy farmer and Kenyan farmers face almost the same challenges such as changing market trends. However, In Kenya, dairy farmers are experiencing low mechanization, an unstructured market, and low yields. These are some of the notes I picked and making them a reality gradually.
What did you like most while studying in The Netherlands?
I liked the Dutch festivals such as Tulip National day and The King’s day. I enjoyed shopping
NAAK: Hey, tell us about your experience during the application process? how was it for you?
Florence Wesonga Okwero: The application process to study at Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences was simple.
I simply sent an inquiry at their information desk and they shared with me various stages of application. On getting admission; the University presented my name among the possible scholarship applicants since I had indicated to them that I could not manage to sponsor my studies in the Netherlands.
The Application for the Orange Knowledge Scholarship procedures is simple with instructions.
I urge Kenyan young professionals, especially women to apply and study in the Netherlands.
This is because the Dutch institutions will walk with you at every step of your studies. I believe you can grow your knowledge base, it does matter where you are, and the Dutch Orange Knowledge Program (OKP) will locate you.
What you need to do is, first apply to your preferred learning institution, then the scholarship will follow.
I also like the fact that Van Hall Larenstein University is still keeping in touch with its graduates which is a good initiative towards global development and personal growth. I also like the refresher courses initiatives, this ensures sustained connection and knowledge exchange across the globe.
NAAK: Any tips for potential students planning to study in The Netherlands?
Florence Wesonga Okwero: Make sure you submit your assignments in the stipulated time. Ensure to interact with the community because they are very friendly people.
Remember to come back home and serve your community.
What else should one have in mind?
Do not set your expectations too high. Europe is just like Africa. No free money.
You have to work.
What a powerful end, “YOU HAVE TO WORK”
NAAK: Florence’s story comes in the wake of a recent report from The Global Unity; A hunger story The report gave Kenya a score of 23.7% which lists it among 40 countries with a serious risk of hunger. Some 1.5 million Kenyans are facing an acute food shortage that has been exacerbated by Covid-19, climate change, and locust invasion, a new report says.
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I grew up along the volatile Kerio Valley in Elgeyo Marakwet County where insecurity as a result of banditry and cattle rustling was the norm. Despite the challenges we went through, I was able to realize my childhood dream of studying in a national school when I joined Lenana School. While at Lenana School, my next dream was to work at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which inspired me to study Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources Management at Egerton University. During my undergraduate studies, I became the Secretary-General of Egerton University Model United Nations (EUMUN) where I was able to organize trips to United Nations and World Bank Offices in Nairobi.
It was during one of the trips that I secured an internship at UNEP and connected with Erasmus Mundus Alumna who was an intern at the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat). After attending one of her presentations on Erasmus Mundus Scholarship, I became determined to study for my master’s in Europe under the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship.
Immediately after completing my internship at UNEP, I completed another internship at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) where I helped co-author a chapter on ‘Overview on natural forest degradation in Kenya’ in the forest Restoration Handbook for Moist Forests in Kenya,’ published by KEFRI.
Since I had deferred my fourth year to participate in the UNEP internship, I later resumed my studies and invited the Erasmus Mundus Mundus (EMA) Africa President and the Kenya Representative to come to Egerton University to give us a talk on the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship. With their inspiration and desire to study in Europe,.
I was able to graduate with First Class Honours in Natural Resources Management. I then volunteered at KEFRI where I was able to make my contribution, including by participating in the 2011 Nakuru ASK Show where KEFRI attained the first position in the Medium Stand Government Ministry. I was able to leverage my volunteer opportunity at KEFRI to position myself strategically while applying for scholarships, including the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship.
After several unsuccessful scholarship attempts and regrets, I was awarded the Kent Law School Taught Masters Overseas Scholarship to pursue a Master’s in Law (LLM) in Environmental Law and Policy at the University of Kent in the UK. In the same year, I also received the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship to pursue an MSc in Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation for Environmental Modelling and Management (GEM MSc) in Europe. After weighing my options, I opted for the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship and declined the Kent Law School Taught Masters Overseas Scholarship. The Erasmus Mundus Scholarship was very competitive since from a total of 800+ applicants, only 15 of us were successful (1.875%), with only 3 of us from Africa, including 2 from Kenya.
The scholarship was fully funded, and my visa, flight ticket (e-ticket), and insurance were already paid for! All I needed to do was to present myself at the Embassy with all the documentation, including my passport and the scholarship package documents. I had the option of choosing my first year between Sweden and the Netherlands, but I opted for the Netherlands since the course modules were closely related to my undergraduate degree and my area of interest.
To prepare for my journey and to celebrate my success story, I organized three farewell parties at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, in Eldoret, and at my former primary school in Elgeyo Marakwet County where I was able to celebrate with family and friends without the need to fundraise!
During my studies in the Netherlands The Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) at the University of Twente (UT) had already booked for me an e-ticket with the Turkish Airlines, and as a result, my first stopover was at Istanbul before I connected to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol where I was able to take a train to Enschede. Immediately after I alighted from the train, I met Kenyan students who were waiting for me and took me to the ITC International Hotel where my room was already reserved for my entire stay in the Netherlands. They then gave me a brief orientation, including how to operate the induction cooker and where to do my shopping. The following day, I participated in an orientation program at the university and was able to receive 300 Euros for my immediate needs as part of my 1000 Euros installation (establishment amount) for personal shopping since I never carried any money with me.
We also enjoyed shared self-service laundry and common kitchen where we could network and sample what others were cooking. With the self-service laundry we could wash our clothes within 60 minutes and dry them within 30 minutes.
The monthly stipend of 1000 Euros (About KES. 130,000 in the current exchange rate!) was sufficient to meet our accommodation and living expenses, including to support our loved ones back at home. The University also had in place a notebook project where we received laptops that met the required course specifications or requirements. We had small classes to allow close relationships with lecturers and fellow students, and all our lecture materials were available in our online blackboards, including the recording of some common lectures that you could listen to again and again while in your hotel room. Most of our assignments and exercises were also submitted via the online blackboard. We had the option of following the lecture material using one’s laptop or as projected by the lecturer, without the need to take notes.
The academic system in the Netherlands was very rigorous, demanding, and intensive since our classes were full-time, from 8.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday, except on Wednesdays where we studied half-day and the rest of the day we went to the market for our weekly shopping (with the next market day on Saturday). In addition, we followed a module system where each course or module lasted 3 weeks, including exams, before we moved to a different course or module. This was in contrast with our semester system in Kenya. In fact, it was difficult for some students to catch up, especially if they failed to meet the pass mark of 60% in a particular module.
The most painful moment was when some students from other countries such as Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Ghana were returned home (discontinued) after failing to meet the minimum requirements – you are only allowed to re-sit twice and you should not get below 50%, otherwise, you will be discontinued from the program and your scholarship withdrawn. Luckily, no Kenyan student was sent home during my studies there, further attesting to the quality of our Kenyan education system. Our day-to-day life comprised lectures, guided practical sessions, individual and group exercises, presentations, several case studies, and regular fieldworks.
We also enjoyed delicious meals in the ITC Cafeteria where we could network with both lecturers and students, unlike in Kenya where students and lecturers have different cafeterias with limited interactions. One of my memorable experience in the Netherlands was when we visited Keukenhof or the Garden of Europe, one of the world’s largest flower gardens and considered heaven on earth, with over 7 million tulips (flowers) covering 32 hectares of land – you can view the images online or better watch the videos of Keukenhof on YouTube as a preview of what to expect when you visit Keukenhof, at least once in your lifetime.
After my studies in the Netherlands As an Erasmus Mundus student, I completed my first year in the Netherlands and had to move to another country for my second year and thesis writing. I had four options to choose from: Lund University in Sweden, University of Southampton in the UK, University of Iceland in Iceland, and University of Warsaw in Poland. In my first year, I was the only African student in a class of 7: the other colleagues came from the Netherlands, Spain, Czech Republic, USA, Armenia, and Bangladesh. The other 8 students, including 2 Africans, had completed their first year at Lund University in Sweden. During our second-year mobility, 6 students went to the UK, 4 went to the Netherlands, 2 went to Sweden, and 2 went to Iceland. As a result, I was the only student who was left to join University of Warsaw in Poland where I enjoyed 1:1 contact and interaction with Professors and Deans of Faculties, including Economics, Law and Geography.
While studying at the University of Warsaw, I had the privilege to participate in the Global Landscapes Forum, UNFCCC’s COP 19 Conference, and Connect4Climate: Be the Movement workshop at the University of Warsaw organized by a consortium of partners, including international NGOs, the United Nations, and the World Bank. I had the opportunity to meet and interact with Kenyan delegations including Members of Parliament and Senators who came for the COP 19 conference. By studying at the University of Warsaw – one of the best Universities in Poland and Central Europe, I was able to stand on the shoulders of giants and notable alumni which included Nobel Prize Winners, 3 Prime Ministers of Israel, several Presidents, and Prime Ministers of Poland, and the 3rd President of Mali, etc.
After successful completion of my studies, I was awarded a joint degree by the University of Warsaw (with four original copies – 2 in English and 2 in Polish), a master’s degree (diploma) from the University of Twente, a joint transcript, and a diploma supplement with detailed information (9 pages) on the GEM MSc program. My lightbulb moment came during the UNFCCC’s COP 19 Conference when I asked one of the panelists why do we negotiate on climate change yet climate change does not negotiate with us – it just strikes when we least expected! Like in Elgeyo Marakwet County we have experienced serious mudslides which have led to the loss of lives, property, and even schools.
I believe, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein. As are a result, we need to move away from climate change negotiations and embrace the conviction to act individually and collectively to address this monster or enemy of humanity which does not negotiate with us.
My biggest concern was the promise to compensate developing countries with 100 billion USD annually by developed countries from 2020 onwards to cushion themselves against the adverse impacts of climate change. My question to one of the panelists then that I never received sufficient response was: “Can we negotiate with climate change to wait for us until 2020 when we shall have received the compensation from the developed countries that bear the greatest responsibility for causing climate change? And what happens if the world leaders fail to agree on a binding agreement as they have done in the past?”
Consequently, I lost my desire to work at the UN or the World Bank because of usual rhetoric with little action on climate change and limited impact on individuals and communities. I was no longer motivated by money but impact as I wanted to impact individuals directly as opposed to the UN and the World Bank which deal mostly with governments and institutions. I also lost the desire to grow trees and embraced a new mission to be a grower of people, driven by the belief that our greatest renewable resources are not solar, wind, hydro or geothermal, but the energy, enthusiasm, and talents of our young people, “If you want to be rich for one year, grow crops. If you want to be rich for ten years, grow trees. If you want to be rich for one hundred years, grow people.” – Chinese Proverb. Since I wanted to be rich for one hundred years,
I discovered my mission and life purpose of growing people. Upon my return, I founded Harambee Philanthropy Kenya, a nonprofit organization (NGO) as a way of giving back to society individually and collectively to affect global change. Just like Robert Frost, I can confidently say, “I took the less-traveled road and it made all the difference.”
Current work Because it was difficult to secure funding to run the NGO, a friend encouraged me to grow organically. As a result, I founded Eagle Wings Mentorship Academy to provide a foundation to support and sustain the vision I had when I founded Harambee Philanthropy Kenya. Thus, I am currently the Founder and CEO (Mentorpreneur) at Eagle Wings Mentorship Academy where my daily activities and lifetime commitment revolve around growing people, nurturing talents, and re-engineering dreams, with the ultimate goal to unveil a new civilization and set the human spirit free to dream & soar. As an ingénieur (ir) – engineer, I was no longer inspired with remote sensing and GI Science stuff after discovering my purpose to grow and build people, including future remote sensing, GIS, and environmental science professionals.
So far, I have managed to categorize my mentorship work into nurturing six types of talents: Intellectual and research talent; Entrepreneurial talent; Intrapreneurial talent; Artistic and sporting talent; Leadership talent; and Digital talent in line with the 21st Century Skills. Some of my mentees have secured highly competitive and prestigious scholarships such as Erasmus Mundus (Erasmus+) and Chevening to study in some of the leading universities such as the UCL (University College London) and the University of Manchester, etc.
I have also undertaken mentorship sessions in schools, universities, and counties such as Chuka University, Bartolimo High School in Baringo County, and Kangema Youth in Murang’a County, etc. As an active Erasmus Mundus Alumni, I have shared my experience and participated in Study in Europe events organized by the European Union in Kenya at the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University, and Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). I am also currently an International Partner for Kenya at the World Business Angels Investment Forum (WBAF), an affiliated partner of the G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI). In addition.
I am expecting to become the Kenya Country Manager for one of the higher education institutions in Canada where I have already initiated a partnership agreement between Egerton University and the Canadian Institution as part of giving back to my Alma Mater (Egerton University). I am also engaged at local levels as the Chairman of our family group and the Secretary of our local professional and investment group where I am able to extend my lifetime commitment as a mentor.
Future plans Within the next 3-5 years, my plans include becoming a best-selling author and a motivational speaker. I am also in the process of completing my independent PhD in Philosophy (Dr. Philos), with the possibility to complete an MBA from a top business school such as Harvard, Stanford or Oxford. This will help me to implement my vision and mission to establish a global platform for global mobility of talent and expertise in recognition of talent and expertise as the greatest global public goods to be used to serve humanity.
My advice to potential students I believe in the 21st Century, information is a basic need while mentorship is a universal need. We often miss out on opportunities because we lack information on available opportunities or we lack guidance on how to leverage on the available opportunities. If your dream is to study in the Netherlands or any other country abroad, you should never give up on your dreams if you fail to succeed in your first or subsequent attempts.
Just know that regret is simply a redirection if you develop a growth mindset and learn from it. If well handled, a NO can lead you to Next Opportunity, which may be an even better course, scholarship, university, or country. Commitment, grit, and delayed gratification are the keys to success in any pursuit.
If you are a recent graduate with limited work experience, you can learn to suffer strategically by taking up internships and volunteer opportunities, even if it is unpaid. You will then gain useful networks, referees, work experiences, and resources to make your scholarship journey exciting. Since scholarships are very competitive, just know that there are no guarantees except when you take calculated risks (only apply to those you meet the eligibility criteria). No one is even assured of tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year, especially with COVID-19 which has greatly affected mobility programs such as Erasmus!
It’s just a matter of doing your best and letting God handle the rest. Hence, it is also important to diversify your applications to include different courses, universities, scholarships, and/or countries. Also, do not have to limit yourself to your undergraduate course since studying abroad is a perfect opportunity to transition to new fields or careers based on your work experience, passion, or future career plans. For example, my background was in the environment but I received offers in the field of law (LLM in Environmental Law and Policy) and engineering (Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation).
The Netherlands remains a great study destination with reputable universities and world-class institutions such as the University of Twente, including the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) which is ranked among the leading institutions globally in GI Science and Remote Sensing. Besides, almost 95% of Dutch speak English, hence you will not experience any difficulties with language or communication. If you already have a master’s degree, you can complete your second master’s in the Netherlands and use it as a stepping stone towards a research career or PhD in Europe or in other destinations such as Australia, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, or USA, etc.
In terms of scholarships, you can diversify your applications to include Erasmus+, Orange Knowledge Programme (OKP), World Bank Scholarships, UNESCO, Rotary, or University scholarships (school, faculty, or department), etc. I wish you success in the pursuit of your dreams, including studying in the Netherlands. Do not forget to do your research well and ask for help from some of the alumni who may have already received a scholarship since they can offer you practical tips and support with your application. It is said that 90 to 98 percent of those who apply for scholarships submit substandard applications which are less competitive!
10 Key lessons from the Dutch culture
Time management: The timetable I received before I arrived in the Netherlands was followed to the latter with precision, and no lecturer missed classes. I learned to be always on time, if not earlier.
Businesses (shops): They open between 10am and 4pm, while the open marketplace is kept very clean and orderly during non-market days (you cannot believe it is the same place!). Businesses close early because 6pm is the Dutch Dinner time, with small and intimate family. Their love for pets is at another level, including having pet seats in the car or chairs in the restaurant!
Bike: There are more bikes than cars in The Netherlands, with some very expensive – 2000+ Euros (KES. 200,000+). It is not unusual to find a professor riding a bike to class, instead of a car! There are also cycling routes for bikes, with bikes having a right of way in roundabouts.
No news is good news: If you do not hear from someone, then you can assume all is well because if there was something bad, you would have heard it (bad news travels faster).
Spatial planning: The compact cities policy in The Netherlands is well planned to include residential, industrial, agricultural, and conservation areas, etc. (with a scenic aerial view). I wish this can be adopted in Kenya to reduce wastage of land and other resources. It is also worth noting that some places in the Netherlands are below sea level with dykes used to prevent flooding.
Politics: The politics in The Netherlands are well organized, with minimal or no disruption of daily activities, including high regard for the King and the Queen. Unlike in Kenya where politicians politic from one election to another, and most of the time our politics are chaotic and disruptive in nature.
Efficiency and precision: From the train to the bus station, from healthcare to water, and from electricity to firefighting (prompt response to false fire alarm), etc. the Dutch systems are perfectly working. For example, we never experienced any blackouts in my entire stay in the Netherlands. I also remember our professors were our own drivers when we went for fieldwork, unlike in Kenya where we have designated drivers. Because of this efficiency and lack of assignments over the weekends, most students would take a train to other cities or nearby countries such as Germany.
Coffee shops: Do not make a mistake – coffee shops in The Netherlands are used mainly to sell marijuana or bhang and not usual coffee or tea (restaurants). However, those who visit the coffee shops are very organized and disciplined, and they do not misbehave. This makes The Netherlands one of the few countries with very low crime rates, which has led to the closure of some prisons due to lack of prisoners! Despite this, we enjoyed coffee breaks (real coffee) in between our classes, just to recharge our brains in the morning and afternoon.
Technology: Because of advanced technology in all sectors, including agriculture, you would find a single-family managing dairy of 200+ cows without hiring an external helper. The cows are fed and milked using automated machines, with those producing more milk receiving more amount of feed!
Critical thinking: A great emphasis of our studies was on critical thinking – do not believe whatever you read no matter who wrote it, nor whatever you hear no matter who says it… unless it agrees with your conscience. As a result, we were trained to be scientists who think and not technologists who just click – garbage in, garbage out! This is one of the takeaway lessons I will never forget.
Holland or Netherlands? For a long time students, tourists, marketers and range of stakeholders have faced confusion of what to call the Netherlands or used Holland or the Netherlands interchangebly.
The answer requires a geographic understanding of the Netherlands. Holland is only made up of two provinces, Noord (North) and Zuid (South) which are most populated and the largest regions that have historically, politically and iconically defined the Dutch culture think about the big cities here, Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. The Netherlands on the other hand consist of Drenthe, Cleveland, Friesland, Gelderland, Groningen, Limburg, North Branbant, North Holland, Overijssel, South Holland, Utrecht, Zeeland which are the 12 provinces in the Netherlands.
In October 2019, the Dutch government embarked on a national branding exercise and ditched the term Holland for the Netherlands. These efforts by the Dutch government are part of its goal to change the image of the Netherlands abroad and showcase more of its nationwide offerings other than the popular known Amsterdam, Tulips, biking culture, cheese and Windmills.
The new branding strategy aims to present the Netherlands as a global leader in co-creating and pioneering solutions to global challenges. The branding will retain the orange colour and the traditional tulip has been designed to reflect a more modern look.
NUFFIC has followed suit and has also decided to implement the name change of its Holland Alumni network to NLAlumni with extra speed effective from 9 February 2021.
The NL Alumni network is an initiative funded by the Dutch government and aims to facilitate an international network of NL Alumni, future alumni, Netherlands Alumni Associations, Dutch higher education institutions, Dutch embassies and relevant organisations.
A NL Alumnus/a* is anyone with a study, research or work experience in the Netherlands or with a study experience provided by a Dutch education institution abroad.
The new NL brand was officially launched late 2019 and the new branding initiatives by key stakeholders in education started in 2020 but were slowed down due to the ongoing COVID pandemic that began in 2020.
For the Netherlands Alumni Association in Kenya (NAAK) alumni network, the rebrand leads to an added value for initiatives we are doing together with Dutch embassies and consulate-generals and better positioning of the Netherlands as such.
NUFFIC will launch the new name officially and widespread at the end of the first quarter of 2021 at the latest.This will be followed by promotional campaign and also launch of NL alumni network Facebook, and LinkedIn account.
Please email@example.com if have any further questions regarding this name change.
My name is Esekon Vivian Amoni. I am currently a graduate student at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands pursuing an 18-month program in Water Engineering with a specialization in Hydrology and Water Resources for the academic year 2019-2021. I am a water engineer working with the County Government of Turkana, where I have been for the past 5 years but currently on study leave.” are Vivian’s opening remarks.
It is the opportunity granted to her to work in one of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid regions that sparked her interest in groundwater studies. The main source of water in Turkana is groundwater. However, there are very limited studies about the resource in the area and the quality for a number of the existing wells is not very good. This sparked Vivian interest to want to study how she can best understand the unique situation of Turkana and through her knowledge, to contribute to an understanding of the limited resources and inform the policies made to guard it. “This is the force and belief that drives me, each of us needs to make a difference in our respective fields to improve the situation of people around us, and make life a little more worth living,” she says.When she realized where her passion was, for groundwater, she decided to do her research online on the countries that offer the best education and training on the subject. Several countries like Australia, Germany, the USA, and the Netherlands came up. The Netherlands was the highly recommended.
Through that process, she searched for universities in the Netherlands which would suit her best. She finally chose IHE Delft, an institute that has an international student body. Here she is able to learn from experiences of other countries, from her colleagues in all spheres of life.“I am lucky enough to have completed my class work and I am going on with my research thesis, that is, as you may have caught from above, on groundwater studies.
Although the research is not based in Kenya, I am glad to say that the same issues that my research will address, is very relevant to Kenya, bearing in mind that we have very limited studies and data on groundwater both on local, national, and even regional level,” adds Vivian. “The professors are also from all over the world and they are the best in their respective fields.
Owing to the great diplomatic relationship between Kenya and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, I applied for the Orange Knowledge Programme (OKP) scholarship through Nuffic as my institution qualified for the award. I was blessed and I got the scholarship that covered all my expenses during the duration of my stay here. So far, they have held their end of the bargain and I can study comfortably, despite the current global circumstances,” she says.Was this her first time to fly abroad? “No I had another opportunity through work and a Dutch organization- Acacia Water to visit the Netherlands in 2018 for three weeks,” adds VivianWhat went through her mind on arrival in The Netherlands? She says: “On arrival in Netherlands some exciting and mixed feelings. Truly speaking, it was cold and very quiet as opposed to Kenya. Fortunately, a greater percentage of the population speaks English so finding my way around was easy.”
How about getting home sick? “I did the first few weeks mostly because of the cold weather.But I got ugali and sukuma wiki and it felt a bit like home. The Kenyan community in school was very welcoming so my homesickness bearable.”
Vivian also admits that the pre-departure meeting helped to build positivity in her mind, especially with the transit, getting into the school and how to carry herself around. “I love studying here because things work, everyone who’s given a responsibility carries it out to ensure the delivery of goods and services is possible.
I love their work ethic. Every job is important and everyone is respected. No one is considered better than the other. I see that with my school’s staff,” adds VivianShe reveals how the Dutch as strict about time keeping, from classes, to appointments, to public transportation. “Everything is on time. And if not, you will be made aware,” says Vivian with a smile.One of her best experiences so far is how is that, she can easily move from one point to the other. Vivian has fallen in love with the bike. Yes, bike. “It is the most used mode of transportation. It gets you from point A to point B very fast. There are free parking spots for bikes everywhere. The bike lanes are well maintained and one can ride from one corner of the country to the other comfortably,” says Vivian.She notes that the reason many favor cycling is because anyone can afford it, is easy to learn and it’s a mode of exercise.
Vivian appreciates how the efficient Dutch system functions. For example, with a train card, one can easily apply for a subscription that best suits you.“I take every opportunity that is presented to me to learn from those that have different experiences from me. I aim to increase my knowledge every day. I solve water resource problems by listening to those who have experienced it and getting a solution through their input.
I hope to make much difference, one village at a time,” she posits.Vivian is a proud water engineer with the County government of Turkana. Before she took her study leave, she was in charge of one of the sub counties and had the responsibility of ensuring clean portable water is available to the community. “I was part of the team that did the 3R studies which determined locations around Turkana where water management and buffering can be implemented.
Two of the projects are currently being implemented through UNICEF.”Vivian has been involved in the design and monitoring of the implementation of a number of successful projects in Turkana County. An example is the Nakukulas reticulation water project in Turkana East sub-county a joint investment between the County Government and Tullow Oil company; and the Kapedo water project a partnership with the Kenya Rapid program.Key message from Vivian: The bottom line in all this is this, find out what you love in whatever field.
Even if it is not what you did in your undergraduate, let’s face it, we hardly get to practice our first degree in Kenya. Then dispel the fear that getting a scholarship is hard, or that you have done too many applications. Believe in yourself, God and the process, and then apply. Through my experience when doing my applications, I came to realize that if you apply for a course you love, your thoughts during the process will flow. You gain trust in what you are doing. You are not afraid to ask for help whenever you need it because you know deep down that it is for a good cause. So take the first step and research where you can best nurture your passion. The Dutch education system is very good and they encourage an informal relationship between the students and the professors so anyone can make it here.
If the scholarship requires a boss to vouch for you, then speak to a boss that will encourage you through the process and help out where it is officially required of them. I wish you all well as you start your search and application process. And dispel the fear and all will go well. No matter how many times you do it.
We caught up with Dr. Faith Muniale, an agriprenuer and an alumnus of Wageningen University. In this interview she talks passionately about her work in conservation agriculture, the role of stakeholder collaboration and community participation in natural resource management and her Study in Holland experience.
NAAK: Tell us about your professional background and what you studied in The Netherlands.
Faith Muniale: My name is Faith Muniale, I am currently based in Nakuru county. I went for studies at University of Wageningen for a short course titled “Competing claims on natural resources”. The course was very interesting because it combined practical and theoretical know how for natural resources managers. I still remember some of the ideas generated during that class for example, management of cross boundary resources like rivers, lakes and forests which do not necessarily follow the administrative boundaries. This remains a challenge in Kenya especially in this devolution dispensation. Stakeholder collaboration and community participation are among approaches to address this issue. I used to work for ERMIS Africa, a few years ago I took a break to take a PhD program which I just competed.
NAAK: Any examples of success stories to demonstrate the importance of Stakeholder collaboration and community participation
Faith Muniale: When Forest Act Kenya 2005 was enacted, community participation in forest management was stamped. However, the implementation guidelines were yet to be developed, and the real take off started in 2010. Wading my way through, I supported communities living near forests in Mau, Mt. Elgon and Mt. Kenya regions to form legally recognized community entities and develop joint forest management plant per forest reserve. The policy allowed for communities to jointly plan with Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and propose and implement interventions programmes outside the forest, literally where the people live. The intervention programmes helped to ease pressure on the forest resources and at the same time improve the livelihoods of the community members. This process required collaboration with all the stakeholders that affect or are affected by the forest resource. The participatory process was very rigorous to allow the community to own the process and the developed plans.
NAAK: What are you working on currently?
Faith Muniale: I am in the process of developing a project with Africa Conservation Tillage Network and ACIAR. The project will focus on mechanization for small and medium scale farmers with intention to promote conservation agriculture in a crop and livestock mixed farming system. The project covers East Africa region.
NAAK: How can Kenyan farmers develop appropriate approaches, methods and tools for scaling up and conserving agriculture?
Faith Muniale: The farmers in Kenya particularly the small-scale farmers are commonly responsive to technological innovations and approaches that tag production improvement and reduce the risk of it. Some farming communities have evolved localized practices through trial and error, but most of the authentic approaches, methods and tools are developed through research. However, their adoption hardly lives a full cycle nor scales out enough to cause the desired impact in food security. There is need for adaptive leadership in agriculture sector generally whereby research should be followed by policy and structural adjustments to support small scale farmers. This will result successful adoption of such innovation to improve the production levels, reduce drudgery and risks associated with production as well as the entire value chain. Conservation agriculture is one such innovation that improves food production, the environment and farmers’ livelihood. Its adoption however is still very low. For example, of all the land under conservation agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya has 3% and Tanzania 2% only. Besides knowledge and awareness creation among farmers, policy adjustments are necessary to provide for extension services to walk the farmers down the path until the system is established. At the onset of adopting such innovations, farmers need input and technical support. Adaptive leadership in agriculture sector will significantly improve food security.
NAAK: Why should someone consider applying to go study in The Netherlands?
Faith Muniale: The quality of education in Holland is very high. The short course I took was extremely rich in content. The approach and method of teaching is very innovative and practical. Which makes it easier for learners to understand and relate with the content at a personal and practically applicable level. To add onto this, the learning is incorporated with travel which makes it diverse. We had field trips both to the jungle and to the cities.
Besides the technical subject learning, there was opportunity to learn the Dutch culture too. I remember the pancake hotel in the outskirts of the city where the host narrated the history of the pancake eating culture of the Dutch
NAAK: What motivates you daily?
Faith Muniale: I am self-motivated and result oriented. I wake up every day thinking about how I can improve the livelihoods of local rural communities.
I draw my strength from God and my family that has been very supportive.
NAAK: Did you enjoy being in The Netherlands?
Faith Muniale: Besides the rich technical learning, it was great to see The Hague especially since that was the time the International Criminal Court (ICC) was handling a Kenyan case, I made friends from the course and have maintained an enriching network. Many thanks to the Orange Knowledge program (OKP).
NAAK: What is your key message?
Faith Muniale: I am proud to be part of the Kenyan alumni chapter and readily available to contribute my valuable skills to propel my country forward.