Wedding celebrations with UWCSEA scholars in Nairobi, Kenya
By Linda De Flavis, University Advising Counsellor and Mallika Ramdas, Director of Admissions
Is there anything more exuberant than an African wedding?
From the angel harmonies of the choir, to the dancing and the ululations, the feasting on nyama choma, and yet more dancing well into the night, led by a troupe of young men made from some magical combination of elastic and electricity, it is a consummate and all-encompassing celebration.
We were honoured to be guests at this weekend event in Nairobi. What made it even more special is that it was a thoroughly UWCSEA affair, bringing together an entire ‘generation’ of UWCSEA scholars, from Kenya, Tanzania, Swaziland and Sierra Leone, as bride and bridegroom, bridesmaid, best man, and wedding guests.
The bride and groom, Waruiru Mburu and Ng’ang’a Muchiri, actually attended UWCSEA five years apart and might never have met each other had it not been for coming together on a summer project to support underprivileged students in Ikutha, Kenya. Clearly the UWCSEA couple that volunteers together stays together.
In addition to the energy and joy of the wedding itself, one of the most exciting experiences of the weekend was catching up with scholars we had worked with in the past – now all grown up and in some cases with families of their own. They are all doing extraordinary things with their lives and it is clear that their pathways from UWCSEA remain true to the values of the mission, impacting significantly on society. We hope you will enjoy reading a small selection of their stories.
Anita Too (UWCSEA Class of 2015)
I never thought I would end up in an all-women’s college but UWCSEA opened my mind to this possibility, and it was one of my greatest gifts, to be surrounded by the intellectual presence of diverse women at Smith College. I graduated with a degree in Comparative Literature, focusing on postcolonial studies and Italian. I had challenged myself to learn Italian and spent six months in Florence, where I learned about the predicament of refugees in that society. Cultural exchange is crucial in helping us to challenge vicious tropes about ‘others’ and fostering a world where there is equal opportunity to thrive. Right now I’m working at a legal aid centre in Kenya, helping disenfranchised communities, but in September I will take up my scholarship at Stanford University to pursue a PhD, examining how human rights and literary studies intersect and inform each other.
Silvia Kariuki (UWCSEA Class of 2003)
After my amazing, life-changing experience at UWCSEA, I won a scholarship to attend the University of Chicago. I graduated in Biological Sciences, then worked for three years in a research lab at the University, investigating the genetic basis of the autoimmune disease Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. This pivotal experience propelled me to pursue my PhD in Human Genetics at U Chicago.
I’m now a Postdoctoral research scientist at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kilifi, Kenya, investigating how human genetic factors (such as the sickle cell trait) give protection against severe malaria infection. I love this job – not only is it a unique opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research back home (after being away for almost 13 years!) but it is also particularly impactful for populations that live in malaria-endemic areas, such as the Kenyan coast. I hope this research work will one day inform production of new therapeutic approaches for malaria.
Rachel Ochako (UWCSEA Class of 2006)
In UWCSEA I was exposed to working at a community level, partnering with people in need to bring positive change. Signing up for UWC’s Gap Year in Western Kenya was a major learning opportunity for me. I stayed on this same path of working with communities to improve lives, while focused academically on Economics and African Studies at Middlebury College. The combination allowed me to merge technical approaches with a strong understanding of sociocultural factors. I currently work at Africare, an NGO that focuses on improving lives in Africa. I design and support implementation of development projects that benefit the most vulnerable populations across the African continent. Even though as an organisation we are bringing in assistance in many forms such as food security, health, or household income, we are working in partnership with local beneficiaries. UWCSEA makes one a global citizen and instils in you an appreciation for difference.
Dorothy Mangale (UWCSEA Class of 2008)
After UWCSEA, I studied Biological Sciences at the University of Chicago, specialising in Endocrinology. My strong interest in global health issues grew through my internships and research projects, and subsequently through my job as the Chronic Disease Prevention program manager at Westside Health Authority in Chicago. This led to a Master’s in Global Health at Duke University’s Global Health Initiative, researching health technologies to improve the child protection system in Cambodia. I also became a die-hard Duke basketball fan – “Go, Blue Devils!” I’m currently a Global Health PhD Student in Implementation Science at the University of Washington, where I work on strengthening and adapting health services for young women in sub-Saharan Africa. I also work part-time at the International Clinical Research Center which advances research for HIV and infectious disease interventions. In my free time I like to sing, and still miss being part of UWCSEA’s ‘Singers’!
Other wedding guests included Kenyan scholars: David Mburu (Class of 2005), who is doing medical research in Boston; Josh Muketha (Class of 2006), who works for One Acre, an agricultural development project in East Africa; Mike Ogutu (Class of 2008) who works in finance in Toronto; and Sibu Ngobese, a Swazi scholar (Class of 2010), a software engineer in Seattle.
Best man Musa Kpaka, a Sierra Leone scholar (Class of 2004), recently completed his PhD at the London School of Economics, after a few years of working on development projects in Africa (first with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and subsequently at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Tanzania). Look out for this young man – we anticipate that something big is about to happen in his career!
And finally the bride and groom: Waruiru Mburu (Class of 2009) is an epidemiologist in the US, with ongoing projects in Ghana, while Ng’ang’a Muchiri (Class of 2004) is a professor of literature at the University of Nebraska.