Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship quenches thirst for knowledge

Cliff Nyaga is a beneficiary of The Coca-Cola Company funded Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship, which funds his place on the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management, class of 2012/2013. He reports on his first term studying at Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment.

12 December 2012, by Cliff M. Nyaga

As the first Africa Water Stewardship Scholar, I arrived in late September, tired but excited for the year ahead studying at Oxford University. The characteristic cold and grey British weather was a bit of a shock but was compensated for by the timeless elegance of the university colleges. Everything seemed quieter and more orderly than where I come from back home in Nairobi, Kenya.

The course started with meeting the 26 other students from 16 different countries on a fascinating residential field trip to Dorset and the Jurassic Coast. We got to know each other and the teaching staff over the weekend while studying various aspects of catchment management and the chalk aquifer system. The staff took us to a local pub where I got my first taste of English beer. Chat over a beer with my teacher? A first, but not bad experience!

Term started gently but then soon accelerated with intense academic activity, centred around taught modules on global water issues including water security, health and policy. There was much for me to work on, learn about, questions to ask and discussions to have. I was left wishing I had much more time. Field study trips in addition to rich study and research resources exposed me to new approaches to understanding and managing water issues and have also made me a better thinker. One highlight was visiting a green wastewater treatment plant at Wessex, where virtually ‘nothing is wasted’.

Not a week goes by in which I don’t attend a lecture from a visiting dignitary, or participate in debates and seminars that involve professionals working in the water sector. And when it’s time for a break from study, it’s easy to take a relaxing park stroll or hop on the bus and visit villages near Oxford (my favourite has been Burford, a village made of stone). A boat ride down the Thames in London was an unforgettable experience.

A great aspect of the scholarship is that I have been able to interact with key people at The Coca-Cola Company to develop a research dissertation on water sustainability. This has been an invaluable learning experience and allowed me to gain a greater understanding of their Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) programme in Africa. We have some interesting ideas which I will be developing over the winter break. When I say ‘break’, this is a bit of euphemism as the work continues with various assignments and readings, including preparation for next term. I have been dying to experience snow for the first time so hopefully this will provide an exciting interlude to my studies!

While working with communities on water supply back in Kenya, I had a strong desire to develop solutions for the challenges encountered and learn how Europe was able to overcome such problems and achieve its high level of water resource development. In this respect, Oxford is providing me with a firm foundation. I am learning from distinguished teaching staff with extensive experience in policy and practice, most interestingly on how to formulate cutting-edge solutions to water challenges facing Africa. When I return to Africa, I will take this knowledge with me. I look forward to making a positive difference in addressing the water challenges my continent faces.

This is the first in a three-part blog series. Read Cliff’s second and final blogs.