Meet Selina Naana Egyir, a vocal advocate for natural resource management. This interview is a conversation about Africa, and why getting involved changes our perspective on the broader narrative! How do we get cheap, clean, quality water to households all over Africa? How do we ensure that people whose livelihood depends directly on water resources are using it appropriately for future generations? How do we reach out to rural areas to ensure that they have good supply of drinking water? How do we involve governments in ensuring sustainability for future generations?
Why Natural Resource Management? Environmental issues, particularly with water resources, have always fascinated me. I studied natural resources management because of my deep-seated interest in environmental issues. I have always believed that sustainable water management can improve tomorrow’s cities’ health. I have always wanted to contribute my knowledge and skills to water security for disadvantaged people in sub-Saharan Africa, to improve sustainable growth and poverty reduction especially among women and girls. Growing up in Ghana, I realized women in some rural areas of Ghana constitute the majority of sub-Saharan Africa’s poorest people, and are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood as a result of their responsibility to secure water, food and energy for cooking and heating up their homes. Ghana has been abundantly blessed with water resources, but the problem has always been economic scarcity and not resource scarcity. The problem is one of management of our economic resources in order to ensure proper use of water. I think we need to have better management of resources and also managing waste, because there is a lot of wastage. This is what made me more interested in water resources management in Ghana.
How did you end up with two Masters degrees? This has been highly valuable and has shaped my career, and I hope to benefit Ghana and encourage more women to pursue their academic dreams and careers. I began my research career in 2007 as a student at KNUST, working on a UNICEF/EU funded project with students from Cornell University. The project was on testing the quality of the source of drinking water in some selected communities in the Northern Region of Ghana. Between 2010 and 2012, I engaged market women and fish farmers in Ghana on the economics involved in the selling and distribution of Tilapia and Catfish. I realized although I was exposed to laboratory analysis to check water quality, I felt it was not good enough because Ghana had a lot of inland waters and some people’s livelihood depended on fisheries. So to contribute my knowledge to Ghana and help improve the health of our ecosystems, I decided to do a second masters’ degree on Inland Water Quality Assessment. I studied Ecological Engineering and specialized in Sustainable Water Management. I got the opportunity to work as a research assistant after one year. I was part of a team that researched on the dormancy, germination and toxin production in Cyanobacteria and its impact on perennial blooms in lakes and reservoirs, and on Spanish Inland Water Quality Assessment focusing on Rivers and Lakes in Madrid in conjunction with the European Water Framework Directive (September 2010- January 2011) at the biology lab of Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.
Your work closely intertwines with the community. Tell us how you this has increased your knowledge. In 2007, I volunteered, with some community engagement, on the sensitization of Guinea Worm infection which was predominant in the Northern Region of Ghana. At the time, Ghana was the second most Guinea Worm infested country, and I felt we could do better. I also did a research project on the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for watershed management using Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) in Aboabo, Kumasi due to the predominance of flooding in Aboabo around that time. This gave me in-depth knowledge on water management and sanitation in Ghana. In 2008, together with some friends, we started a voluntary sensitization program called Earth watch on the KNUST campus local station (Focus FM), where we helped sensitize students on sustainable living, the environment and the importance of Ghana’s natural resources. As a Teaching and Research Assistant at KNUST, I worked on a collaborative research between KNUST and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University sponsored by USAID /CRSP on “Characterization of pond effluents and biological and physiological assessment of receiving waters in Ghana” and “Aquaculture information sources for small scale fish farmers: the case of Ghana”. I am currently working on a joint project on UNESCO-IHP Human Capacity Development component for junior professional and technician level capacity challenges in the water sector for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) areas within Ghana. We are trying to determine what the key skills that are needed to better care and manage these key areas as well as how to build capacity for communities in order to embrace good practices. The University Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD) of Dakar, Senegal is coordinating the preparation of the Human Capacity Development Programme at national level in four countries of West Africa region hosting the CoE, and Ghana results are currently being shared and discussed in Senegal.
Resource curse and Land grabbing are some of the terms that pop up in any discussion about natural resource management in Africa. What is your take on this? Every time I have had the opportunity to discuss the resource curse with other Africans, they have always shared the opinion that we can never beat this curse. However, throughout my academic pursuit, I have come to realize that we can beat the “resource curse”, and it starts with individuals and not the government. Corruption starts from childhood. Some individuals will eventually grow up and be in leadership positions. I strongly believe that children need to have some form of discipline at an earlier stage in order to break the cycle of corruption, and consequently resource mismanagement. That is the only way out. On land grabbing, resources can only be managed properly with community engagement. Having the local community on board during the planning and implementation is not only vital to share the responsibility in identifying issues, but it brings about a high level of community input on recommendations and advice for local and regional use of the resources. This can somehow contribute to problem solving, and could further achieve natural resource management goals, as well as to protect the interests of communities.
Are you currently mentoring girls in STEM? As part of my PhD programme, I ran interactive workshops to engage school students and communities on the role they play in protecting themselves and their neighbours from flooding in UK communities. I was also a STEM ambassador for STEMNET UK where I helped to engage and enthuse young people about STEM. Also, I currently serve as a voluntary mentor with Moremi Initiative Leadership Empowerment and Development (MILEAD) Program, which identifies and invites young African women and girls to take part in a year-long development program. I have been mentoring some girls out of the African Academy of Science. This year, I have been invited to give a talk at the annual camp where girls from different countries are invited to be mentored as a group.
As we celebrate the International Day of the Girl and Women in Science, are we doing enough for girls in STEM? I think we are doing quite a bit. It may not be enough but there are definitely a lot of initiatives which are focused on getting the girl in STEM, and not just in Africa, even elsewhere. We are gaining a lot of traction. I feel like women are being supported a lot. But I also feel like our agenda is missing the input of men. I think we should include male voices in our agenda. I am sure some men assume that when we meet to talk about girls in STEM, it is a feminist agenda, and become negative about it. I think having men in the conversation will contribute to an improved outlook. I also think there is a lot more mentorship is required for women pursuing higher studies or demanding careers. If you are single, there is the presupposition that you will never get married. Before I went for my PhD, my mother asked me to get married first, because otherwise, it would be difficult for me to get married. When you get married and start a family, it is difficult to pursue higher education because of the demands of the family. Being a woman in this field, in a foreign country with different cultures, and coming from a developing country, is also tough. Some men I met were not so easy to associate with in an academic setting, and at times, did not value my input in the academic environment.
If you had the chance to make a change in your home country, what would you do? I would restructure the education system. I believe children do not have the right insight into career choices. I would also wish for people to have more concern and respect for our environment. We should not be dying because of Cholera and flooding in the 21st century. We should deal with the causative issues such as desilting and clearing drainage systems filled with rubbish. It should not take a major flooding and death incidents before we take action.
What is your favorite quote? God said it and I believe it. That settles it!
Any hobbies? Sleeping (Haha!), watching movies, I love to cook and organize activities for family and under-privileged kids during holidays, yes cooking.
Parting shot? Never be discouraged. Follow your dreams and do what excites and motivates you. Be a woman of substance. Always live up to your own morals and values such as humility and respect.
More about Selina: Selina is an assistant lecturer in Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, She then attended the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) to study Natural Resource Management and majored in Fisheries and Watershed Management. After serving as a Teaching Assistant at KNUST, Selina obtained a Swedish Institute Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree programme in Sustainable Water Management (Ecological Engineering) at Kristianstad University in Sweden, where she passed with distinction. Selina pursued a second master’s degree in European Inland Water Quality Assessment at Mälardalen University, also in Sweden. Selina has a PhD programme in Sustainable Urban Drainage. Visit her webpage for more information.