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Experiential learning in agricultural science and natural resources management

Forget Shareka and friends

As humans we can learn critical lessons from the experiences of fellow humans in agriculture science and natural resource management especially as the world has become “complex, chaotic, and contested”.  YPARD Zimbabwe is excited for the chance to speak to Miss Forget Shareka on her career in agricultural science and natural resources management.  One lesson is this: We must fight to be dogmatic and unapologetic in doing what we love best – follow our interest, passion, and choices. 

Enjoy the interview below:             

Raymond:  Tell us about yourself and your background.

Forget: My name is Forget Shareka. I am from Mbire District formerly known as Lower Guruve in Zimbabwe. I was born in 1994 in Chinhoyi. My parents passed away when I was of a tender age.  This led to my being brought up by my paternal grandmother in my rural home. Currently, I am studying Agricultural Science and Natural Resources Management (ASNRM) at EARTH University.  I am a member of the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) Association (CAMA). I am also the Environmental Manager of the piggery agro-business project PROCACE S.A (Production de Carne de Cerdo).

I have served in the community and held the following positions: Girl Child Network President (2007-2009), Junior Senator (2008) and Junior Member of Parliament for Mbire constituency in 17th session (2010). I am also the former District Secretary for Young People’s Network on Sexual Reproductive Health HIV and AIDS (YPNSRHHA), child protection committee representative for Mbire District and was the chairperson at ward level in the same committee. 

I envision a world in which communities live free from poverty and hunger, promote agricultural technology, take responsibility for the environment and communities in which everyone lives. I dream of a society in which all neighbors are treated equally and live in peace and harmony. I believe this will promote societal development. It is because of this conviction that I became a leader- to make the changes I desire to see, in order to empower the society, bring hope where there is none and make things better in the society. I believe I should make an everlasting impact that will be experienced even in my absence.

Raymond: Have you always been attracted to agriculture and natural resources management?

Forget: Well, at first I was not attracted to it at all.  During my primary school years, I was thinking of pursuing a career as an airline hostess. However, within the first two years of my education in secondary school (prior to being examined for my General Certificate of Education at Ordinary Level) I was confident enough that I could make a good bank manager by profession.  All these hopes and dreams were buried by the need to make a world a better place to live for humans, animals and flora.

Raymond: How did you end up studying agricultural sciences and natural resources management at Earth University?

Forget: I was dragged or rather can I say pushed in the agricultural field by the need to make a change on animal welfare in my community. As I mentioned before it was not my dream at first to be in this field but after realizing that I can save domestic animals from mistreatment by owners I began to look for a better place to equip me with the technical skills to curb this problem and ensure animal welfare. Fortunately, I found that Earth University would offer me more than I expected and wanted to do: agricultural science, which encompasses many aspects in agriculture as well as the management of natural resources.

It happened like this: One afternoon, during the  vacations after my second term in secondary school, I was at home sitting under the shade of the mango tree on the family compound when our neighbor came to ask for Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer from my grandmother. He wanted very little amounts of this fertilizer to treat his oxen’s wound. I accompanied him to his kraal because I wanted to see the treat process for myself.  Upon our arrival, he scratched the wound with a knife and put the fertilizer on the wound whilst blood oozed out of the wound. The oxen mooed and jumped outside the kraal. It nearly killed an innocent young girl who was on her way home from the borehole. I was so touched and almost cried because of this inhumane act. From there I developed a passion to be a veterinarian with the aim of teaching my community about animal welfare.

The journey was not easy at all. When school resumed I had so much misunderstandings with my teachers because I requested my academic programme be changed from Technical Graphics, a technical and practical subject to Agriculture. It took a long time for my teachers to approve of this. Because of my determination during the final year of my General Certificate of Education at Ordinary Level I enrolled for agriculture practicals and came up with a good grade in the final exam. But unfortunately, my teachers pressed me to leave the Sciences for the Arts as I failed Mathematics.  I had no choice than to accept the Arts option for the General Certificate of Education at Advanced Level. This didn’t stop me from dreaming and work hard towards my ambition. I excelled my Advanced Level final exams.

I applied to many Universities including Midlands State University, Great Zimbabwe, Ashesi University, Women University in Africa and Earth University. Although I gained admission to the first three universities I was not offered my desired programme of study. The last two universities admitted me for agriculture. Among the two institutions I chose the Earth University and there began my adventure in the agricultural world.

Raymond: What do you enjoy/like the most about Earth University when you compare with the Universities in Zimbabwe?

Forget: Agricultural universities and colleges in my home country are gradually improving to the standard of foreign institutions such as the Earth University. Earth University is a place to be should one desire to make a significant change and an impact which will last forever in the world.  It is more than an agricultural university so to say.

I really like the fact that we learn by doing (Aprender haciendo), we are being transformed to be leaders of change, equipped with agro-entrepreneurship skills through real business course in which we as students are given the opportunity to do a real business project for a year. Furthermore, each student graduates with a profile with ten strong principles which include: leadership, ethical values, social and environmental conscience, teamwork, effective communication, auto learning, solid technical skills, agro- entrepreneurship skills as well as natural resources management skills.

Finally I love the student- professor relationship here. This kind of relationship makes me feel like I am not far from home in Zimbabwe.. Our professors are very humble and down to earth to shape us. They are not interested in our intelligence but rather our capacities which can make us the people we want to be in the future.

Raymond: Tell us about your first-year experience at Earth University? How did you address the challenges that you faced in your first-year experience?

Forget: In generally my first year was good and full of fantastic experiences. I felt accepted in the EARTH Community in spite of being an African and regardless of my broken Spanish by that time. I came to realize the power of working in teams with different people of different countries with different ways of thinking for the first time. Although sometimes we used to fight for the sake of producing the best out of us, we always yielded excellent results.

The first problem I faced was cultural shock. I was not used to people who use unpleasant words normally. In the first days it affected me a lot whenever I hear my fellow classmates saying to each other “Jueputa” (son of b***h) laughably. Also I had problems in pronouncing some words in Spanish and my accent was not that good. This made me feel so shy to converse with others in the whole first trimester.

In order to do away with these problems I forced myself to understand and accept cultural differences. I used to watch a lot of videos and movies on YouTube in Spanish as well as socializing and interacting with others to overcome accent problems.

Raymond: What is your assessment of the involvement of young people in agricultural sciences and natural resources management?

Forget: Well, agriculture as a job is far behind and most of young people have been taking it as a less important job resulting in their low involvement and participation in this field. They rush for white and pink collar jobs. Besides this, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about agriculture. Most of the youth out there have one story of agriculture and have not yet explored deeply into its benefits. For example there is this misconception that if one chooses agriculture as a career, people in the community, friends and relatives in some cases will assume that one will spend one’s whole life working in the field. But the reality is much different from that and a lot more promising.

Because of this fallacy the percentage of youth in agricultural sciences and natural resources management is still small.  A lot has to be done. A light ought to be shed on the positive and the other hidden part of agriculture. Misconceptions behind it should be corrected. Agricultural discipline must be prioritized in order to promote youth involvement in agriculture as a way of boosting livelihoods, covering unemployment gap and promote rural agricultural development and sustainability.

Forget Shareka

Raymond: In your opinion, what is experiential learning? What does experiential learning bring to the theory and practice of agriculture and natural resource management?

Forget: To me experiential learning is a process of learning that supports or helps students in applying their knowledge and conceptual understanding to real-world problems or situations through reflection on doing. In this type of learning skills, knowledge and experience are acquired outside of the traditional academic classroom setting. For example here we have work experience on Wednesdays and Saturdays as well as field classes where students go and do things in practical, so that is how I would define experiential learning.

This type of learning brings concrete experience, lays a strong foundation in practical experiences, reflective observations in field, conceptualization as well as active experimentation in agricultural sciences and natural resources management.

Raymond: How can students of agricultural sciences and natural resources management a remain competitive in the global community?

Forget: The ways I think students in this field can remain competitive are to:

  •  Come up with innovative ideas with great impact in agriculture which can last for a long time, differentiating and making them unique from others.
  • Move on with fast approaching technology but with appropriate precautions-considering the impact thereof on our planet.
  • Adopt climatic change resilience and sustainable development.

Raymond: What advice do you have for students who are contemplating on the degree path in higher education?

Forget: My advice is they should remain focused, hardworking and concentrate much on their career bearing in mind that if they do not go after what they want, they will never have achieve their goals (hard work and perseverance is the key). Don’t lose hope on agriculture for it doubtlessly is the future and is promising. Whenever opportunities in this field present themselves the youth must try to seize, capitalize and make good use of them.  Again I say: Never stop dreaming; try to come up with new ideas to innovate and improve agriculture each and every day.

Raymond: What are your future aspirations? What are you doing to make them a reality?

Forget: I am dreaming and working hard towards the establishment of an integrated farm model in my rural home in Zimbabwe in three years’ time. I would like to use that farm for sustainable agricultural demonstrations and making it my own business.

As I am expecting great things and transformations to happen as I have always dreamed , right now I am doing a lot of researches on all the things I want to include in that farm. For instance, I took a free course to learn more on the closed farming system which is a very important thing in an integrated farm. I have been paying visits to nearby farmer associations here who have integrated farms to see how they make things happen. At home I started to put some things in place for example I bought a heifer cow.