In her childhood home in Lusaka, Zambia, Catherine Sakala remembers most vividly her mother’s many plants.
“We grew up in a city, but my mother always kept a garden,” Catherine says. “So even if we didn’t have money, we had food.”
Catherine, now a senior biologist in the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, finds the rich ecosystems that surround her fascinating. In addition to her work as a biologist, Catherine is volunteering with the Zambian Women in Agricultural Research and Development (ZaWARD) to share her passion for environmental science with young adults across the country.
“When most people think of agriculture, they think of farmers,” Catherine says. “But it’s so much more than just farming.”
While volunteering with ZaWARD, Catherine works to educate students about the breadth of agribusiness careers, organizing workshops in local schools and inviting scientists from across the field to share their experiences with students. It’s these interventions that Catherine hopes will instill in the next generation a love of nature as keen as her own.
To do so, Catherine first reaches out to scientists across the country before pairing them with local schools.
“I like to structure the sessions with an opening presentation by one of the scientists, followed by a question-and-answer period,” Catherine says.
“It’s also important to integrate small group and one-on-one discussions into these workshops, too, to give students the opportunity to open up, to ask questions and to be creative.”
One student group, for instance, wrote a poem about agriculture following one of the sessions, which inspired still more of their classmates to take an interest in the field or, at the very least, to ask, “Why agriculture?”
“We have to reach these students when they’re young,” Catherine stresses. “It’s at this age that they are curious, that they are excited.”
The success of the workshops, Catherine explains, stems from a deep humility, both on the part of the volunteer scientists and of the students.
“It’s important to remember that we don’t know everything, that there is still more to learn, and that, if we are patient, others can teach us something,” Catherine says.
Catherine also attributes the program’s success to a focus on putting others’ needs ahead of her own.
“Volunteering isn’t just about me giving back,” Catherine says. “It’s about providing a platform for everyone to give back.”
That collective spirit is what drives Catherine and her fellow volunteers to put in the time and to inspire students day after day.
“It’s exciting to see people coming together to make their community a better place,” Catherine says. “They’re creating something good, together.”
Interested in Catherine’s work? Learn how you can volunteer to serve Africa on our #YALIServes page.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.