Valentin’s story: From herding livestock to climate change campaigner

Valentin Olyang’iri

Valentin Olyang’iri knows about the pressures climate change is exerting on people in rural Tanzania – he grew up herding livestock there. Now, thanks to a University of Manchester scholarship, he has the skills to do something about it.

In recent times rainfall has become less predictable in East Africa. Prolonged droughts and degrading farmland have a serious effect on local farmers and pastoralists who herd livestock for a living. Each group needs access to land and this shrinking resource often brings the two groups into conflict.

Having grown up in this environment, Valentin understands the community and felt that, with the right skills, he would be in a position to change things for the better. However, in Tanzania there wasn’t a course he could do that could give him the skills he needed.

But thanks to The University of Manchester’s Equity and Merit Scholarship Scheme, Valentin was able to complete an MSc in Environmental Governance this year, giving him the skills to lobby government and educate his communities in more sustainable practices.

As part of the scholarship, Valentin’s expenses were covered by a donor and he is now highly motivated to go back and address the problems in his home country. “This scholarship means a lot to my whole community,” he says. “When I go back I will have a lot to offer them, to teach communities through training and the media and engage with policymakers.”

This activity includes talking to people about the importance of growing more drought-resistant crops, and of changing the culture of keeping large herds of livestock as a mark of prestige, rather than to meet need. He also wants to address the laws and environmental policies in Tanzania to take into account the reality of a more unpredictable climate.

In a country where 80% of the people live in rural areas, this is a huge community to whom Valentin intends to give a voice.

And he believes that only in Manchester could he have gained the knowledge necessary to carry out these plans. “I could not fund my postgraduate education in Tanzania,” he says. “The programme I took is not found in my country or even elsewhere in Africa. Manchester is a world university and I’ve been able to mingle with people and make friends from all over the world.”

This scholarship means a lot to my whole community. When I go back I will have a lot to offer them, to teach communities through training and the media and engage with policymakers
Valentin Olyang’iri

Equity and Merit Scholarships are awarded on the basis of the candidates demonstrating how their degree will enable them to benefit their country when they return home. So the funding for Valentin, in this case through the generous support of Josie Rowland, is not just an investment in his own education, as he explains: “It is a privilege for me to be selected for the programme. I never dreamt of being able to go abroad and it meant a lot to my family and friends. I’m from a remote area where a lot of people haven’t been to school, but this has inspired others and everyone is asking about my experiences.”

Valentin’s story is the second in a series of four videos and articles to mark the tenth anniversary of the Equity and Merit Scholarship programme at Manchester. The scholarships are jointly funded by the University and its donors. The University covers the tuition fee in full and the generosity of donors covers students’ living costs, flights to the UK and visas.

Since it began, a total of 203 scholarships have been awarded to exceptional individuals who have demonstrated both academic excellence and a commitment to the economic or social development of their home communities.

View Fiona’s story here.

View Felix's story here.

Read Leon's story here.

Visit the dedicated Equity and Merit pages on our website or Facebook for more information.

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