Women Leading Change

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: March 8th, 2024

On International Women’s Day, we want to recognize women who are part of the EARTH community and highlight their professional development and the impact they are having on their communities. The inspiring stories of Claudia Cañas and Faith Mukami serve as an example for young women in Colombia, Kenya, and around the world.

Claudia Lorena Cañas (Class of 2023, Colombia)

During Graduation Week 2023, Claudia Lorena received two thunderous ovations. She was the recipient of both the Heliconia Award and the EARTH Award, the two highest institutional awards given to a graduating student. These awards recognize the excellence, leadership, values, and ideals of a young leader graduating from EARTH and the person best representing the University’s mission.

Claudia was an exemplary student at EARTH, but her accomplishments go beyond academics. Before beginning her university education, she worked for several years in the municipality of La Florida, which was deeply affected by the armed conflict in Colombia and still suffers from its aftermath. Claudia’s first-hand experience of her people’s difficulties has given her the strength and motivation to focus on finding real solutions for her community. Along with her mother she led the Fundación Tejiendo Paz (Weaving Peace Foundation) to support the agricultural, economic, and social development of families and women victims of the armed conflict. She also worked with the Organization of American States in the Integral Action Program against anti-personnel landmines in remote indigenous communities.

“Winning the Heliconia Award and the EARTH Award is a special recognition, reflecting the work I have poured my heart and soul into for four years. It also means a great responsibility to always work under the EARTH Graduate Profile I learned about during my studies. It is an inspiration to continue following the EARTH principles and to maintain, promote, and strengthen them – that is the greatest satisfaction,” Claudia says about her awards.

Thanks to the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at EARTH and her great ambition, Claudia was able to study at the university, where she excelled in every course, project, and challenge that was part of the Academic Program. When she first arrived at EARTH, Claudia had two dreams: to obtain her professional degree and to build a house for her family. Upon graduating, she has set her sights on additional goals and dreams of continuing to work in science and research, two of her passions, for finding solutions in the world of agricultural sciences. She also dreams of continuing her education, supporting her family, and reconnecting with the communities of La Florida municipality.

Never stop dreaming, Claudia!

Faith Mukami John (Class of 2015, Kenya)

Since graduating from EARTH in 2015, Mastercard Foundation Scholar Alumnus Faith Mukami John has dedicated her career to addressing the effects of climate change. Interested in agriculture from her youth, Faith cemented her interest in the field, and specifically around climate-smart agricultural practices during her four years at EARTH. She is passionate about her work and has a deep understanding of the challenges farmers face at this time.

During her third-year internship, Faith worked in her home country of Kenya for Equity Group Foundation, a non-profit with the aim of transforming the lives and livelihoods of African people. There she worked with smallholder farmers to unleash their production potential. “It was a great experience because it added to my knowledge of working with farmers in Costa Rica, to understand the challenges they face in the production sector,” says Faith.

Last year, Faith graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master’s degree in Carbon Management. Since graduate school, she has been working as Director of Carbon Programs at Green Earth Climate Action (GECA), and training farmers in her semi-urban community near Nairobi in the implementation of sustainable agro-practices, helping them find solutions to the challenging conditions of drought and climate fluctuations that are impacting food availability and food quality in her region. The team is now working with more than 600 farmers on training in sustainable fertilization and tillage practices, crop diversification, and with assistance planting crop-friendly trees to provide shade and decrease soil degradation.

“We are training them in climate-smart agriculture. The farmers rely on weather patterns for planting, so it is a challenge to be organized and the weather now is so unpredictable. Where we are, when we started working, there was the worst drought in Kenya, which really affected the trees the farmers planted. If the dry season extends it becomes a real issue for the farmers. Last year we had much more than the expected rainfall. Right now, the temps are so high, like 35 degrees. So, what we are doing with them, helping them retain soil quality and plant trees, this is key to their survival,” says Faith. She smiles as she reports, “The survival rate of the agro-forestry efforts have been amazingly high.” 

Faith looks back on her time at EARTH as the foundation for the important work she is doing now. Her focus is always on how she can use her education and training to help her community, making her an exemplary EARTH graduate and an inspiring young leader. Her advice for current and future students of agriculture is clear—

“Remain focused and know what you are learning is not just for your personal growth. It’s a thing to use to benefit the communities that you serve. If you have the passion, get the skills, and then use those skills to benefit those who need it. Let it be something they can learn, share the knowledge.”