Today on Pearls And Heels we have Romana Mbinya. Romana Mbinya is an Agriculturist by profession who believes everybody has the right to live a dignified life. Her principles of life are strongly anchored to the Acumen Manifesto “It starts by standing with the poor, listening to voices unheard, and recognizing potential where others see despair”. And because of this she has lived and worked with rural communities for over 10 years devoting her capacities towards fighting poverty and food and nutrition insecurity. She applauds many organizations that have invested in fighting poverty and food insecurity in Africa and the world at large. She is currently a 2016 Acumen East Africa Fellow. Romana says “Acumen has given me a great opportunity to fellowship with persons who like me have chosen to do what is right than what is easy”.
1. Describe your typical day?
My typical day for me starts at 6.30 am and because there are no jams in the village I leave my house for work at 7.30 am. Agriculture extension is demand driven therefore once I am in the office I basically take an hour to address any emerging issues as reported by farmers and other officers. Then together with my teammates, we ride our way to the wards/villages either for home and farm visits or to train farmer groups. Once in a while, we carry out crop demonstrations in collaboration with other public or private institutions. By 3 pm we return to the office to compile back-to-office reports then proceed home at 5 PM
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a Human Resource Officer since working with people was a great admiration for me. I wanted to be in a position where I could influence, motivate and grow people. My university admission took me to Agriculture Education and Extension class and my career took a different direction. Though I am not an HR officer now I am happy my work has allowed me to interact with, influence and grow people from all walks of life.
- If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I will still pursue Agriculture and Rural Development. The only thing that I would do is take a course in development management with a major in Poverty studies. I strongly feel that is my call in life and my wish is to further my studies along that line.
- What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
One needs sufficient training in agriculture, good communication skills and an innovative mind.
- As a professional how is it working in a rural area? Is it open to what you do or what could be better?
I work in rural areas and therefore life is a little bit slow. The beauty of rural areas is that relationships and interactions are informal. So approaching anyone for a chat is okay unlike in Nairobi where people treat each other with a lot of suspicions. I love semi-casual wear which best befits my mode of transport (boda boda and Probox) which is the commonest in rural areas of Nyanza. Rural areas can be better with good roads and sufficient water supply.
- What motivates you?
A word of ‘thank you’ from my farmers is enough to refuel my energies and commitment to serving the rural communities. I am also motivated by our Pope who has sought to take a less-traveled religious path in a quest for justice, equity and religious tolerance.
- How do you define success?
As an agriculturist success to me is a vibrant and inclusive community free of poverty, hunger and other forms of social and economic inequalities. As an individual success to me is not about the millions I have in my saving rather it is the number of lives that I have touched.
8. Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My great source of inspiration is my late grandmother. Her quest for education, her resilience towards life and her value for a family impacted me a lot in me. Even when there was nothing to cook at home she would always tell us that by sunset we will eat meat. And honestly, its such resilience and positivity that has propelled me to where I am now.
- What is your favourite aspect of your job?
My job allows me to have one-on-one interaction with the farming communities. It’s only when you visit households that you appreciate the tireless effort our farmers invest to put food on our tables and market shelves. Again my job allows me to experience the realities of rural poverty and that keeps me thinking about how best we can make rural investment more responsive to the need of our communities.
- What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
Hard work is key to success but it won’t keep you there. And therefore for me, it is your personal values. Values shape your passion and character. And therefore if you know them and live by them then you are the greatest of all.
- What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
Working in rural is fun but one has to accept working in a less than the glamorous environment. Agriculture thrives on research and therefore one has to be ready to continuously take training opportunities in order to keep abreast with what’s new globally. ICT skills are a must for starters since that is where every sector has moved to.
- What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
A while ago when I worked as an officer in charge of a division I participated in a program that was providing farmers with subsidized farm inputs. One of the beneficiaries of the program was a blind farmer. At the end of the season together with a team from the Ministry of Agriculture headquarters, we visited the villages including where this blind farmer came from. To my amazement he walked us around his farmer and with his hands he confirmed to the team that in his lifetime he had never harvested a maize crop with such big cobs. What brought me to tears was when he said “people have known me as a food beggar but now they will be the ones begging me for food”.
- What makes you happy?
Children make me very happy. They are very genuine in their thoughts of how life is supposed to be. Therefore, listening to them leaves me laughing and imagining how our world would be if we were all a child at heart.
- What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
Reading research publications and motivational books and watching comedies. I would want to travel more in future.
- Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
I am looking forward to being part of a global innovation team that is dedicated to fighting poverty and food insecurity and empowering rural communities. I hope to invest in vocational training targeting vulnerable women in my rural areas.
If you would like to interact with Romana you can find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/romana.mbinya and on Linkedin.