NRF Youth Month 2024: Nombini Zingisa Gono

NRF Youth Month 2024: Nombini Zingisa Gono

This year’s Youth Month is significant as the NRF celebrates 25 Years of Research, Innovation, Impact and Partnerships. These are the stories of the youth who have not only been impacted by the NRF but who also have an impact in their own spaces – and beyond! We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Ms Nombini Zingisa Gono is currently a SANBI Groen Sebenza intern at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. She received funding from the NRF for her Honours and Master’s studies.

How did your journey start?

As someone who grew up in the rural villages of Eastern Cape, I grew up very close to nature and have seen its importance to human beings in terms of providing humans with natural resources such as water, wood, fertile soil for food etc which are basic needs for humans. However, I didn’t know that there was a specific qualification that deals with the protection and management of the environment. I only discovered this when I went to Walter Sisulu University in 2020. I was a walk-in student back then because I didn’t apply for admission the previous year. When I got there, I was introduced to BSc Environmental Science and I fell in love with it because I love nature and have been noticing some changes in the natural resources in our community. So, for me, it felt so good to study something that would later give me an opportunity to be among those managing and protecting the environment for future generations.

I was lucky to get an internship at Alfred Nzo District Municipality in 2013 just after I completed my BSc. There I was introduced to the practical work of what I studied. It was one of the most exciting experiences for me. While I was doing my internship, I fell in love with water quality monitoring as I was also working closely with municipal Environmental Health Practitioners. After that internship, I worked as a Junior Environmental Assessment Practitioner at Khuselindalo Environmental Development in Port Edward where I dived into Environmental Impact Assessment projects. My employer happened to be my mentor. But just before the end of the contract, she advised me to go back to school and further my studies.

I applied for admission to a BSc Honors programme at Nelson Mandela University and I was admitted in 2016. That’s where my journey with NRF started. NRF funded my studies for the first time and my research focused on Water Scarcity in my village. After obtaining my Honors degree, I participated in the Tourism Blue Flag Beach Programme which was implemented by WESSA.

In 2018, I was admitted for my MSc at Walter Sisulu University and again received funding from NRF through the Risk and Vulnerability Science Centre. My research for my MSc focused on the effects of land use on water quality.

Towards the end of 2019, I got accepted to the NRF-SAASTA Volunteers Programme and I was hosted by Nelson Mandela Bay Science and Technology Centre. I got a diverse experience at the science centre and being part of the volunteer programme brought massive growth in the expansion of my skillset e.g. public speaking, facilitating workshops for various groups (youth and learners), proposal writing, and research development which later resulted in my work being presented at SASTEC Conference in 2022. I also learned programme planning and implementation, to mention a few.

Currently, I’m hosted by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife under its Planning Division as a SANBI Groen Sebenza intern. I have also been doing freelance environmental audits since 2021. I am also in the process of mobilising youth in my village to start working in the Ground Truth Volunteer Programme on water quality monitoring for South African Rivers.

How has your affiliation with the NRF impacted your studies/career?

I benefited from NRF through funding for my Honours and Master’s and also through experiential training under the NRF-SAASTA Volunteers Programme.

Funding from NRF helped me further my studies which boosted my knowledge and confidence. Because NRF funded my studies, I managed to participate in other programmes that were only open to registered students such as SEAmester III (2018). I also attended conferences such as the National Global Change Conference in Polokwane (2018), the SASAQS Congress in Bela-Bela (2019), the Germany Southern Africa Summer School in Bloemfontein (2019), and the SAPECS Winter School in Stellenbosch (2019).

I am truly grateful for NRF funding because it would have not been possible for me to participate in all these wonderful programmes that helped me gain so much knowledge about Environmental Science/Management.

Under the NRF-SAASTA Volunteers Programme, I participated in experiential training as a Science Communicator at Nelson Mandela Bay Science and Technology Centre which also had a positive impact on my life and career path. It helped me grow my network as we were working closely with different stakeholders. I also participated in the National Science Week as a Science Communicator, exhibiting instruments and methods used in water quality and conducting career guidance.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

Currently, I am not studying but would like to further my studies because I missed the opportunity in 2021 when NRF offered me a scholarship for PhD but I couldn’t get admission.

Why is your work/studies important?

For my PhD, I intend to focus on water quality monitoring, particularly bioremediation, comparing the effectiveness of microfiltration and phytoremediation. I thought of this after I realised that the Knysna Lagoon is threatened by water pollution and that bioremediation is environmentally friendly. Knowing which bioremediation method could help to improve the water quality of the lagoon and other water bodies that are having pollution problems.

What are some of your proudest academic achievements?

My proudest academic achievement would definitely be my graduation with Honors and MSc because it wasn’t a walk in the park. Even though it was tough, the results were so rewarding.

I was also named one of the 50 Powerful Women for 2022 by the Mail and Guardian, under the Harvesting Woman Category. The article is available here:

I was a national finalist for the Climate Launch Pad pitch programme as well as amongst the top 15 National Finalists for the Total Energies Startupper Challenge in 2022.

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