Youth Month 2022: Sarah Kandolo

Youth Month 2022: Sarah Kandolo

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the youth of the NRF who are working towards achieving the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the young NRF-affiliated researchers who are helping to ensure a sustainable planet for all.

Sarah Kandoloisa Master’s student in Food Science at the University of Pretoria (UP). She received NRF funding for her Honours studies and is currently funded for her Master’s.

This is her story…

I am of Congolese (DRC) nationality; my family has lived in South Africa for more than 15 years. I completed my primary, high school, undergraduate, and current postgraduate studies in the same province (Gauteng). I grew up in Elandspark, which is a small suburb in the south of Johannesburg, close to the many factories and industries. My family consists of five members: my father, a mechanical engineer; my mother, a fashion designer; and my three siblings, all of whom have completed their tertiary studies.

My family has always been adventurous – as children, we enjoyed travelling to zoos, museums, markets, treks, and road trips, and we continue to do so today. Such activities brought us closer as a family. Most importantly, these experiences broadened our view of life and its possibilities. Because my parents are in two different disciplines, they have always instilled in us a sense of creativity and the ability to dream big. This has changed the way we think about our lives. I consider myself an adventurous African since I enjoy discovering “hidden gems” around me, such as the numerous historical places located in Pretoria’s CBD or the world-famous food enterprises in the surrounding area. In my spare time I enjoy going on city and mountain hikes, reading, having fascinating talks with people, photography, and videography (editing).

I’ve always been fascinated by the complexity (science) of food: what it’s made of, how it’s prepared, why we eat it, and how it affects our health, so I began looking for universities that offered food-related degrees or could answer my inquiries. The University of Pretoria, for example, was able to provide me with the essential information on a degree topic like food science, hence I started my academic career there. Yes, pursuing a career in food science has been the path I’ve envisioned for myself growing up because of my interest in food and spending most of my time in the kitchen from an early age.

As an NRF beneficiary, I was able to study for a longer period and it was a great way for me to build my professional networks, increase my career aspirations, and improve my academic performance.

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

Yes, my parents couldn’t afford to send all four of their children to university. This was difficult for everyone, and as a result, I had to take a year off from my college studies (3rd year) owing to financial constraints (historical debt). To help with the financial responsibilities at home, I felt obligated to look for a job. Despite the interruption to my academics, I was able to overcome this challenge by first adopting a positive attitude toward the situation. And it was through this experience that I formed my tenacity, perseverance, and character.

What is your research focus/area of expertise?

My current research focuses on plant protein derived from cowpeas and Bambara groundnuts. These plant foods are grown and consumed throughout the world, but they are underutilized due to a lack of knowledge about what they are made of, as well as their nutritional and functional properties.

The United Nations identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure “…a better and more sustainable future for all…” by 2030. Which of these goals are you addressing through your research, or in your personal life?

My research is addressing SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being.

By transitioning to plant protein, which is the central focus of my research project, it is an opportunity to improve health and promote global sustainability. People are becoming more aware of the effects of climate change and agricultural practices. Food producers and consumers alike are increasingly looking for food alternatives that give diversity, have functional as well as nutritional benefits, and have lower carbon footprints. This expanding tendency provides an opportunity for the pulse sector to discover new food applications for whole pulses, as well as to produce ingredients and products that may be combined with other grains and cereals to create convenient, alternative food and industrial goods.

In my personal life, I seek to address SDG 4: Quality Education and SDG 5: Gender Equality.

I am part of a project called #TalkAboutHer which forms part of Operation Compassion South Africa (OCSA), an NPO.  #TalkAboutHer is a project comprised of female students from the University of Pretoria who encourage and elevate African women to take on leadership roles in their communities. We are enthusiastic about the project because we feel that African female leadership is authentic and unique, as seen in how our grandmothers, mothers, aunties and sisters have all contributed to community empowerment. This type of leadership is displayed through serving others, which has been shown to have a long-term positive impact on people’s lives.

Women play an important role in the long-term viability of any community and our project recognises this. It exemplifies how African women are major game changers in Africa. It symbolises how African women strengthen their communities by serving others and ensuring that everyone achieves their full potential. Our project intends to challenge the world’s perception of African women’s leadership, encourage other African women to take up leadership roles in their communities, and share untold African women’s leadership stories through video and documentation.

We want to travel across seven countries in search of untold female leadership stories within the African context. Women have taken the lead in every aspect of life, and they have excelled in those roles. We want to chronicle and video these women as they share their unsung leadership stories. This is a chance to not only raise awareness of the important work that African women do but also to learn from their experiences and view life through their eyes. Their experiences will motivate us and our peers to take up space in our leadership roles and context. Their stories will motivate women in Africa and globally to pursue a leadership vision and take action in their leadership responsibilities. African female leadership is exceptional in its collective thought. For example, the African mother not only raises her children but also mothers her community. We want the world to see the sense of connectedness in the way we do things, and this is the story we want to tell. We want to demonstrate that leadership is more than a title or position; it is also about the impact women have in their communities

What are some of your proudest achievements?

My proudest achievement is contributing to enriching the minds and lives of women and girls through the #TalkAboutHer project. Recently, we had the opportunity to have a career expo hosted by the Middleberg Care Village for the Middleberg community. This was made possible with the materials donated by UP and several faculties. The expo was engaging, interactive and fun for the children, learners and community. This made me realise that I am fulfilled when others are enriched and empowered to dream and accomplish their vision.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

I aspire to be a community-focused scientist and empower my community to achieve their goals in the best way possible  

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