Kenyan architect towering in Rwanda
Josephine Mwongeli, 32, was instrumental in revamping the vibrant Architecture department at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology. She is now it’s acting dean.
Josephine Mwongeli is a simple, petite and comely woman and you may dismiss her academic prowess.
Bust she is no ordinary Kenyan. The 32-year-old architect has earned the respect and friendship of the Rwandan people because of her dedication and excellence.
Josephine Mwongeli is not only a gifted Kenyan architect, but she was also instrumental in revamping the vibrant Department of Architecture at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (Kist) in Rwanda.
She is now the acting Dean at the Faculty of Architecture and Environmental Design at the institute.
So who is this exemplary woman?
From a very strict childhood in Mutyambua in Makueni County, Josephine beat the odds to make it through the architectural field.
"My mum never allowed us girls to play and on many occasions, she would throw away our toys. We only got the freedom we desired when we visited our grandparents. While there, my favourite activity was playing the makanika (mechanic) to repair bikes. Interestingly these are the skills I am now using in Leuven, Belgium. I rented a bike last week to get things done quicker," she writes in this email interview from Belgium.
It was this determination to be like the boys that drove her into Architecture.
"I wanted to do something challenging and I worked hard in high school to ensure I got the cut-off points for the course at the university. I was happy when I scored an A-plain," says Josephine an old girl of Precious Blood Secondary School, Kilungu.
In 1996, Josephine joined the University of Nairobi, where she studied a Bachelors degree in Architecture.
She graduated in 2005 with a Second Class Honours, Upper Division. She says she chose Architecture because few women had dared venture into it. After graduating, she had a stint at various blue chip firms before landing at Kist in May 2009.
Says Josephine: "I was tasked with setting up the department. It was a challenge because we had to organise workshops and do the campus master plan within the first two weeks of May. Afterwards, I had to start studio classes."
The department was established in May 2008 and in January the following year, they had their first intake. By October 2009, the department had only four staff and they embarked on programme reviews to establish how they wanted the department to move on.
Last year March, her hard work paid off and she was appointed to her current position. Being the dean of Rwanda’s first university to offer Architecture has been one of Josephine’s greatest moments in her profession. She has managed to knit together all staff members and students into an interesting and lively academic community.
She shares about her achievements: "My moment came when I led the architectural department in the 9th graduation ceremony at Kist University, just two days after I had been appointed the acting Dean of the faculty. It was amazing."
Last year, she also led a delegation of the Faculty of Architecture and Environmental Design in Venice, Italy and won the ‘teaching innovation’ prize.
Though riding high, she admits that she’s had some challenges.
"When I first took up this position, I there was a lot of administrative work to do. It was hectic but I managed, thanks to my great team of staff and students. I have now found my balance and everything is sailing smoothly," she says proudly.
Josephine says her motivation comes when she puts a smile in the faces of future professionals in the infant construction industry in Rwanda.
Says Josephine: "I feel proud when I see Rwanda acquire its own architects, who can find local solutions to their problems."
So how is the experience working in such a department in a foreign country?
"It is great, challenging and rewarding at the same time. Because it’s still a young department, there is a lot to do and learn. There is also a wide information gap within the construction industry in Rwanda," says the driven architect.
On her personal side, Josephine is married to Justus Kyalo Mativo, an architect, with whom she has a daughter, Noella.
"We met at the university and he was then the chairman of the Architectural Students Association. Our daughter was born on the Christmas of 2007 in Kigali, hence the name," she explains.
Surprisingly, their daughter still has no surname as yet since they thought it wise, to let her choose a name for herself when she is old enough.
Says Josephine: "We really don’t mind what she will chose. It could be Kenyan, Kamba, Rwandese or even French. It’s her choice."
Currently, Josephine is on study leave and is pursuing a one-year Masters degree course in Human Settlements at Katholieke University in Leuven, Belgium.
First is the balancing act.
Early last year, the small team developed programme specifications for three new programmes — Creative Design, Construction Management, and Real Estate and Valuation.
Challenging and rewarding