An interview with Steve Misati, Stem Prize winner 2022

Steve shares his learnings, reflections and progress, looking back over the year since he won The Stem Prize 2022.

It’s been almost a year since you won the prize. How are you, and how is YouthPawa project going?

Hi Millie! Thanks for having me here. I’m doing good. A couple of challenges here and there, but that’s what forms life. That’s what makes life important. Basically, I’ve been good. YouthPawa has been good. We’ve made some strides. We’ve moved some steps forward. Everything is fine, and thank God for that!

You mentioned some challenges, Steve. Would you feel comfortable sharing what some of those challenges have looked like?

The biggest challenge since starting the project is the need for more information and awareness out there about mangroves. People know what they’ve been taught in schools, but they haven’t really experienced them first-hand. Trying to educate people about how important these ecosystems are for their communities living adjacent to the ocean has been challenging. But we’ve managed to work our way around that. We’ve developed some strategies to enable us to reach more people and educate them about mangroves, and hopefully, they’ll join us as we continue restoring them.

I remember the first capacity building training you attended was a residential training programme in Lamu facilitated by the Mangrove Action Project, and you shared that you’d learnt that you weren’t planting mangroves in quite the right way.

Well, I always thought that mangroves thrive in muddy areas. But actually, mangroves really don’t need that much mud. They can thrive in dry areas within close proximity to the ocean. That was one thing I had to unlearn.

I also had to teach my community about that too. Where I work, when the high tides turn, the area becomes flooded with ocean water, so it is usually very muddy. One species of mangroves works best in very muddy areas – the species is called Rhizophora mucronata, and it’s the one really thriving in Mombasa. The other thing I also learnt was that mangroves rely on salt water, but the facilitator at the Mangrove Action Project told us that the more salt there is, the more stressful it is for these amazing plants to grow. As much as they adapt to saline environments, it’s really stressful. In the nursery, we are being advised to use fresh water instead of salt water in the first three months. When the seedlings are sprouting, that’s when we start introducing the saltwater. After all, mangroves grow in saline environments, but a little salt is better than mud and salt. That’s the other thing I had to unlearn, which was pretty confusing at first! Especially trying to pass this information on to my community. What I knew about mangroves was what I’d been taught, so bringing this new information was a bit of a challenge. But now they’ve seen the changes and how the mangroves are thriving, recording a 90% success rate in every activation we do. They started accepting those concepts, and so far, so good!

I remember you telling me how challenging it was to persuade the older generations of your knowledge when they were more experienced than you. How did you overcome that?

The training I attended in Lamu provided amazing resources that were translated from English into Swahili and into the local community’s Swahili languages, too. I could show them examples from the Philippines where this way of planting mangroves had really worked. Explaining and breaking down the scientific aspects of mangroves into a language the community understands was really beneficial. I realised that if there is evidence, people tend to believe it. I had evidence!

How have you found working with The Iris Project in a trust-based, unrestricted way? How has this felt as a grantee?

I believe that trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships. For a relationship to thrive well, the aspect of trust is crucial regardless of how you are related to different parties. For me, it’s been an awesome journey with not much pressure. You’ve trusted me to work on my own timeline. After doing something, I like sharing the achievement, but I’m free to work how I want to. The project is mine. I understand more about this project. You provide the resources and the trust to make the project viable. At the end of the day, it’s a win-win for both of us. The trust method is very much ok! I would advise other organisations funding young people to use this approach. This gives us the freedom to explore as much creativity into our projects.

Steve, can you speak to the mentorship aspect of the prize? How has that experience been for you over the last nine months? 

I really don’t have the right words to say. I’m really grateful. I usually chat with my mentors any time of the day. We have these monthly calls where we catch up. Before we catch up about the projects, we chat about other activities we’ve been engaging in, or school work or community work. Before I do a project activity, we usually have a call. These calls motivate me, and hearing the words ‘Go, Steve, go!’ is important to me. I believe everyone needs a mentor. I’ve done a lot. I’ve made steps I was afraid to make with them holding my hand and showing me that it is possible to do it. Honestly, Yazid and Liz allowed me to see the hope, determination and zeal inside myself.

What advice do you have for aspiring individuals or projects in your field?

I advise them to go for it! Follow your passion. Just so you know – the rest will attend to itself. If I can do it, anybody can do it. It’s possible. And it’s your turn. So go for it. It’s never too late to become what you always wanted to be in the first place. There will always be challenges and hurdles along the way. But if you set goals for yourself, focus on them and go for them, you can do it. Go for whatever you want in life. Don’t listen to negative angles from different people, and do you!

Finally, Steve, I know you have some exciting things coming up for yourself and YouthPawa?

Yes, lots of exciting things! Youth Pawa is really growing. We aren’t stopping anytime soon. We are shifting to other parts of the country, too. And God willing, to other parts of the world. We are bringing in aspects of climate and environment education, as well as mangroves. So, with YouthPawa, there is a bright future ahead of us.

Personally, there is a lot coming up for me too. I’ve been invited to the ChangeMakers for the Planet Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, where twenty amazing young people have been invited too for the summit. There is also the Global Youth Climate Summit in Tanzania that I will be attending later on in the year.  These opportunities allow me to learn, interact, collaborate, exchange ideas, and build a bigger network with amazing young people worldwide.

Find out more about YouthPawa HERE


Iris Prize 2024

Applications are now open.