This young Maasai Mara teen refuses to let science be a boys’ club.
By Zeddy Kosgei
Mary Ngerechi first walked into a science lab in 2015. It was love at first experiment.
The 14-year-old was in Grade 9 at WE’s Kisaruni Group of Schools in the Maasai Mara, Kenya. She didn’t know what to expect from science class. She had never seen a beaker or test tube before.
At the beginning of that class Mary remembers being tentative, afraid to touch anything in the lab for fear she might break the glass equipment. Her local primary school had not prepared her for this.
Her current teacher’s approach was to show—rather than tell—students the mechanics of science. The class started with an experiment: Benedict’s test for reducing sugars. The teacher slowly demonstrated each step, placing samples in the test tubes before heating the solution to a boil. Magically, the colour in the tube started to change—from light blue to a greenish hue, then to yellow, further on to an off-orange, until finally it became a muddy red. After the transformation, students were asked to repeat the experiment.
Carefully, Mary repeated the steps and saw the colours come alive, this time understanding it was because of her actions. She was transfixed—and also very relieved nothing broke.
Flash forward three years. Mary is starting Grade 12 enthralled by science; as inquisitive as she was during that first day in the lab. Her passion is such that she can no longer count how many experiments she’s done. She says the number must be somewhere in the hundreds.
With each new experiment, Mary’s confidence and skill increase. Her dedication to the field has earned her the prestige of being one of Kisaruni’s top science students. She is often called upon by her teachers to lead class experiments, while other students vie to be her lab partner.
When asked what she loves most about science, Mary gives a practical answer (tellingly, she tends to excel at the empirical component of science tests). “It makes sense to me,” she says. “It is easy for me to comprehend the formulas and, once I learn it, it’s hard for me to forget.”
Mary walks us through the experiment that first hooked her; she is concentrated. She adds a blue liquid—Benedict’s solution—to a glucose solution in a test tube and heats it. When it turns that final shade of red, she concludes there are reducing sugars present in the solution. As she explains, the solution’s elements were oxidized to carboxylic acids. “I understand why the colour changed.” She beams. Technical terms like these now fall easily off her tongue—common idioms in her vocabulary.
Mary loves science, and she’s a trailblazer for girls interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects in the Maasai Mara. She can’t help but think of other girls who might be just as keen in a lab, if given the chance. For her, Kisaruni gave her the opportunity to find her passion—without the school, she never would have known this love.
Educational resources, like Kisaruni’s fully equipped labs, help to bridge the STEM gap and ignite students’ passion for the subjects.
Outside of the classroom, Mary is part of the school’s science club, where students meet to explore science topics and further their knowledge through more experiments. Here, Mary is the mentor, guiding new club members and helping younger students with their homework.
Asked about the future, Mary confirms she will definitely be pursuing a career in the sciences after she graduates high school. She dreams of becoming a doctor. Her reason is simple: she has never seen any girl from her community pursue a medical degree. “I want to be the first, so young girls from my community can see that it can be done.”