My Stem Story

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Florence Mutonyi D’ujanga From Uganda

I was born on 29th July 1954 to Mr. & Mrs. Damasco Kiondo to a family of nine children, in one of the remote villages of Uganda. My father was a secondary school teacher, a graduate in English literature, whose English vocabulary had an accent of the “Queen's English”, and it is this that motivated me so much at that young age to have a passion for studies.

In the early sixties, when I was in primary school, it was brought to our attention that the Americans had had their first mission to the moon — the Apollo mission. My dream was that one day I would also reach the moon. I remember telling my parents about it and wondering what one can do to go to the moon. I vividly remember my father's answer: he said that if I worked hard at my arithmetic numbers (mathematics) then it would make it possible for me to do science, which was required for those going to the moon. Having realized that to go to the moon required science, which in turn depended on mathematics, I never looked back, I devoted myself to working at those numbers and I actually excelled in all my studies.

The hope that someday I would go to the moon, was my driving force even when I reached secondary school where sciences, particularly physics and mathematics, were considered a discipline that was for boys. There were discouragements from teachers too, who felt that I might be wasting my time pursuing sciences and failing it in the end, because there were subjects for ladies that were not so taxing, which I should have taken. As for my classmates, particularly the boys, they made such discouraging remarks like “you are masculine” or “you will never get married” and the like, which could have made me give up. Indeed, a number of girls gave up. As for me, the motivation of reaching the moon kept me focused.

This is what has kept me afloat in this discipline which many perceive as only for males. I have been a physics lecturer for 30 years and was Head of the Physics Department at Makerere University for over eight years. Currently, I have attained the rank of Associate Professor of Physics and my current research is in Space Physics. One can say that attaining my childhood dream of reaching the moon is not so far-fetched after all.