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In recognition of his own past, Azwinndini Muronga has brought STEM enrichment opportunities to youth in remote, underserved towns and villages.

Growing up in a government-segregated “Black homeland” in South Africa, Azwinndini Muronga began looking after his family’s livestock at the age of 6. On school days, his mother would take the sheep, goats and cows to the forest to graze at noon. “When I came back in the afternoon, I would quickly change my school uniform and dash to the forest to take over,” he says. 

It was there that his love for science began. 

“Come sunset, you’re starting to take your sheep, your goats, your cows, heading home,” he says. “And from time to time, one of the goats, the sheep, will venture into the forest. And you cannot go home without all your livestock—then you will be in trouble.” 

He says he found his way those nights “guided by the moon and the stars.” 

He was afraid to wander through the dense foliage. “But then, you know, the music of the insects from the forest” calmed him down, along with “the beauty of the Milky Way—because in the villages, you don’t have street lights—you can see almost everything,” Muronga says.

When he arrived home, he completed his homework by candlelight or parrafin lamp. 

During high school, Muronga took his books with him to the fields and forests where the livestock grazed. He studied in tall trees, where he could see the animals from above and his books in the sunlight.

Those studies, and those early nights following the stars, started him on a path that would eventually lead him across oceans, to the United States and Germany, then back to South Africa, where he is now dean of science at Nelson Mandela University. 

Read the full article in Symmetry Magazine

Illustration by Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Corinne Mucha

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