Mandingha Kosso MOANDA née ETOKA-BEKA is a graduate from Marien NGOUABI University of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) with a PhD in Molecular Biology and Applied Immunology. She is currently the youngest PhD lecturer at the Faculty of Science in her university. Her research area is oriented towards studying tropical neglected diseases and malaria.
While doing her PhD, Mandingha had the opportunity to be selected for the prestigious scholarship of the Young African Leaders Initiative, YALI, a program initiated by his Excellency President Barack OBAMA to train potential future young African Leaders in particular tracks. Through this program, Mandingha attended Florida International University where she followed the Public Management Track.
Being passionate with science and wanting to share her passion with others and also to get more women involved in STEM, Mandingha applied to be a Next Einstein Forum, NEF, Ambassador in order to impact more people in her community. She was again fortunate to be selected in this prestigious organization. Having the “hat” of science ambassador for her country, Mandingha organized the Africa Science Week, an initiative of the NEF, and had the support of the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation Technology, of the Republic of Congo, to make the event successful. More than a 1,000 people participated in this event. The Africa Science Week was advertised on local media and this increased the program’s impact. A lot of positive feedback came from this event, whether it be from participants themselves and/or parents of children participants asking for more creative activities which will positively impact their children.
Mandingha recently founded Association La Culture de l’Excellence. Through this association, she hopes to impact even more young people like her in her community and in the world at large.
Why did you get into STEM?
At an early age, I was impressed by my mother – she is a retired paediatrician today. I was amazed by what she was doing. She was saving lives. People were always grateful to her for what she did – that tricked me a lot. I wanted to serve my community, like she did. I also wanted to be a hero like her and to save lives. That is how I started nourishing this dream of studying science.
The fact that I was a studious student helped me. I had good grades in school – particularly in science subjects. However, due to many social reasons, I didn’t pursue medicine anymore. At first, it was difficult for me to get over it. I then chose to pursue a career which would keep me close to medicine. This is how I ended up doing scientific research.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
I wouldn’t say I have achieved anything yet. But I am working hard at it. And I hope with the association I am putting in place (Association la Culture de l’Excellence) – which will train, accompany and mentor children and interest them in STEM – I will get there.
In my free time, I share my experience and advice abandoned children in orphanages or from the poor neighbourhood close to my church). I believe these kids have no role model like I had my mother to look up to. I hope that, one day, I will get to impact them in the right way.
And I believe I am in the right direction. Recently, I had some real feedback which got me mesmerized:
- After a biology lecture at my university, in a hall of 1000 students, one girl walked up to me in the end. She told me she was surprised and happy to see that I was their lecturer. She saw me on TV and was impressed to see such an engaged young woman, in science, in Congo. This encouraged her to choose to pursue science after high school. She asked me if I could be her mentor.
- I once went to an NGO which often supports me, and met one of the teens who lived in the orphanage I often went to. She was happy to see me and could not stop jumping up and down. I asked what she was doing there. She said she worked hard at school and was the best student out of all orphanages in Brazzaville, and was selected for a scholarship which will cover her studies from high school to university. The NGO was helping her to get her documents ready – passport and all – as she had to travel to a different country.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
Back then, a lot of people often tried to discourage me when I was doing my PhD. Apparently, long studies are not meant for women. Fortunately for me, I had a solid support team at home. This helped a lot and I kept on going forward.
Today, the challenge is setting up the association. I have two major challenges:
- getting a place which can accommodate us, my colleagues and I at a very fair price,
This is not easy. For now, my investment comes from my savings and my husband’s contribution. He is my number one support and helps me a lot with the kids at the orphanages. But just with the two of us as funders for now, things are going very slowly.
What is your advice to budding women in STEM?
Nothing is impossible. Only “the sky is the limit”. When you have a dream, when you want to do science, nobody but yourself can stop you. Just work hard. Don’t mind about the negative attitude or negative people around you. They will get you nowhere. Surround yourself with positive people and pursue your dream.