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Scholarship Spotlight: Patricia Mativo on Disability, Gender and Climate Change

Mativo graduated with a First Class Honours in Analytical Chemistry from the Multimedia University of Kenya. She was the only one to achieve this in her graduating class and says, “I am proud because it means I represented women well and I represented persons with disabilities well.”

To add to her impressive resume before Oxford, Mativo was Vice Chairperson of the Youth Advisory Board of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Coordinator of the Global Network of Young Persons with Disabilities. She was also appointed by the Ministry of Interior and National Administration with the support of the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s office as a member of the Independent Panel of Advisors to review Kenya’s Peace Architecture.

And she hasn’t stopped since she came to Oriel College. In 2023 Mativo was recognised by Business Daily Africa as one of the top 40 under 40 women in Kenya.

Mativo started her journey to Oxford by applying for a Rhodes Scholarship. But while she was shortlisted, she didn’t make the final two. She says, laughing, “I like to believe I was number three and they had difficulties picking who was number two and three.” She adds she “was heartbroken.” However, never one to give up hope, Mativo took to social media (LinkedIn and X/Twitter) to share her story and a friend reached out and told her to apply directly to the University and that funding could be figured out later. Not only was Mativo accepted but was also offered two scholarships, eventually deciding on accepting the Mastercard Foundation AfOx scholarship.

Mativo is clear that she came to the University of Oxford and Oriel College with two goals: one, to link climate change to persons with disabilities, and two to link climate change to women.

Her master’s dissertation is titled “Disability Lens in Climate Change Mitigation”.

On the verge of fulfilling her first goal, Mativo focuses on how persons with disabilities can contribute to climate change mitigation. “I am trying to use my time at Oriel and Oxford to better understand and work on topics I am passionate about,” she says.

People with disabilities are the world’s biggest minority with an estimated 1 billion, or one in six people, having a disability. “When I have been to environmental conferences, they have a section for women or indigenous communities but there is rarely a section focussing on persons with disabilities. This is a very big stakeholder group being ignored. So, when solutions are created, they are not covered, which means these solutions will not progress in the long run because they are not meeting the needs of the largest minority group in the world,” says Mativo.

This lack of voice is what propels Mativo to research climate mitigation and persons with disabilities. She wants to look at how the latter can contribute and create inclusive solutions.

Mativo cites her own disability needs as one of the reasons she did not indicate a college preference when she applied to Oxford. “I trusted the University to wisely decide which college I should go to. They picked Oriel for me and I fell in love with it!” she says. She googled the College after knowing it was going to soon be her home and realised that the only other student from her alma mater, who had been admitted to the University, was also at Oriel College and already doing a DPhil. “Only two of us have made it to Oxford and both of us came to Oriel — what a great coincidence!” she adds.

Mativo considers Oriel College home. She credits help from the Disability Advisory Service and especially from Joe Cole, Academic Registrar, at Oriel College, with helping her navigate her way around Oxford and ensuring that there were no barriers to her getting her education and the full college experience. “Joe was incredible, I used to get emails from him asking about accessibility in various parts of the college and could always go to him to check. It made me feel so comfortable and melted my heart because I never had to be the one who approached him. He took the initiative and time to understand my needs and how the College could best serve them,” she says.

Mativo’s love for Oriel College is evident. When asked where her favourite space around the College is, she has to think about it because it is a hard choice. She finally says it is her room overlooking Third Quad. “The view from my room is magical and every time I look out of it I see something new. I am constantly taking pictures. That is my favourite place. Well, that and the MCR. Because of the community.”

In addition to Oriel, Mativo’s other community is AfOx. “AfOx was always there to help and make me feel at home. They have food I am familiar with and there is always someone I can talk my problems through with, who will help me find solutions. And above all they are my friends, the people I could go to when I had a bad day. AfOx is my community and family here,” she says.

Mativo mentions that she is happy to go back to Kenya. “I am passionate about working with the UN and my people. The thing that gives me pleasure in life, to be frank, is when I really make an impact on people’s lives.”

This article is the part of a series highlighting Oriel’s postgraduate scholars. The successes and achievements of our students are made ever more possible through the generosity of our donors whose giving encourages incredibly talented graduates from all backgrounds to study at the top-ranking university in the world and at a College that will support them through their careers.

To learn more about AfOx Mastercard Foundation Scholarship and how a contribution from you could fully fund a graduate scholar email James Fletcher, Deputy Director of Development.