Berenika Stefanska obituary


My friend Berenika Stefanska, who has died aged 33 in a light aircraft accident in Kenya, was a freelance journalist and modern-day adventurer. Living in Nairobi, she reported for Reuters from South Sudan on the first day of its independence in 2011, and often took dangerous trips to Somalia as a videographer for the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

She was raised in Warsaw by doting parents, Mirosław and Małgorzata Stefanscy (both of whom work in IT), and grandparents, who nicknamed her Niuniashek. As a child, she read widely, particularly enjoying fantasy and sci-fi, and at school showed talent for subjects as diverse as history and astronomy. Berenika was a natural extrovert, fiercely independent, and rarely shied from making her opinion known – characteristics that would only grow more prominent.

After studies at Warsaw University, Berenika seized the opportunity presented by the 2004 enlargement of the EU to apply to Cambridge. She studied social and political sciences as a mature student at Pembroke College, graduating in 2007.

An outgoing and popular student, Berenika threw herself into various extracurricular activities. She was a student representative to the politics faculty, and also served as the Cambridge Union debating society’s senior officer, a role that saw her play host to Jeremy Paxman and Richard Dawkins, among others. Berenika would often reminisce about her time in Cambridge and had a great fondness for British culture, while remaining proud of her Polish heritage.

Following university, she completed a master’s degree at Soas University of London and initially worked as a journalist for Standpoint magazine. She also increasingly enjoyed travelling the world on a shoestring budget. Her instinctive ability to connect with people of all backgrounds allowed her to convince Pokot herders in east Africa to give her shelter for the night and persuade the Nuba people to release her from jail in Sudan.

In Kenya, Berenika found a base for the adventure she craved, settling in Nairobi in 2012, and finding deep friendships among the expatriate community. She pursued her interest in wildlife and regularly escaped the city for coastal trips and expeditions through Kenya’s national parks.

In her final months, Berenika approached her interests in flying and the natural world with an increased sense of purpose, having developed plans to establish a tourism business and support conservation activities.

She is survived by her parents and grandparents.