My leadership journey started when I was in second year of high school in Nairobi. I responded to a question in class and my biology teacher commented “Leonida you answered the question very well, you have a good command of language”. I beamed, I was so excited and smiled the whole afternoon. This helped cultivate in me the desire to leave a mark in society.
When I started engaging in community work, I often felt sad because I was volunteering in youth organisations and there was a limit to which I could bring change to communities. My actual transformation of communities came when I was given opportunities to run projects. Fortunately, these projects were funded hence activities could go on uninterrupted. My greatest test of leadership came when I managed two projects one dealing with university students on leadership and mentorship in 15 universities across Kenya Uganda and Tanzania and a youth learning and exchange project with young people from Kenya and South Africa. Managing these projects was a life changing moment for me. I was dealing with hundreds of multiple personalities all under one roof. This is where I discovered I had an innate power of creativity and giving space to others.
Prior to undertaking any activity in the project we had to have meetings to brainstorm. I shifted from using invited spaces to invented spaces. We could out of a simple activity create stories, do media work and make social media awash with our community engagements. It heartwarming to listen to the students say they have been transformed, they have more confidence and have learnt a lot through the project. Currently, I’m utilising zoom learning sessions with students and other grassroots activists where we have speakers from different parts of the world discuss diverse issues. We are building up a transnational knowledge reservoir and creating opportunities for building connections and solidarity.
When I started working with university students, little did I know that I was influencing them positively and the impact I was having on their personalities, outlook on life and personal development. Through student engagement, the students have gone ahead to seek elective posts within their campuses and other institutions such as youth groups, religious institutes and are more responsible within their family setting. Students now have more interest in community work and collaborations are being forged between students and social justice centres. Advocacy skills among the students I engaged has been enhanced, they are sharper now and this is due to online debates on topical issues. To spark off a debate, all we do is to upload a cartoon on a topical issue and get different perspectives. This is very inspiring because this is progressive thinking.
When students engage in community visits, they are exposed first hand to social injustices and are awakened to the need to speak out against injustice. When I say creating space for others, I mean giving opportunity to others and believing in them and their capabilities. I do this through online search for opportunities as well as information I get from the various networks of which I’m a member. Sharing these opportunities have enabled students to be exposed to global issues, helped them build confidence and nurtured their ability to interrogate. Examples of these opportunities that students I nurture have participated in include Global Climate Strike, Mental Health Awareness Walk, Pan- African Youth Festival and the International Conference on Population and Development, to name a few. The youth engagements have also helped build interpersonal relations among the students. Additionally, it these engagements have helped in enabling students develop a keen interest in what is happening in other countries.
Of course leadership is not without challenges. Sometimes you go to a place and you are undermined, sometimes people do not trust your capability mantra is give me the opportunity to try and judge me after trying and of course never give up. In leadership I look at myself as a rubber band, stretching far and wide, this to me is also symbolic with being accommodative of diverse people.
Being able to speak out has seen me invited to many conferences, locally, regionally and globally. It gives me immense pleasure to hear our next speaker is Leonida from Kenya. It constantly reminds me of the need for women and girls to believe in themselves, in Kiswahili we say kujiamini. It is only when you believe in yourself as a woman is when the world will believe in you.
My leadership journey is far from over for a young girl born and bred in Nairobi’s Eastland being who I am today has been a collective effort of family, school mates and people I have met over the years. For those who gave me an opportunity to learn, I say asante sana, for those whose lives I touch every day, keep transforming others. Every single day when I engage a new person , I go to bed smiling because I contributed positively to humanity.