The Power of Resilience

Leonida Odongo
Posted May 2, 2021 from Kenya
Leonida at a conference

One thing that I have learnt through life is never allow your past to dictate your future. Have big dreams and these may one day come to pass. I come from a highly patriarchal community where women as treated as invisible. It does not matter how many degrees and Phds you have bagged to your name, culture dictates a women’s life and male preference is the order of the day.

With patriarchy comes exploitation of women and girls. Widowed women are stripped of their property by brothers in law. Women are expected to be married off at a certain age and society looks down upon unmarried women. In a family setting, boys and fathers wield more power, women are relegated to cooking and care roles. In control of productive resources such as land, women’s voices and concerns are not listened to despite being the majority of those who till the land. When farm produce is sold many a-times it is the men who make decisions.I have personally refused to be a voiceless and faceless woman.

I learnt a lot from my Mama. From a tender age, I could see her work hard to put food on the table, she was never idle, often industrious and wanting to learn so many things at a go. She never went far in education because she was orphaned at a tender age. She instilled in me the power of resilience, the power of never giving up.

Growing up, I never dreamed of ever stepping in a university. I always said how will I ever do that, where is the money? The privatisation of education is a huge challenge making education a mirage for many people who have a desire to progress academically. I used to look at people in graduation gowns and one day said to myself, I have to put on that gown one day too. It does not matter how many years it will take me to do that, but I must do it one day.

I got a job working in a bakery in Nairobi’s industrial area, wrapping bread, it was hard work, but I had no option. It gets tough for a young person to access jobs because many times you must know somebody to get an opportunity .In the bakery I saved some cash and  decided to go for computer classes , then went for a marketing course and sadly I discovered the hard way that marketing is fun only when you are in managerial position but when you are at the bottom of the run , it is an uphill task. The first job I got was selling knives (you heard me correct, selling knives). We were each given a box of knives, 14 different types; butchers knife, boning knife, bread knife among others. I had never seen so many knives before in my life. We walked on the streets of Nairobi armed with boxes looking for customers. I remember I approached a man in an office and asked to sell knives. The man responded “If my wife has one knife at home and I don’t feel safe, what about these 14 knives, these are weapons of mass destruction”. This statement has stuck with me to date. I never sold any knife on that day, my feet were swollen by the end of the day and I did not make any money because we were to be paid on commission based on the boxes of knives sold.

That is how I switched from corporate (marketing) to community work. With time I got to volunteer in an organisation dealing with HIV education and proceeded for a course in community development, eventually I got a scholarship from an Australian family (Emma Sydenham thank you very much) and was able to join University of Nairobi where I did political science and sociology. It has been a journey. I enjoy what I do in the community, it is very fulfilling, I get to meet many people from different walks of life.I went ahead to co- found an organisation championing rights - namely Haki Nawiri Afrika  https://hakinawiriafrika.org/ which champions the rights of  marginalised groups in Kenya .I get to be invited to speak at international conferences on my experiences with smallholder farmers, students, women and on issues relating to climate change. When I speak people listen and that is why my work is aimed at giving voice and power to community members, building grassroots consciousness . Sometimes, it seems so unreal that many years ago, I was hawking knives in Nairobi’s Central Business District(CBD).

But rest assured that dreams are valid, I dreamt that one day I would put on a university gown, I did that and I will be putting on a second gown soon, I dreamt that I would one day run an organisation and it has come to pass. The struggles I had in the past have made me a strong person and have instilled in me the responsibility of nurturing and helping others. Somebody believed in me and gave me an opportunity, I do the same for others and have been nurturing and mentoring university students in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and rural women across different parts of  Kenya. Our past should never ever define our future. Having big dreams have made me be who I am today and never allow anyone to kill your dream.

                                  Never ever give up! and you will rise above the odds

This story was submitted in response to The Real Me.

Comments 17

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rebecca.tang
May 02
May 02

Thank you for sharing. Your story is very inspiring. We should not give up our dreams. We will have a better tomorrow.
Let's work hard together! Be Strong and Never Give up!
May Almighty God bless you!

Leonida Odongo
May 08
May 08

Dear Rebecca,

Thank you for the comments .I agree with you 100 percent.Our dreams are valid .

Best

Leonida

Tamarack Verrall
May 02
May 02

My dear Sister Leonida,
Reading through all of what you have experienced in life, and all that you have accomplished brings me to an even deeper understanding of what is possible, to overcome such barriers, and to be able to create and support change for others. The power of generosity across such distances is also a message that can grow here within our global community, from those who have extra, from those who have been offered free or affordable education, to make possible the road you have been able to navigate, and with such love, giving always outward. "I get to be invited to speak at international conferences on my experiences with smallholder farmers, students, women and on issues relating to climate change. When I speak people listen"... "Somebody believed in me and gave me an opportunity, I do the same for others". Such an important message as we continue to build our connections here, and work as closely together as we can.
Deep sisterhood love,
Tam

Leonida Odongo
May 08
May 08

Thank you so much Tam, for always being there for me.

Best

Leonida

Beth Lacey
May 06
May 06

You are very strong. Keep living your dreams

Leonida Odongo
May 08
May 08

Dear Beth,

Thank you for reading.

Best

Leonida

Susu Mohamed
May 07
May 07

Leonida,
if we are world pulse sisters we have like you strong women keep up dreaming will be true for you and your positive views
Best Regard
susu

Leonida Odongo
May 08
May 08

Thank you sister Susu.

More energy

Best

Leonida

Cgbidi
May 12
May 12

yes indeed dreams are valid and possible Leonida. great people always go through rough times before succeeding. thank you for withstanding all the struggles and becoming resilient. keep doing great.

Leonida Odongo
May 12
May 12

Dear Cgbidi,

Thank you very much for the comments and for reading my story.

Best

Leonida

Regina Afanwi Young
May 13
May 13

Wow!!!dear Leonidas, what a powerful story of resilience, determination and positivism. Dear sis thank you for giving others the opportunity you were given through creating an organisation and working with other women. I am so proud of your achievements and what you are making others achieved.
Keep up the good work. This is such an inspiration for me this morning and am sure for anyone reading your story.
Sending you hugs from Cameroon.
Regina

Leonida Odongo
May 14
May 14

Dear Regina,

Thank you so much for the comments .To more energy and sisterhood.

Best

Leonida

Regina Afanwi Young
May 15
May 15

You are welcome.

charlenegailtaruwona

Dear Leonida ,
Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. We all have dreams and we should never give up on them.

Leonida Odongo
May 14
May 14

Dear Charlene,

I agree with you.We should never let anyone kill our dreams.

Best

Leonida

SIMON MUREU
May 15
May 15

you have tell truly and Nairobi need cleaning this time of heavy rains

Basudha Modak
May 28
May 28

Every society where there are bright women are dominated by this term if patriarchy .If you look around ,the men in reality are mere puppets,it is the women who are controlling .If they recognize the fire in you ,you are doomed..So for strongwomenlije you the only way is forward .Never give up .