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