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“When I grow up, I want to be a princess.”
That was my ultimate dream when I was five years old. I remember closing my eyes as I blew out the five little candles that were perched on my birthday cake and wishing, hard, that God would send me to a big castle and I would wear a big pink dress with a ‘net’ that would puff up any time I spun and a beautiful little purse with sparkles.
My mother tried the best she could to make my dream come true and my Christmas dress that year was exactly (okay…almost exactly) what I’d pictured. I never got a castle though and I had to do with a simple purse (my sister’s hand me down).
That dream changed when I got to class five. I was ‘shipped’ off to a boarding school in western so I could ‘learn my culture’. At ten years old, I was too small and too inexperienced to be hundreds of kilometers from our cozy little flat. I quickly learnt the hard way that this ‘princess’ would have to fend for herself. I was very outspoken though, and eloquent, and I was not at all modest about it. I would be the source of entertainment, rapping along to Will Smith’s music in the dorms while my peers, whose approval I was trying so hard to gain, drummed fervently on an upside down bucket. One teacher, Mr. Msekese (God rest his soul) noticed my efforts introduced me to public speaking. From that day onward, performance arts became my source of solace. And boy! Did I perfect it! I loved to speak to people, I loved the fact that they were listening to me.
I realize that I am not writing an autobiography here so let me get to the important parts. I transferred to a Nairobi school once free primary education kicked in. That was an experience on its own. I did quite well in my final exams, exceptionally (might I add surprisingly) well, and went on to high school. Fitting in was an issue again, a budding teenager trying to discover herself. I went back to what I knew best, drama. It kept me, and made me popular. I transitioned into a reggae head, juggling with sheng’ words that I barely understood but it worked, I was accepted. And with time, it became me.
To say I was a problematic teenager would be an understatement. By the time I was done with High school, I had been to three schools. The last one being a school smack in the middle of Maasailand. I learnt a lot of lessons there. I shared a class with girls that had gone through FGM, and heard stories of others that had gotten into early marriages. I had friends whose mothers were victims of gender based violence and others that had grown up in extreme poverty. I learnt not to complain, I learnt how to be grateful. Most of all, I knew that I wanted to fight for the plight of women. I joined JKUAT Karen campus and started on my law degree and the journey began. I was very interested in gender related studies, campus went by like a whirlwind really.
I had my moments in campus that, for lack of a better word, strengthened my resolve. Experiences that, at that moment, were heartbreaking, and I never thought I’d get through them. But they have now become my drive, the reason I wake up every morning and literally smile all the way to work.
I remember one of my first units in campus, and the lecturer quoted Aristotle and said, “the Law is reason, free from passion’. I remember thinking whether I was in the wrong course. I am driven by passion, everything I do is because I have my heart and soul vested in it. I took a yearlong break after graduation, partly due to my lack of school fees. I got myself internship at Telkom, earning my first salary (it was an allowance really.) I was so proud of myself, I soon moved out (yes, my parents disapproved), and struggled to make it on my own. My rent was literally three quarters of my salary, but I knew I had to survive. The last thing I wanted to do was run back to Mummy.
I loved going to the office, here’s a certain pride that creeps in when a girl wears heels and a mid-length pencil skirt, beautiful bag, black jacket and a nice top, braids held back. Fighting against traffic (okay, crossing your fingers and praying that the bus driver will do it for you), having your own little desk and computer and phone. It was bliss! But I knew deep down that corporate law was not for me. Sure enough, when my internship ended, I was back to square one. Not knowing what to do. I worked for my sister, briefly, helped mum out at her children’s home, considered moving back home.
One day, a friend told me about a music audition that was happening for a gig at the Serengeti. I thought, why not? It was a chance to travel and earn some extra money (scratch that. Earn some money….I didn’t have any to begin with really…) I auditioned, got in, along with a couple of other very talented people. This is where the truth about your destiny finding you and vice versa comes in. The studio we would practice at turned out to be in the same compound as the place I would finally realize my dreams.
I strongly believe in the equal treatment of all persons, regardless of their gender, race ability or disability and sexual orientation. I believe Human beings are afraid of the unfamiliar. Afraid of losing to them, competing with them, being hurt by them…and this fear translates into hatred, and the need to control. I also believe that human beings possess the ability to love and to accept unconditionally. This is what makes us unique as a species.
It is this belief that drove me to walk confidently to an organization that worked in Gender Based Violence Initiatives and ask for a volunteering position. Sure enough, I got it. I had a great idea; one I believed in completely, I had passion from out of this world and insane confidence. I realized that gender based violence stems from gender based violence. From ideologies and mentalities that are continually crafted into our minds as we grow up. From past experiences, relationship, knowledge we subscribe to, if we can change that, then we will have better husbands, wives, fathers and mothers in future. That idea grew into a program, SEMA- Mapenzi Bila Chuki, and it continues to grow each day.
I also work with street mothers, and every day with them is an inspiration. We meet, we talk, we share a loaf of bread, we sing, we laugh. We remind ourselves that regardless of the different levels of hardship we encounter, we are women. We are beautiful, we are strong. Then we lift our heads up live another day.
I love my job. I love my life. I love the fact that I am a woman and I have made it my life’s mission to make other women feel the same way. Gender equity is a cause I stand for and fight for. I do what I’m passionate about and make a living out of it. It honestly doesn’t get better than that.
In some ways, I feel like I achieved my childhood dream. I feel like a princess, and the world is my castle. And just like the countless rooms in a castle, the possibilities are endless. All I need to do is dream it, then reach out for it. And if I reach out hard enough, I will surely get it.