I was born in Nairobi, Kenya and raised in Kisii, Kenya. I spent my childhood in Kisii trapping birds with my cousins, and climbing avocado, guava and loquat trees. White weddings were not too common in Kisii, so I remember seeing a wedding procession miles away from our hilltop house and running after it with my sister and two best friends. As you can imagine, by the time we got to where the procession had been, it had already moved further ahead. It was also getting dark, and I got a beating that evening for taking the kids on a long, dangerous escapade. I must have been 7 and was the oldest of the four kids. While growing up in Kisii, I underwent female genital mutilation; an atrocious practice in certain African communities.
Two things have led me to where I am today: an incessant drive and a people-loving personality. I grew up in the slums of Nairobi, and it took tenacity to keep studying, sometimes with electricity and sometimes with a kerosene lamp or candle. When I got admitted to the prestigious Precious Blood Secondary School, Riruta, my neighbors could not believe it. Some thought my father must have known somebody who got me in. Boarding school was an empowering environment and a welcome change. For the first time in my life, I had a bed that I did not share with one of my sisters. More importantly, I was surrounded by brilliant young women from all over Nairobi and Kenya who were the definition of class and excellence. Our principal, Mrs. Mungai and later Mrs. Jacinta Akatsa read us motivational books, and told us that we could excel regardless of our backgrounds, or gender. Our teachers were equally exceptional; some such as Mrs. Osi and Mrs. Kirubi took some time during their lessons to give general life lessons. Precious Blood Riruta was where I started blossoming into the woman I am today. I developed my faith, it was a Catholic school, and met my closest friends. I was one of the 15 school captains infamously know as “cops” to the student body, and the inaugural chair lady of the Choral Club.
It was in high school that I first encountered the power of mentorship through a non-profit called Akili Dada. The organization paired me with a mentor, Victoria Joseph over at Design One Ltd and paid for my 11th and 12th grade (form 3 and form 4) tuition. Victoria sent me the most beautiful purple and white ‘success card’ (an encouraging card that you send to students sitting for their examinations at the 8th and 12th grade levels). I vowed to use the color scheme in that card for my wedding… but I ended up using yellow and white instead. Victoria is a successful woman that I needed to meet so that I could be encouraged to dream even bigger.
Shortly after high school, I learned a critical life lesson; accepting rejection as part of life. My high school roommate Christine Odegi had been admitted to the United World Colleges the year before. With my grades, leadership skills, and personality, I had no doubt I would be too. After the interview process though, I was not accepted. I felt rejected and abandoned any further thought of studying abroad. I would later get a lecture from Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg (founder of Akili Dada and Director at African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD)) as to why that was a stupid reason to refrain from applying again. Through the Zawadi Africa Education Fund, I applied to universities in the United States of America. I got accepted to Whitman College and the University of Pennsylvania. I attended the University of Pennsylvania and magna cum laude graduated in 2015 with a degree in International Relations with a focus on Economic Policy and African Studies. I had a great time at UPenn; the highlights are my trip to France and Botswana for study abroad and an internship. I also had great times and took leadership positions at the Christian Association at UPenn, with the PennCAP community, the Black Wharton Undergraduate Association, and the Penn African Students Association, among other clubs.
My time in the United States has been transformative and fundamental in helping me find my voice. I have grown into a confident and articulate woman. I am passionate about making my life, my family’s life, and my community better. This has led to an incessant desire to give back because I have been given so much. During the 2016 Christmas season, we spoke of being grateful and giving back at the dinner table. I had two young women visiting. The awesome Michelle Buyaki Nyatichi and Faith Nyakundi. As we hang out and had fun, we realized that there were a lot of deep conversations around being women of African descent that we never spoke of. Experiences with FGM, sexual assault, bad relationships among others surfaced. From that, I got a light bulb moment. How many other women were struggling with the questions that we had? How many never spoke of those issues or worries? This led to the formation of the YouTube channel, Dadas Lounge. Dada means sister in Swahili, therefore sisters lounge. This new found growth and desire to do something bigger than ourselves led us to finally open up about our experience with female genital mutilation in this YouTube Video. It took a long time, and courage to speak out about it but I am glad we did. We shall continue to find avenues to be a part of calling for the end of this harmful cultural practice.
There is so much that has happened over the years that I cannot summarize here: dating, travel, disappointment, fear, desire to excel among others. I am sure that I will blog about these things as time goes by and will speak about them on the YouTube channel, so be sure to subscribe there.
Thank you for taking the time to read. Come back again.