Never Lose Leadership Dreams to Unmarked Graves.

I have learnt to embrace rejection, that when I received an acceptance mail from Emerging Leaders Foundation, I decided to make the most of this fellowship.

An eighteen-year-old girl goes to the clinic, accompanied by her first boyfriend, to treat what seemed like an STI. Nothing could have prepared her from the revelation. I tested positive for pregnancy, had an STI and turned out to be HIV positive. My dreams of pursuing education went down the drain. I remember going to the University of Nairobi to apply for the joint admissions board, given that I had scored a B-; and stood a chance of getting into the system. I never followed it through. I had a lot going on.

Life in Nairobi’s City carton slum did not make things any easier. I decided to settle for hairdressing instead. I am someone who hides in work to forget the pain I might be going through. I was the best hairdresser, as I processed the fact that I would soon be a teenage mother. I delivered in the cold of the night, outside, because I didn’t have money to go to the hospital, despite saving every cent that I worked for so that I could go to the hospital. I didn’t know what I had was labour pains, so I never took the money I had worked for. (Story for another day). I lost my beautiful baby boy to pneumonia, at five months. We buried him in an unmarked grave in Langata cemetery.

By 19, I had opened a salon business. I was slowly picking myself up, despite keeping my HIV status a secret. After five months, I suffered a stroke that left me incapacitated. My right side became paralyzed, I closed my salon and stayed home for a year wallowing in a pity party. I tried selling second-hand clothes, charcoal, beans, even sweet potatoes, to get pocket money. Just like other dreams, I buried my entrepreneurship in an unmarked grave.

During this time, I came across the Kenya Network of Women with Aids (KENWA). This is how my volunteering started. I decided to volunteer my time as a community health worker, at a drop-in centre in Kiambiu slum. I saw people who had more tragic stories than myself. I used to share my story with the guests who visited the drop-in centre. This is how I met a US-based organization, Population Action International (PAI). They featured me in a documentary, Abstaining from Reality in 2006.

2007 started on a high note for me. I got my first job as a volunteer in Behaviour Change Communication Advocate with PSI- APHIA II. My job was using my story to educate the community on HIV prevention. On women ’s day, I spoke in London parliament, during the launch of the documentary. May, I spoke in Ottawa at the Canadian parliament building, during the American launch of the documentary. October, I went back to Canada to co-facilitate a workshop at the College of the Rockies, with a friend I met at KENWA.

Throughout these high-level meetings, I met networks which I wasted. I didn’t have a mentor to advise me on using my networks to my advantage. I was just a girl from the slum, with a tainted past. This is the problem with a victim mentality. You never see past your experiences. Without good mentors, you can be stuck in the same spot, despite carrying great potential.

I picked up my dream of going to university, and through fundraising initiated by a friend I met at PAI, I enrolled at Daystar University for a diploma in communication. I had to embrace rejections even when applying for internships, and jobs. After my graduation in 2011, I went back for my degree in 2012. A self-sponsored student, volunteering as a church administrator, with a loan of 30 thousand shillings from the church Sacco -talk of faith in action. God provided the scholarships to take me through and in 2015, I graduated. To top it up, I received the creativity award for Nairobi campus.

I got my first formal job at 31, proving that despite the many rejections, you will find someone who will believe in you. I built my parents a semi-permanent house in Kisumu and relocated them from the slum. I still knew I had leadership in me, and just wanted to get guidance on how to develop my leadership skills.

Still applying for several leadership programs, and receiving rejections from all of them, I did not give up. I knew I had leadership skills in me which needed to be nurtured. I kept on trying. My target was to get into a leadership program before hitting 35. Every application came back with the same regret mail. I even stopped trying. I remember last October, on my 35th birthday, just reflecting on how I have been trying for opportunities and facing rejection.

Then I saw the advert for ELF Cohort 6 in November last year. I applied for it on my phone. This was a paid mentorship program, but that did not stop me from trying it. I went for the interview and presented myself, my story. I remember encouraging my fellow interviewees to be themselves during the interview. I was accepted for cohort six when I had buried my dreams of being part of a leadership program in another unmarked grave.

The sessions at ELF just proved that my journey was preparing me for a higher purpose. The sessions were informative, like self-awareness, storytelling, life maps, letters to self, communication, transformational vs transactional leadership, and even good governance. We were given tools to assess our talents and leadership strengths and weaknesses. My convictions were proven by scientific talent assessment tools. I have been a leader all along. I honestly think ELF is the best investment I made in myself.

This was the first time I vied for an elective position. I have always been comfortable with working on the background, and not putting myself out there. I stood and campaigned with others. Although I lost the election, that bold step of allowing myself to try something new gave me such fulfillment.

All fellows were paired to mentors who would help us achieve our goals. My mentor is a lady who runs a social enterprise improving the lives of the community through health programs. I aspire to run a social enterprise educating young people on Teen sexuality and reproductive health. With the rising cases of teenage pregnancies and HIV infections among the youth, someone must educate our young people. I have a resolve to dig out my dream of leadership from the unmarked grave. I am the one I have been waiting for to make a difference.

Juliet Awuor writes at mwanadada.com
You can also connect with her on Twitter , LinkedIn and Facebook .

CELEBRATING IMPACT; ONE CHILD AT A TIME

In the year 1954, The United Nations’ (UN) Universal Children’s Day was established. With an annual celebration on November the 20th, the goal is to promote awareness and togetherness towards the plight of children in the world. All over the globe, countries come together to honor children with an aim to protect them from labor abuse and allow them access to quality education.

As, we celebrate this day in Kenya, it is important that we reflect on what we wish to achieve. The date offers each and every one of us an entry point through which we can continue to advocate and promote children’s rights. As an organization that targets the youths between the ages of 15- 25, we particularly celebrate our teens who are still children according to Article 260 of the Kenyan Constitution that provides that a “child” means an individual who has not attained the age of eighteen years.

In marking this day, we engage in the national dialogue on how to implement actions that will build a better society for our children. We actively participate in the conversation that seeks to address the rise in the number of teenage pregnancies as witnessed during the just concluded KCPE examinations. In acknowledgement of the rights of the child especially the right to free and compulsory basic education and protection from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhuman treatment and punishment, we aim to empower the Kenyan child to understand themselves.

In our approach as an organization we seek to encourage agency. Our interaction with the children is defined. With an approach of where there is smoke, a fire will emerge. We aim to scatter the ashes before it is too late. Our interaction seeks to ensure that after the students have gone through our leadership development programme, they are able to be equipped with decision making abilities, communication skills and emotional intelligence. The child, regardless of gender is able to act independently and to make their own free choices regardless of those factors of influence in their environment.

Therefore, even as we celebrate the child today, I welcome all stakeholders from the parents, teachers, churches, government, civil society activists, corporate sector and the youth in our communities, let us continue to consolidate our efforts towards making a better society for our children.

 

 

REACHING OUT TO THE NEW GENERATION OF LEADERS

School leadership is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning and cannot be ignored. The question that many people ask is what makes one school to be a high-performance institution and another school to record poor results?

Our nation’s underperforming schools and children are unlikely to succeed until we get serious about leadership. School leadership refers to the deliberate effort to enlist and guide the talents and energies of teachers, students, parents, policy makers and other educational stakeholders towards achieving common educational goals and academic success. This can be achieved through collaborations to improve the education process, materials and training. Educational institutions need leaders who have a vision for improving and ensuring quality in learning and management. This begins from the top levels of ministry to the basic level of parents ensuring there is a clear plan on how to promote student learning and growth.

In Kenya, there is a great concern over the type of leadership guiding and influencing our students. In the 43rd Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association Annual Conference held in Mombasa in June 2018, the meeting highlighted some of the challenges facing care givers in whom we entrust our children. One of the agendas was how to address cases of laxity in performance and sexual harassment of students by teachers and school staff among others.

The education sector plays a key role in molding the future generation of this country. As such we cannot afford to take a back sit as we witness wrong doing and lowered standards in the sector. As different stakeholders it is important that we play our part to ensure our students get through the highest quality and standards of education despite being in a public or private institution. The backbone of how this will be implemented falls and rises on leadership.

The quality of training and qualification of school heads should be evaluated. It is also important to ensure that there is regular capacity building for these individuals to ensure they are in a position to influence good teaching and effective learning. We can have strategic training programs aimed at enhancing the care holders’ knowledge in working effectively with the school and education community at large.

It is with leadership development as one of the solutions, that we shall witness effective leadership and well-developed institutions in our education systems. This will automatically have a trickle effect among the different stakeholders eventually reaching the students.

 

Written By;

Sofina Merinyo

Ass. Programmes Officer,

Schools Leadership Development.

THE ‘TWIN’ JOURNEY OF TRANSFORMATION.

In 2013, two brilliant and extraordinary ladies joined our program; Linda and Lina. Identical twins who were already high impact leaders at the University of Nairobi, Linda was the SONU Secretary for Gender, while Lina had just been elected to the SONU secretariat. Both ladies were ambitious and thirsty for more empowerment opportunities. They joined one of our programs then, “Ladies of Splendor” through which they were trained on leadership, good governance and mentorship – and later on they were partnered with a mentor to walk with them and guide them on their leadership journey, as we do with all our mentees at the end of any of our classes.

Through ELF they both had a chance to be trained by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) on political leadership, campaign strategies and the political parties processes. Later on, they were trained by Heshimika Excellency Initiative on innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development in line with our belief that every young person must be tooled with livelihood skills to enable them solve everyday challenges within their communities.

Linda and Lina later joined the Red Cross Club which enabled them to give back to society and teach them the value of servant leadership which is at the core of our training.

Through the networks they formed and the forums they attended, the visionary ladies started their own initiative called; The Identical Family, which today has over fifty sets of identical twins as members. The organization focuses on corporate events management and also visits mothers who have delivered twins to share the joy with them and break any stereotypes associated with having twins in Africa.

Lina says,

“ELF prepared me for the corporate world through public speaking training which has been of great benefit at my current job as a Marketing Executive in a financial Institution. Five years down the line, I look back and appreciate all the skills I acquired and the networks I formed”

The adorable twins point to a quote by Marianne Williamson in her poem (Our Deepest Fear) as having the most influence on their leadership journey to date,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Linda is a relationship officer at an insurance company where she enjoys meeting and working with different people. Lina on the other hand is a marketing executive and prides in having cross function expertise in business and financial analysis.

This is the ELF dream, that we would help every young leader in Africa to discover who they are, and find a higher purpose to live for, that we would connect this leader to like minded young leaders to form a critical mass of change agents and to also connect them to mentors and organizations that would help prepare and guide them towards their purpose, finally our mentees would bring positive change in their respective communities through initiatives that solve the challenges around them.

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA RECOGNIZES THE WORK OF EMERGING LEADERS FOUNDATION.

On the 17th of July 2018 the world congregated in Johannesburg to celebrate the 100th birthday of an iconic man who conquered all odds to champion for the freedom of south Africa and the end of apartheid, a man who alongside other compatriots brought healing to the people of south Africa. Nelson Madiba Mandela.

And who better to give the keynote lecture on this day than President Barrack Obama? On the back drop of this celebration was the coming together of two hundred young African leaders from across the continent who are change agents in their communities, they had been brought together under the auspices of the Obama Foundation whose mission is to inspire, empower and connect people to change their world.

Among the two hundred young leaders sitting in south Africa to discuss the issues of our continent and possible interventions was the audacious young Kenyan, Caren Wakoli who is the founder and executive director of Emerging Leaders Foundation – a non-governmental organization based in Kenya that offers all round training and mentorship on leadership to the youth in Kenya.

It was both humbling and exciting to hear president Obama recognize our work on this important day, this level of affirmation acts to fan our passion to see to fruition the work of leadership transformation in Kenya and Africa.

 

In our six years of existence, we have reached over 7,000 young people, from different counties who are causing impact in different sectors – We have deliberately designed a leadership training and mentorship experience for individuals to impact their communities and for interns or entry-level workers to muster necessary skills to thrive in life. We equip the youth with knowledge and skills to enable them to constructively participate in governance and policy processes.