Four Months in Kenya

Last year one of our founders temporarily relocated from her job at Microsoft Sweden to Nairobi where she divided her time between Microsoft and Women for Education. Read her own words about the four months in Kenya.

After four years of working with WFE from different locations outside Kenya I felt the need to go down and assess the impact our program is having on the ground. My boyfriend joined me and helped me with the work. The time we spent in Kenya left us with invaluable insights, grew a closer relationship to the girls in our program and gave us a better understanding of the problems you are facing as a student in Kenya in comparison to Europe.

Nairobi office life at Microsoft

Half of the week I worked at the Microsoft office in Nairobi and gained insight in what a Kenyan office is like. The colleagues where really friendly and welcomi

ng, that goes for everyone I met in Kenya. It was impossible to walk through the office in the morning without getting stuck chatting to someone. When I went for lunch at the office I just sat next to whomever was there, which Nordic people know could be awkward in our countries back home. Yes, the water was sometimes out, and the electricity went off occasionally, but you get used to it quite quickly and stop bothering about asking when it will go on because no one really knows and after a while it always comes back.

Our students Winnie, Faith, Beatrice and Diana Jackline

Living in Nairobi

Nairobi is an amazing city to live in, it is very green and with around 20 degrees all year around, quite ideal for a Swede. As there is no mentality of walking and rarely safe pavements so you get used to taking a car wherever you go. The traffic is insane so can get stuck for hours. I sometimes jumped onto a Boda Bodas (motorbike taxi) and slalomed through the traffic to make it to meetings when getting stuck in traffic jams.

Nairobi is also the hub for tech companies in the area and the amount of new tech start-ups in Nairobi is huge. Kenyan people in rural areas are going mobile before they even have access to electricity, and it is easier to pay with your phone (the innovative mobile transfer service M-Pesa) than with credit card.

Mentors and network

During our months on ground we managed to substantially expand our network of companies and professionals who can support our students. We recruited a range of new mentors (two from Microsoft!) to the program. The mentors are women from different backgrounds and ages, all Kenyan women with a huge willingness to support other girls and give back to the society.

New students and many shortlisted for next year’s intake

We also got the chance to interview the next round of students in our program, the two we selected enrolled at university two months ago. Catherine Mutio will be studying IT, a subject WFE is very supportive of given the great opportunities in Kenya for IT graduates (and women!). And the super cool Jacinta just started her studies in gender and development at Kenyatta University. I was blown away by both of them on their interviews; why? Because they both walked in to the room confidently and gave me a firm handshake. It is interesting how the first handshake really makes an impact, I just knew they were the type of women we were looking for.

Due to lack of funding we could only accept Jacinta and Catherine of the girls we interviewed. It was heartbreaking to having to say no to the others. We had one who wanted to study Environmental Studies and make sure Kenya incorporates sustainable rubbish systems (highly needed where the custom is to burn the rubbish). Another girl had been accepted to study IT and wanted to prove it is not a “boys-subject”. She loved playing computer games at the local internet café and being the brightest in the family of five brothers (the only one who completed high school), her family is counting on her. We have these girls, together with several other ambitious girls, shortlisted for next year’s’ intake. Now we have a huge task in front of us; to fundraise for as many of them as possible. Do you want to help us?

Workshops

During our months in Kenya we organized two training sessions. For the first one we went back to the village where our students grew up; Mutomo. A semi-arid village, six hours from Nairobi. Reaching the village includes three hours are on bumpy non-turmac roads – a ride our driver happily referred to as “Kenyan massage”.

In Mutomo we had a full day workshop where I trained the girls in personal development and delivered practical tips on how the girls should pitch themselves to employers, how they can increase their own competitiveness and how to deliver a good interview, CV and cover letter. “I am enough” was the mantra delivered to the girls. In the afternoon Lauryn, from our local partner, held a training about reproductive health together with a nurse from a nearby hospital. The mantra was changed to “I love my life”. It was amazing to see the students again and seeing how much they had developed since we first interviewed them in 2016. They had grown into young, brave, confident women.

A month later we arranged a leadership workshop in Nairobi. A collaborating organization,  Women Leadership Hub, flew down from Europe to arrange a Dynamic Leadership Workshop with our mentors, students and even I and Ebba from the WFE team, got a chance to participate. The workshop exceeded all expectations. During the three days everyone who participated (not only our students) grew as people, gained courage and confidence and above all, became empowered. We realized how valuable the physical meeting is, when meeting you get the chance to build stronger connections, that is not possibly when speaking on a shaky internet connection. Everyone left the workshop with new friends, role models and hearts filled with new opportunities.

Spending time with our students

However, the highlight of the trip was definitely spending time with our students. It was rewarding to see that the girls we interviewed in 2016 had developed into young confident women. This time I really had time to talk to them and getting to know them. I visited them at the university, got to see the lecturing halls and the huge campuses. We explored Nairobi; we went for hikes in the Ngong mountains, walks in the Karura forest and had sleepovers at my place.

I was amazed of how close bonds the girls in our group had grown. They barely knew each other before the program and today they are a tight group of friends who are really being there for each other. They are communicating through a WhatsApp group called Power Ladies (which I’m also in) where they talk about everything from how to get to the workshop to how they can empower more girls out there. After one of the workshops one of the students suggested that they would create a “Merry Go’round”, which is a small banking solution among friends. Everyone ships in 2 EUR a month to a common pot and that can be used when someone in the group needs a loan, or if they want to do help out in the community. This is very common among women in rural areas and started as a way to build up capital without a bank account.

We are getting closer to creating the network of women that we are aiming for and I am looking forward to see how the the team evolves.

Diana Hellen and Diana Jackline

General Observations

The thing I loved most about the country is the people. Everyone is very friendly and open. Kenyans have a good sense of humor and are happy to engage in a long chat about everything and nothing. They are also very honest which is very refreshing, not really like polite Swedish people who would wrap feedback or the truth in a polite sentence. The culture is very different, very colorful in many aspects and I love spending time with Kenyans. It is also a lot of chaos with a “pole pole” (take it easy in Swahili) mentality. Expect that things may not (rarely) go as planned or on time.

I am back in Sweden where the bus arrives on time and I don’t need to negotiate the price on my lunch. And although I am happy to be back in Sweden with family, friends and colleagues I am sad to leave such an amazing country. I still miss the friendly colleagues at the Nairobi office, the students in my NGO’s program, and the welcoming and generous culture.

Raising more money for new girls 

Now we are putting all our efforts into raising more money so we can support even more girls. In May we interviewed girls for our program. We met young ambitious girls who had big dreams. One wanted to study Environmental Studies and make sure Kenya incorporates sustainable rubbish systems and another one wants to study IT and prove it is not a ”boys-subject”. We could only accept two of the girls. The rest are still waiting for funding, unable to fulfill their dreams. Are you interested in supporting them?

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