Grace Mageka: Rising through the odds

I first met Grace at the Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi. As a finalist of the 2016 World Bank Blog for development Contest, I had the honour of being invited to have lunch with the World Bank President Dr. Jim Yon Kim. She and I were part of a team that would later have a fruitful conversation with Dr. Kim, a chance of a lifetime. I thought she was full of life, bubbly, charismatic, a character I rarely see in young women. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, someone needs to put down her story.’  By then, #CynthiaUNTAMED didn’t even exist.Well everyone, it’s been four months and she’s finally here. Be inspired, be uplifted. No matter where you are from, your voice is valid, you are worth it!

Who is Grace Mageka in brief?

Grace Mageka, is a gender equality and women rights advocate, enthusiastic youth policy activist and human rights peer educator, empowering the voice of both young women and men in driving towards an active inclusion of youth through transparent and accountable methods. She has worked for human rights, peace building, youth development, gender equality and women empowerment for the last five years through grassroots activism, advocacy, research, capacity building and mentoring young human rights activists.

Grace is an international youth adviser, she has represented both youth and women constituencies in various platforms at the United Nations, African Union and European Union. Her passions lie in focusing on building movements of marginalized youths and poor rural women.  She has confronted the challenges of political leadership and accountability through showcasing the role of youth and women as drivers of change to a broad spectrum of the African stakeholders groups.

Grace mobilized both young men and women to take ownership of the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals and participate in the post 2015 process and make their voices heard through the Voice Africa’s Future campaign before the adoption of the sustainable development goals in New York in 2015.

Mobilizing youth to take ownership of SDGs
Mobilizing youth to take ownership of SDGs

Currently, am serving as a Global Youth Leader with Restless Development Youth Power Campaign, focusing on Global Goal 5 that advocates for Gender Equality and committed to work towards advocating the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

How was your life growing up? What were your aspirations and challenges? 

I was born in a small remote village in Kisii County, Kenya. I am the first born and the only girl with three brothers, I can remember my childhood moments were quite interesting and challenging, when I look back, I never really saw it as something that was too much for me by then but acceptable in our set up, at a very young age, I was able to look after my mum who was sickbed most of time, do house chores, take care of my younger siblings and sometimes prepare simple meals for them. It was only when I got older that I started to realize that a lot of what I experienced was pretty tough being the first born girl in our family set up. I didn’t know that there was anything different than the daily routine of going to school and after school rush home to make sure everything was in order. My childhood experiences have molded me, from time to time as I grew up, whenever we share these childhood memories with my friends from a village set up like myself. I can recognize that there are many us who have overcome far more. After pushing through these struggles and working hard, I am proud that I have gotten this far, I am one of those people, who push themselves toward claiming that something that looks difficult and impossible, if obstacles come my way out, I battle through it.

What are your hobbies, favorite food/books/music?

My hobbies and interests are travelling, meeting new people, networking, socializing, and watching documentaries of great leaders that drove change during their lifetime. I love reading books written by Stephen Covey and I like classical music.

What is your take on spirituality?

One’s belief in God means having faith in his or her gut instincts. Spirituality has played a key role in my life because it has helped me to make difficult decisions about my life. When you are spiritual you can easily understand what I mean that God’s time is best.

What impact has a good education had on your life?

Education is a commitment and our road and it is upon us to pave the way for success, access to education is a right, with a good education it makes one to be a critical thinker and creates a real global citizen, what do I mean with education, you can go anywhere in this world. A good education helps one to make the best decisions regarding his or her life .I am personally   pursuing education abroad. It has helped me to go for the very best that I can in this life and not to settle for less. Education is a vital instrument of change, it plays a fundamental role for the development of a society and its members, it is a tool for fighting inequalities and injustices around the world because one will be able to know his or her rights and where social justice to apply to ensure stability and cohesion of societies.

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How do you strike a balance between school and everything else you do? What is your message to young people who are still in school?

A few years back while a student in Kenya, there was this professor who used to come to class and tell us, that a student who attends all lectures is a fool. Attend 75 percent of lectures without forgetting our lectures and professors give only 25 percent and 75 percent depends on you. We all have 24 hours it all depends on you, how you plan yourself, try to find something unique to do that will add value to yourself and whether it is volunteering, running a small business or doing activities out of class work. Join youth led initiatives to find your real purpose and the issues you will focus on after completion of University.

How important is it to start networking with influencers as a young person?

It is very important to have worthy and resourceful network to reach out. Your network is your net worth, don’t miss out, take that network you have and use it in different ways in order to be able to get what you want to achieve. When you want to accomplish something, irrespective of whatever it is, you have to stop, take a look at everything that you have in terms of how it could be a potential resource to help you get to where you want to go. Use the internet and television to access everything you can see and know.

What do you to impact your society in a positive way? (Have you formed any organizations or enterprises?

Yes, I have run two initiatives where I am the founder, the first initiative is Sisterhood for Change and Empowerment Center, whose mandate is to carry advocacy actions such as Gender Equality Policy Dialogues to ensure Equality between Women and Men to actively and efficiently participate in the monitoring of Policies concerning Gender Equality and women rights in the political, economic, social and cultural fields and develop good advocacy practices that focuses on advocacy and monitoring of the progress of women related policies.

Girl child education campaign
Girl child education campaign

The second initiative is Sisterhood Ventures Africa, a continental initiative that intends to encourage more African women and girls to step into the entrepreneurship and creative business space.The initiative connects women and girls in creative business to share skills and gain mentor-ship, to be more entrepreneurial and creative in business and facilitates in effective branding and strategy to get their product/service ready for market and also put them in the front roles as job opportunities creator for women to bridge the gender equality gap.

Project on girl child education empowerment
Project on girl child education empowerment

Have you participated in any global events?

YES, I have had an opportunity to represent Kenya regionally and globally for various programs, which transformed and opened my eyes to soar for greatness and not to settle for less. Among global events I attended was the first ever Euro African Youth Parliament which was the very first global event I participated two years ago. I was competitively selected to represent Kenya in Berlin, Germany. The program was an eye opener for me to the world and my career in global issues began, where I developed interest on global policy and global governance after we had intensive debates with young people across Europe and Africa focusing on global relevant topics from global economics to global politics.

At the Euro African Youth Parliament

Two years down the line I am here in Rome, Italy pursuing further studies on Global Governance with focus on Global Politics. Another prestigious regional program, that we represented Kenya with Boniface Mwangi, Stephen Machua, and Martha Nerima Wako was the Mandela Institute of Development Studies, Second Annual Africa Youth Dialogue on Elections and Governance in Africa that was held in Kigali, Rwanda two years ago with the keynote speaker being his Excellency president Paul Kagame.

At JKIA with Stephen and Boniface ready to fly to Rwanda
In Kigali, Rwanda
In Kigali, Rwanda

Do you volunteer?

Yes I do. Volunteering has played, and continues to play, a vital role in many aspects of my life. Volunteerism has molded me to be who I am today,you cannot imagine how volunteering spring boarded me to where I am today. Volunteerism is part of my life and a basic human impulse in me to always create time and effort to help others. Volunteerism strengthens ones capacity to lead and to become engaged in their communities and global society. When young people volunteer, they develop their potentialities, they gain valuable skills that facilitates acquisition of job skills and experience thus widening employment options and build up reserves of goodwill that can be drawn upon when needed to secure employment. Volunteers will also get an endless considerable benefits that help them to widen social, economic and cultural network, enhance self-esteem, meet people from different backgrounds, share knowledge, skills and learn from each other.

Volunteering with UN Women [2014]
Volunteering with UN Women [2014]
Volunteering with UNEP
Volunteering with UNEP

What else?

I encourage everyone to volunteer in one way or other. It can be disseminating information and creating awareness on cross cutting issues that are affecting our communities. You might not know how useful and resourceful you can be to your community but a few years down the line you won’t imagine how well informed people in your community will be on these issues that you are very passionate. Volunteerism is a two-way street. Even as volunteers help generate positive change for others, their own lives are often transformed by the act of volunteering itself.

after-volunteer-work-in-a-local-school-in-siaya-we-posed-for-a-photo

Photo shoot after mentoring girls
Photo shoot after mentoring girls

Who is your mentor and what should people consider when choosing a mentor?

Mentors are a very important part of one’s life. It is extremely important and essential if you want to aim higher, and achieve more. It is about having somebody there to support advice and inspire you. Overtime I have had incredible mentors, such as Caren Wakoli, Kelvin Keya, Serah Waithera Gaitho, Joe Bonga, Ida Nganga among others. One of my current mentors, is Dr. Gustavo Piga, who is our university professor and the director of Global Governance Program at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. I am fortunate that I have access to these incredible people who help to keep things moving in the right direction and increase the chances of it working out.

Your last word to a young man/woman aspiring to be a leader?

NEVER GIVE UP. FOLLOW YOUR ASPIRATIONS.YOU ARE THE FUTURE. This is not time for despair, always believe in yourself and know that you’re capable of doing it. We are the carriers of our vision 2030 and Agenda 2063. We are the future. It doesn’t matter what your goals are, it just means that you’re moving forward and progress is to be focused on. This is the time to train, study and organize. Self-development is incredibly important but everyone needs to stop, take a deep breath and recognize the value in you and the potential of resources around you. This is the time to fight. For our people, our land and our communities. Let’s strive to make Kenya, Africa and the world a better place for humanity!

NB: I declare and acknowledge that Grace Sabiri Mageka is the author of this story. Blessings!

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