I was born in Kiambu and it was nice growing up in a different culture and being able to learn a different language, other than my mother tongue. Kenya is full of diversity and I love my country. I am the 4th born in a family of 6.I grew up in a warm and loving home. I observed my parents’ many selfless acts of kindness, openness and generosity to all people. I saw my parents working so hard day and night to raise 6 kids. It wasn’t really easy for them and many are the times I saw them sacrificing a lot for our sake. My Dad is a traditional man and the only thing he wanted for us was to go to school, get good grades and join the corporate world.
Since my parents were moving from one place to another, I started my schooling in St. Paul’s Primary School in Athi-River. Thereafter I Joined Ulumbi Sec School in Nyanza. Later, I went to KCA University, where I studied for a Diploma in Business Administration. All this time I had not figured out what I wanted to do in life even though I was very versatile. I was just doing everything since our education system has molded us to do whatever comes our way to survive. After school, I tried so many businesses; some failed terribly while others did well but still I had not figured out what I wanted to do in life and I was not getting satisfaction where I was. It’s a sad thing to live a life without the deepest rooted sense of connection. I came to Nairobi from Zanzibar to visit my family and that’s when I decided to do some soul searching. I knew my heart wanted to do something different but I didn’t know what it was precisely.
My parents taught me the value of being respectful and hence I realized I was destined to be a social worker. They loved to help others so did I. When I started going to church in KAG Buruburu,I got amazing young people full of life. After a few months of getting involved in youth activities in our church, I was assigned a leadership position. I had not matured enough but I was given a role. I had to learn to lead even though I had never been exposed to that area. Sometimes leaders are found in a crisis period. The hardest part of leadership is that you can’t lead people who know more than you. When the bar was set too high I had to raise my standard.
I met John Paul Obat in church and we started working together. We both realized that we loved to work with young people and we noticed the needs of young people in Eastlands, Nairobi.We held a conference. Surprisingly, 1000 youth attended. The conference was addressing the issues of unemployment, crime, drugs and alcohol among young people and how we could help out. Representatives from the government and relevant stakeholders were present to offer solutions. That’s when we realized we could do more and we registered an organization called Chanuka Association. John Paul Obat became the President of Chanuka, I became the Vice president and Esther Kithinji became the Executive Secretary of the organization. That was in 2013. Henceforth we have been doing a series of events.
I love to advocate for youth issues. Despite the fact that advocacy is very expensive and emotionally draining, it gives life meaning. I truly love to work in a profession that put ethics, human rights and social justice first. Working in this space, I keep learning new things everyday from the people I work with. I have found that people know their own situations better than anyone. I consider myself a citizen of the world. I advocate for youth issues from a local to a global level.
Last year I was a participant of the 2nd High level Meeting of the global partnership for effective development cooperation. We pushed for article 88 of the Nairobi outcome document 2016 (on the importance of investing in children and youth if we want to achieve inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for present future generation). I also participated in the AU Pre- summit 2017 on demographic dividend. We came up with recommendations on how the government of Kenya can invest in young people.
Chanuka is a nonprofit organization whose key objective is to empower young people. We seek to do this through community outreach, organizing seminars and conferences that address issues facing the youth and also developing a curriculum that serves their interests. We have organized a medical camp, clean ups, business breakfasts and a peace parade.
One of the targets of SDG 4 is to ensure that there is an increased number of youth and adults who have relevant skills for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship. How is the Chanuka association working on this?
We have developed a curriculum called PACE (Personal advancement curriculum for entrepreneurs). It seeks to instill values, skills and knowledge to entrepreneurs to make their enterprises successful. Also, Chanuka seeks to partner with the government and other stakeholders to create awareness on the opportunities available for young people who want to venture into entrepreneurship.
One of your aims is to train youth on communication skills. Majority are found within the ‘Generation Y’ bracket in that they have access to digital and electronic technology hence they rely on social media. Do you think this affects their style of communication? How do you train the youth for that matter?
The aim of communication is to pass on a message. If the speaker uses a language that the audience does not understand, the speaker remains barbaric. However if the same speaker uses a language that is easily understood by the audience then the power of communication is unleashed. Following this logic, one can conclude that it’s not the use of the language, but whether the language used conveys the intended message. Use a concept that can be understood to avoid misconception. Our curriculum on communication skills does not emphasize the use of a certain style over another, rather on understanding what language the intended audience best understands and then tailoring your style to that language.
What has been the impact of the Chanuka Community Service in terms of environmental management?
Chanuka has organized two clean ups held in 2013 and 2014. Through these events we helped the community realize the importance of a clean environment and the negative effects of a polluted one.
Chanuka strives to teach children on the importance of investing. Warren Buffet runs the secret millionaires club where he teaches youngsters on the same concept. Do you think parents should do more in this area?
Yes they should. Looking at the demographic dividend in Kenya, you will realize 42% our population is young people from 15 years and below. This is known as a bulge population and it shows that there is a high dependency ratio against a small working age group hence proper investment is required to avoid a demographic disaster in future. I think parents have a moral responsibility as guardians to protect the future of their children and that can no longer be done through education to get employed but through education to identify opportunities to invest .Chanuka belongs to this new school of thought which is not as new anyway.
Your organisation strives to assist teenagers in high school to transition into adulthood. In your view, what is the greatest challenge that teenagers face and how is your team working to combat this?
We as Chanuka are persuaded that the teenage years, like any other age range, are critical. At this point, the teenagers feel they are mature enough to go about with minimal and preferably no supervision. While the teenager is convinced of his/her feelings, his/her parent isn’t, hence it leads to conflict. Teens lack proper role models in the society, teachings on sexual health and morality, a listening ear to the challenges they face factoring in peer pressure, rise of social media influence etc. We thus seek to bridge this gap by deploying a platform that provides holistic mentorship. Chanuka tends to do this by rolling out a volunteer program integrated into competitive sports and crafts program.
What has been the most difficult moment of your life? What lesson did you learn and how would anyone else manage a similar situation?
When my dad lost his job, it was a difficult moment in our family. I saw my dad getting stressed beyond measure because all of us were still in school. I remember very well that the situation really threw us out of balance due to financial constraints. I grew up knowing my dad as a hero and a strong man but at that moment I saw his vulnerability. Those are the moments that life got really tough and I felt like the world stings and the sky was falling on us. I thank God we made it through for God made a way. I learnt that no matter how strong you are or how experienced you are, there are moments in life that can hit you left, right and center and sometimes you don’t have solutions to the problem or you can’t fix it. We all get such moments. Focus is important in that moment.