Damaris Nyaondo : Cynthia Untamed takeover for world children’s day

On this day, we mark the World Children’s Day. ‘True leadership happens in the most unlikely places with the most unlikely people,’ says Michelle Obama. To nurture the potential of our children, we are encouraging them to take over positions of leadership. The campaign is known as Kids Take Over. This can only be done when we throw ourselves into the field of service and teach the same concept to our children. In Kenya, children will be hosted by Capital FM, Hot 96 FM, King Kaka Music Studios and the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Dr Fred Matiang’i through UNICEF Kenya

Each of us must choose to be determined. No one can believe in you more than you believe in yourself. The struggle to be the best you can be should be something you live for each day. Look within your heart and remember to thank the people who have held your hand as you move up. When you walk through a door, leave it open for others to walk through.

She walked up to me from a crowd of over fifty children gathered at the St Teresa Catholic Church in Eastleigh. As a youth advocate for UNICEF Kenya, I had come to take part in an exercise to sensitize children on their rights based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. As I introduced myself, I looked at all the children gathered there and I was excited by how much they were ready to learn.

I was honestly reminded of myself. I saw a reflection of how I walk up to people telling them they inspire me. My heart jumped when I remembered how hopeful I feel when a leader or a mentor tells me that they are proud of me. It hit me, that not everyone is as privileged as I have been.  Not everyone has the chance to access people in power and influence with the confidence that I managed to dig deep from my mind.  This means that I am part of something that is bigger than me.  In little ways, I have also been allowed to momentarily take over positions of leadership which must live and outgrow who I am today into the lives of other people.

Sixteen year old Damaris Nyaondo wants to be a lawyer. She is a student at Wealth High School in Mathare; A young girl who is determined to get an education and keep improving on her skills in photography and filming. She is definitely an example to many children. She hasn’t had an easy childhood, raised by her grandmother who she grew up believing was her mother until one day she overhead that she was actually her grandmother and the person she thought was her sister turned out to be her birth mother. Was she devastated by the realisation? Yes, but she chose to live beyond her challenges. She knows that she must act beyond her obstacles.

I had a little chat with her. I told her of how I had worked hard in high school to join the University of Nairobi. I had my own challenges then and especially when I wasn’t performing well but I encouraged her to keep striving for her best. I confessed that I once scored zeros in Mathematics but I kept revising and asking for help. Eventually, I scored an A. I reminded her that there is a lot of competition in attaining a place at the University but if she scores well, she might hopefully get a scholarship. You never know what God is planning.

As one of the beneficiaries of the Mwelu Foundation in Mathare, she knows that she is more empowered than many girls in Kenya; girls who still face challenges such as early marriage and female genital mutilation. The aim of the foundation is to help children and youth to realize their potential through photography, film production and other life skills. She has been equipped with these skills. Damaris would like to join the university and study law.  She says that once she is done with high school, she would like to look for a job that will support her through university.

A child learning how to use a camera.
Credit: Mwelu foundation

‘I urge leaders to increase platforms for the youth and children especially those that guide them towards career and life skills. I would like to see children and youth being supported by mentors who do not judge them based on their poor background. I would like to see every child being treated equally,’ she asserts.

As a child, she has gone through insurmountable odds. Sometimes she lacks school fees, books and sanitary towels. Lack of sanitary towels has led many girls into prostitution, something that she has sadly witnessed. However, she keeps herself busy by going to the Mwelu Foundation.

‘I want to be a lawyer who advocates for the rights of children, something that I have been passionate about from a tender age. When I was younger, there was a child who liked harassing others and one day I stood up to him. He said that I was trying to act tough as if I was a lawyer and that is how my dream was born. My other wish is to be a photo journalist since I am also passionate about it,’ she explains.

The Mwelu Foundation approached her school and selected some students who became beneficiaries. Unfortunately, she wasn’t picked but a friend encouraged her to visit the foundation and ask for a place and in the end she was chosen. This goes on to show the determination that she has to improve herself.

Damaris says that she is more responsible now because she takes better care of herself and it keeps her busy away from the dangers of living in a slum where the rate of crime and peer influence is very high. Her favourite subjects are Geography, History, English and C.R.E.

My hope for Damaris and for many children like her is to have an opportunity in life to finish their education. She dreams of hopefully getting a scholarship to study abroad. I hope that will come true for her.

Somalia, July 2011.
Credit: UNICEF

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. On this day and days to come let us give children a foundation for their dreams and their potential. Only then can they have the wings to soar and rise like eagles.

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