Growing up, I didn’t know I was a girl. That sounds odd, I’m sure. It doesn’t mean I didn’t know (or enjoy the fact) that I was female, nor does it mean I didn’t aspire to be feminine. What it does mean, is that I didn’t know that, in the words of one James Baldwin, I was expected not to “aspire to excellence” but rather to “make peace with mediocrity” by virtue of being a girl. I didn’t know I ought to like English and not Math or Science. I didn’t know I shouldn’t focus too much on education which was more for boys than for girls. I didn’t know that I shouldn’t shine too much in class because I might one day be too educated, or achieve too much career success and intimidate a prospective husband. I didn’t know that I was inherently less capable, less smart, less bright, because I was a girl.
I didn’t know because no one told me. Not my parents, not my teachers. What I was told, was that if I could put my mind to something, I could succeed at it. In short, what I did know was that being a girl, and being feminine and being capable and being great at school wasn’t a string of contradictions in terms. None of these things were antonymic. And knowing that has been of value to me.
Akili Dada is for many young women what my parents and teachers have been to me – a support system, an encouragement and an investor. Akili Dada is seeking to invest in girls and young women based on the belief that they can be many of the things they put their minds to. And because of this belief and because of this investment, Akili Dada itself is an organization that is playing a part in a move towards disassociating womanhood with some of the wrong things it’s been identified with in the past. My own parents encouraged me in my education because they knew what impact education had in their own lives. The principles that Akili Dada was founded on resonate with me. As someone who values education and understands all the doors that it has opened first for my parents and now for me, I am grateful to be part of assisting in the Young Changemakers Program, which is investing in our scholars in a way that engenders sustainable change for themselves, for their families and for their communities, and –in turn –sustainable development for Kenya and, eventually, for Africa.