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Alumnae Perspectives: What it means to be a young woman leader

By September 14, 2015 No Comments

One does not have to be great to start, but one has to start to be great ~ Zig Zaglar

With this always in mind, I do not have to wait till I’m “old enough” to start making a difference. My name is Michelle Buyaki, I’m nineteen years old and a product of several investments made in me.

I live in Starehe, Nairobi County, together with my parents and siblings. My father is an accountant by profession and my mother a high school teacher. I have three siblings, two sisters and a brother, all in school.

As a first born, this was and still is my first leadership role. Leadership for me is about service, about walking the talk and being a role model. I have an innate ability to engage with people at different levels which makes me able to relate well with them and find out more about what problems they have and how to engage them in finding solutions.

Firstly, I am a beneficiary of Akili Dada, a leadership incubator for young African women. This puts me in a position to reach many people through several projects. I have volunteered as a teacher in a rehabilitation center for girls where, in addition to teaching the syllabus and together with other beneficiaries of the same, we were able to start a book club to improve the reading skills and knowledge of the girls there. We were also able to equip them with skills in mat making, beadwork and soap making. This was to enable them to be enterprising once they left the center.

I am a student at the Technical University of Kenya taking a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering – which is a highly male dominated field. I am also a member of the gender affairs committee at my school but most importantly, I take part in several projects within and outside the school. I am a member of Onward Movement (a youth empowerment movement that serves to bridge gaps by giving back to our communities) which is strongly affiliated with the Young Achievers’ Network that shares the same objectives as Onward.

My most recent and I believe most impacting project with these two movements is the mentoring sessions we have been having in different schools around the country. In my quest to give back to society, I believe mentoring is an invaluable aspect. I mentor young women mostly and encourage them to voice out their issues and not allow room for intimidation. I speak to them from a point of knowledge, having gone through that and braved the storms that come with being a woman in a patriarchal society. Encouragingly, our communities have taken this very positively as the young people are getting more empowered and aware of the opportunities they can create for themselves in terms of growth and success.

It is evident that I have a passion to give back to my community. What drives me each day is the quote “Be the change you wish to see”. In my own little ways, I strive to impact the lives of those around me positively. It goes without saying that you cannot offer what you do not have. I therefore aim at being my best everyday so that I can offer the best to the lives around me.

As a leader and a young woman, I have faced several challenges.  Being a leader often puts me at odds with those who hold onto the notion that leadership is purely a man’s world. I disagree completely and will never let my gender be a stumbling block to taking initiative. It gets even tougher as a woman in a male dominated field of study, engineering. For a long time women have been afraid to venture into these fields because of the cultural stereotypes. Well, it hasn’t been easy for me either. Starting with the fact that the male students in my class literally look down on me and do not see me as matching their standard in my particular course of study to the sneering faces I get more often that not when I confidently say that I study engineering.

I believe making a positive impact in society has absolutely nothing to do with being male or female. It has to do with the person. This is a belief that I pass on to every single person I mentor in the schools I visit and especially to the girls. Societal notions should not hold us back from chasing our dreams and achieving them.