*By Essete Fitha-Amlak

“My vision for 2030 is to see girls and young women more aware of themselves and the power they have within them and using that power to change society by taking up more leadership positions and initiatives that can change communities.”

Michelle is a prime example of unlocked leadership potential, and truth be told the world needs more young women like her. A vibrant and confident young woman, Michelle is pursuing her degree in aeronautical engineering at the Technical University of Kenya. Looking at how now however one would not imagine the challenging journey she has been through to get her to where she is now.

Michelle at a hangar at the Technical University of Kenya. Photo credits Koen Suidgeest  Michelle at a hangar at the Technical University of Kenya. Photo credits Koen Suidgeest

After completing her primary school education with a distinction, Michelle had  experienced a tough transition to high school, her family at that time struggled to pay her school fees and this disrupted her learning as she would find herself being sent home from school. And though this proved to be one of the most challenging seasons of Michelle’s life, she never gave up on her education, and it was due to this resilience that her high school principal alerted her about Akili Dada. It was around this time as well that she heard about Akili Dadas’ activities from her school mates, who were also Akili Dada scholars. As they  shared their experiences about the leadership academies that they participated in and  about the mentors and inspiring women they interacted with, Michelle curiosity drove her to apply for the Akili Dada scholarship . This decision caused Michelle life to take a good turn. She immediately joined the Akili Dada sisterhood,  participating in mentoring sessions and leadership trainings on the one hand and being free to pursue her education without interruption as  her school fees were paid in full on the other.

“The most important thing Akili Dada did for me is to make me more aware of myself. I discovered myself and the power within me with the help of Akili Dada.”

Michelle facilitating a mentoring session at a remote school in the Eastern part of Kenya. Michelle facilitating a mentoring session at a remote school in the Eastern part of Kenya.

Michelle recalls that on joining high school she felt like she was simply going along with the crowd, easily getting swayed by the external influences around her, however as a result of the  mentorship and leadership trainings she received, she began her journey to self discovery and definition. She defined her priorities and what she stands for. More importantly the community service and service learning element of the scholarship helped shape her worldview, informing the way she thinks, sees things and speaks.  The Akili Dada values and lessons are part of the inspiration that led her to initiate and run a mentorship program for young girls in some of the informal settlements of Nairobi.

Are girls and young women aware of the great power they have to positively impact the world?

Michelle with her fellow Dadas at a leadership academy. Michelle with her fellow Dadas at a leadership academy.

Michelle believes that girls and young women have an immense power to transform themselves and their communities however she is also conscious of the fact that more often than not they are made to believe they do not possess this power. She admits that for her, the adolescence period was one filled with doubt in her own abilities and a lack of awareness and realization of her own potential. Her choice of university course to study for example was greatly influenced by the mentoring and guidance she received from the Akili Dada community. She came to the realization that  her childhood dream to become a Medical Doctor was not the direction she wanted to head in and instead chose to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering. Her own experience has therefore informed her that girls and young women need guidance and encouragement from others to help them discover the power within. She strongly believes that when given the chance girls and young women have the potential to change the status quo .

Her hope for the girls and young women of this world is that they would be able to believe in themselves a little more, and that they would not be afraid to take on a challenge or go against the norms and standards that society sets. Her dream is simple, that girls and young women would step out of their their comfort zones and be curious to learn new things.

Michelle feels like she wasted a bit of her time in being scared and not taking up the opportunities that were presented to her because of self doubt . It is for this reason that she thrives in running mentoring sessions for for girls and young women from the informal settlements of Nairobi so that they would not have to journey the path that she went through.

A very transformed Michelle now spends much of her time in school and her spare time interning at the Akili Dada office.

“I don’t have to be at the office or no one pushes me to be here but I feel like I have to be here and do something for what Akili Dada has done for me. I love being here.”