Three years later I am still happy and proud to be working with Akili Dada. Talk about job satisfaction! ~ Joyce Ngumba, Director Innovation in Leadership Program

On Friday (December 11th) my colleagues and I went for a Dada Dialogue in Kawangware. We initiated Dada Dialogues this year responding to the need to create spaces where young women felt free to discuss the issues that affect them and their communities. Through the dialogues we as Akili Dada speak to these issues sharing the knowledge and resources we have gained as an organization, empowering the young women to act as agents of change. Having visited Isiolo, Kwale, Bomet and Makueni throughout the year, Kawangware was the last and best dialogue yet. Indeed we met 64 smart, funny and engaging women between the ages of 16-40 who shared their experiences with us.

The issues articulated by the women that affected them and their communities heavily centered on the lack of employment that then has contributed to a number of social challenges including insecurity and poor parenting on the one hand and teenage pregnancy, prostitution and poverty on the other. These ladies unsparingly shared with us their life experiences and we were honored that they felt that the dialogue was a free enough space for them to do just that. There was a heartfelt moment for example when the youth confronted the older women about their lack of parenting and lack of providing for their children. In turn the older women apologized to the youth for their neglect. Talk about an intergenerational dialogue! The beauty of this experience was that it was not the usual pity party session; the women boldly highlighted their concerns and the challenges of life in Kawangware while openly engaging each other in finding solutions. At the end of the dialogue we collectively devised an action plan to address some of the pressing challenges. As I was reflecting on this dialogue I was impressed by the resilience and sense of determination these powerful women had in ensuring that they and their community has a second chance. They resolved to ensure that their lives would not be relegated to a life of poverty, crime, and unemployment. I should not neglect to mention that 95% of the women in that room were unemployed and I believe that something can be done to give these women that second chance. I am hoping that as Akili Dada and hopefully with some help from other like minded organizations we can have a “second chances” initiative where such women can realize their potential through skills building workshops and back to school initiatives.

After lunch we visited, Mary, one of our scholars. Mary lives in an informal settlement popularly known as Satellite in Nairobi and is one of our most recent recipients of the Akili Dada comprehensive scholarship. We were impressed to see that in addition to excelling in school, Mary had already taken initiative to impact change in her community. Her community service project involves facilitating neighborhood clean ups. Mary narrated that her motivation for the project was brought about when she witnessed the death of a neighbor’s child due to typhoid disease. She resolved to rally her community to keep their environment clean, educating them on the benefits of doing what may seem as a little action that builds to bigger benefits for her community such as fewer cases of such untimely yet preventable deaths. We spoke to Mary’s mother who herself is an inspiration, selling porridge in Kibera (yet another informal settlement in Nairobi) to support her family. Her husband has been unemployed for several years and thus making her the sole breadwinner. Her determination to ensure her children got an education reminds us of the importance of our work in ensuring that underprivileged girls have access to quality education. As she thanked us profusely for the scholarship we were also reminded of the greater impact that our scholarships have on the households that these young women come from. Mary’s mom can now focus her energies on providing an education for Mary’s siblings, easing the economic burden that was once a heavy on her.

In the evening (it was indeed a long day) Joy and I went to Mercy Mugure’s magazine launch at the Michael Joseph Center in Nairobi. Mercy, a 2015 Dadas Ignite fellow, is a young woman living with a disability and making a difference for persons living with disabilities. Mercy’s initiative ensures that the lives of people living with disability are portrayed in a positive way and on that night was launching Ability Africa Magazine. Mercy is a strong believer that disability is not inability and has channeled her efforts to challenge the way society views persons that live with disabilities. “We have lives too, we are parents, we are spouses, we are professionals, and we yearn for the same things that all people do.” Says Mercy. The magazine, the first of its kind in Kenya at least, highlights the lives of people living with disabilities in an informative and empowering way. We as Akili Dada were proud to be a part of this event. During her remarks, Mercy, spoke passionately about her hopes for the magazine. She stated that she wanted the magazine to serve as an advocacy tool so that children growing up with any kind of disability do not have to go through some of the challenges she and others have gone through. The event was well attended and exemplified inclusion with people living with all kinds of disabilities including the physically challenged, hearing impaired, people living with albinism among others being well represented.  The event was so inspiring and empowering. The magazine was endorsed by Honorable Isaac Maura a Member of Parliament living with albinism and a champion for people living with disabilities. The magazine was also endorsed by Senator Godliver Omondi also living with a disability and the National council of People living with disabilities. I was so proud that one of our Dadas had started such an initiative.

On my way home from the event, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to be part of an organization that allows me to engage with women from all walks of life. In addition, I am more proud that we are not just sitting and watching we are trying our best to make sure that these women realize their potential. I am reminded of Wangari Maathai who used the now famous humming bird analogy and states that like the humming bird that poured drops of water to quench a forest fire, she (Wangari) was doing her little bit to save her environment and to change the world. I am certain that Akili Dada is doing its little bit too in ensuring that young women not only realize their potential but also are positioned to be the leaders of tomorrow.

As we wrap up this year, I am exceedingly proud of our work and look forward to next year. I also can’t help to feel so blessed to work with Purity, Veronica, Peninah, Joy and Doris who make coming into work every day a joy.

Here is to a productive 2016 and Happy holidays!