By Michelle Buyaki
My journey with Akili Dada started when I was in high school and has been quite a transformative one. I remember when Dr. Wanjiru Rutenberg (the founder of Akili Dada) told me that I had been accepted into the program. It was an ecstatic moment. Not only had I found a saviour in my moment of need, I had found a family! As a family, we did a lot of fun yet empowering things. From the leadership academies, to the community service projects and my amazing year as an intern, I have truly been transformed.
I am currently a sophomore at Whitman College in Washington State, USA, and there is so much to be grateful to Akili Dada for. Akili Dada gave me an opportunity to network and have a number of mentors who prepared me not only for college life but also “the real world”. This term is very contentious as I have come to realize. The other day one of my professors got really upset when one of my fellow students used it to mean life outside Whitman and she made it clear that her “real world” was Whitman. So I use it with caution but allow me to mount it here loosely.
I learnt the value of perspective difference and respecting that. This something that Purity Kagwiria (the Executive Director of Akili Dada) reiterated several times. In a school where there are so many diverse opinions, I thank Purity for imparting that on me. I also learnt to grab opportunities as they come. My school is full of extraordinary students, all coming from backgrounds where they are stars in one way or another. What sets you apart in college in how willing you are to take risks, to be wrong, to fail and to learn.
Akili Dada taught me how to celebrate myself; my femininity, my achievements (small as they may seem), my improvements and even my blackness (though this was a non-issue in Kenya). There are days when you are recognised for doing something exemplary in school; celebrate those days. There are days when the only good thing that happened in your day was that you got to finish your homework before midnight or you didn’t accidentally drop a fork on someone’s toe in the dining hall; celebrate those days too. Because at the end of the day, there is so much positivity in you, there is so much untapped potential just waiting to be unleashed, there is so much woman in you! Celebrate it.
Then comes the challenges. I didn’t know I was black until I came to America. I didn’t know it would be such a huge part of my identity and that it would surface in all of my interactions. I also didn’t know that all the English I prided myself in from Precious Blood would all of a sudden not suffice. I didn’t know there would come a day when I would mention something as basic as a foolscap and nobody in the room would know what that was! Oh my, it has been one interesting journey. But good things ahead!
Akili Dada also prepared me for the women empowerment initiative that I started in Kibera and supported me all through. It was through Akili Dada that I was nominated to be a protagonist in a film by Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Women and Girls Lead Global (WGLG). My story was featured in a film called “Girl Connected” and this has given me the opportunity to be invited to very empowering spaces in New York during its launch and in an Ovee Screening during the International Day of the Girl. I will also be participating in another Ovee screening for USAID staff all around the world. Last but not least, I will be representing Akili Dada at an event dubbed “One Night for One World” in San Francisco, California USA in October and I am really looking forward to that.
After all, once a dada, always a dada!