By Essete Fithamlak.
‘I don’t want to miss this chance.’
Mary repeats this mantra to herself for the umpteenth time as she walks to the bus stage in the wee hours of the morning. Every so often she checks her pocket to make sure the 100 bob is still in place. She’s particularly keen to catch an early bus, hoping to beat Nairobi’s crazy traffic to the city center.
‘Ngapi?’ She asks the conductor before she enters the bus.
‘60 bob.’ He replies.
Mary hops into the bus and finds a seat behind the driver. Will 40 bob be enough fare to cover for her return trip? She silently asks herself. She will have to find a way to make it work. Somehow. ‘ I don’t want to miss this chance.’ She mentally chanted that mantra again.
Two and half hours later Mary is seated in another bus, but this time she’s in the company of fellow students from Kenyatta University. It’s not a big deal to her that she is the first one to arrive at the university grounds and has to wait for two and a half hours for the rest to arrive, let alone hold the wait without having eaten anything for breakfast.
The bus is a buzz with excited chatter. The organizer, who is also a student of Kenyatta University, is busy shielding questions from the excited students.
‘Will we meet him or at least the delegates he came with?’
‘I hope we can get a picture with him.’
‘Did you see the welcome party on TV?’
This is happening during The President of United States of America’s (POTUS) visit to Kenya, and the excitement of the probability of meeting him is palpable. Mary is among the few chosen university students who are scheduled to meet some of the business delegates that have come with Obama for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
‘Here we are people!’ the organizer exclaims from the back as the bus stops in front of Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel where POTUS was staying during his two day official visit to Kenya.
Just before they disembark, two security guards come aboard with sniffer dogs.
‘Well, this is new.’ Mary says to the student seated next to her.
‘Expect more Mary. After all they are hosting the President of the United States here.’ Says her school mate. Once the dogs are done, the electric gate is switched open and the bus ferrying the students is let into the hotel’s driveway.
The students are taken in by the pink regal majesty that is Kempinsky hotel that they barely notice the additional security checks. The file in, one by one, taken in by the Victorian decor.
In the hall, there are more than 300 leading entrepreneurs from around the globe, and after a short presentation, the master of ceremony invited, or specifically put - challenged the participants to pitch their ideas to the entrepreneurs sitting next to them in 10 minutes.
‘Impress them!’ he implored.
Mary jumped at this chance and turned to the woman sitting beside her.
‘Hello, my name is Mary Benah and I just graduated from Kenyatta University with a degree in Health Service Management.’ She said nervously.
‘Hello, I am Lucy from Barefoot College International.’ The motherly woman replies with a smile. She goes on to explain what the college does in different parts of the world. Then pauses at, ‘So, tell me about yourself.’
‘Well, I was born and raised in the rural part of Kenya.’ Mary starts and explains where her desire to volunteer came from.
She goes on to highlight a particular encounter with a medical intern who once refused to give treatment to her mother because she had arrived at the end of his shift.
It was another doctor who came to the aid of Mary’s mother, after many hours of waiting in agonizing pain. This experience inspired her to make a resolve to pursue a course in health and be in a position to help anyone who is in need of this service.
The director of Barefoot International College gave Mary her business card and asked her to send her CV.
Mary was giddy with excitement, and did not feel the weight of waiting until 10.00pm to catch a bus home as that was the only time her 40 bob would accord her a ride home.
Two months and a few Skype calls later, Mary reconnected with Lucy in a rural village in Zanzibar, on a fully sponsored volunteership with the Barefoot College International as the leader of their health program.
It was love at first sight with Zanzibar and the women there. She started teaching them about making washable and disposable sanitary towels as well as giving them nutritional tips.
Mary is a 2016 Dadas Ignite fellow and is now planning to expand her work to reach high school girls in Zanzibar with a project that will teach them how to make re-usable sanitary towels.
The fellowship program will run for one year and it provides financial and mentoring support as well as create resourceful platforms for young women with a social change project.
She believes that her project will not only solve a need in the community but will empower the girls to embrace the beauty of womanhood.
“I feel sad to see them lock themselves in their house during their menstruation period, thinking they must stay away from people all because of lack of knowledge. That is what I want to tackle with my project.”