You make a difference

Through a life changing programme on Women Leadership and Advocacy, I was privileged to train and mentor a group of girl advocates from eight (8) different counties in Kenya. These girls made several presentations to the First Lady of Kenya at the time through elaborate speeches, poems and skits. The main aim was to hold the Government accountable to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the first Lady was among the global leaders committing to close the gender equality gaps and strengthen the women empowerment agenda. The girl advocates zeroed in on SDG goal 5, Gender equality and linked this to Goal 4 on quality education. To expound this further, the girls prepared a skit that showed their different life experiences. One of the skits focused on forced attempts into early marriages to a very old man by parents due to financial challenges. In another clip, the girls brought out stories of attempted gang rapes, rejection by parents due to sudden blindness, female genital mutilation and many other stories.

As is common in most cultures in Africa, some of the girl’s parents even preferred their brothers to study and not them. They only made it because a little extra money that was located and their fathers reluctantly took them back to school! In another example, the parents of a blind girl felt that it was a waste of money to educate her, but this girl has proven them wrong. She has shown great leadership in her county by being a good example and even joining the Youth Shadow Parliament.

These stories were real, because these were indeed their own stories. Yet despite all that they had been through, these girls never gave up hope in life. They made it to tell their story. These girls chose to pursue their education despite their backgrounds. As we celebrate International Day of Education today, I would like to give it up for these girls that did not give up on their education despite every challenge.

There is another group of people that I would like to big up. It is those silent supporters that have stood with girls and boys whose parents are not able to pay for their school fees, yet the children desire to study. They do it quietly not really looking for man’s applause. I can assure you, you are making a difference. Thank you!

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Please, move my cheese! – How to adopt to change at the speed of a bullet

I was walking through the Nairobi central business district and happened to walk along two men that were literally murmuring about the number of books they had to purchase for their grade one children that joined in August 2021 as was the case in many public schools in Nairobi. They emphasized to me that way back when, in ‘their’ days, the teachers instructed for parents to buy one exercise book which was later divided into sections for the different school subjects. 

I intercepted this conversation by reminding these men we are in the era of shifting mindsets and fast pace that we cannot afford our little ones to be left behind. These wrong mindsets and attitudes towards our schools, employers, workmates, etc. eventually affect all that surrounds us. We have to learn how to anticipate change. Even now as we are in these pandemic times. We cannot be comfortable in status quo.

Dr. Shwartz on the power of thinking spoke to the importance of shifting mindsets since that is what will determine our altitude. By virtue of these complaints, these attitudes trickle down to our children and affects their generation as opposed to dynamic thinking that changes our world for good. Be the change you desire to see. A good example I found was in Wanhecheng community in China, some proactive residents went to install cables after devastating floods in that area. They did not wait for the authorities to do it for them and then complain that their lives were in danger, they took immediate action together. That is leadership!

Spencer Johnson wrote a book called ‘who moved my cheese’, an amazing way to deal with change in work and life. The story brings out four characters – Sniff (who sniffs out change early), Scurry (who scurries into action), Hem (who fears and denies change ) and Haw represent the simple and complex parts of ourselves (who learns to adapt in time when he sees change can lead to something better). At what point of your life are you?

Wanhecheng community residents installing cables after floods

The story of Jecks: A story of shifting mindsets

I read a story in the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell the other day and it really baffled me how that regardless of high IQ genius abilities, your child can actually end up in squalor because you did not take time to train and teach them in the way they should go. A research was done by Dr. Terman from University of Stanford on children born with genius ability (above 140 IQ). It so happened that that not all of them actually made it big, as you would suppose. In fact, quite the contrary. It was clear that the background, and pedigree had a lot to do with how far the genius abilities were harnessed. Two examples that I will bring out from Outliers is based on a brilliant and confident young man, known as Christopher Langan, dubbed ‘the smartest man in America’ contestant in the 1vs 100 show (sort of like who wants to be a millionaire). The show pits one man against a permanent gallery of 100 men. The one man will need to answer more questions correctly more than the 100 men in the show. one million dollars is at stake.

No one had scored that many marks, but yet he never completed university due to poverty and financial constraints. Its clear that extraordinary achievement is less about talent and more about opportunities.

On the other hand, with the same IQ if not lower, a young man brought up from an influential background and taught negotiation skills at a young age was able to negotiate his way to his lecturers.

I will link this to the story of Jecks. She was brought up by an irresponsible father and illiterate mother. She lives in an informal settlement. Her mother does casual work as and when opportunities arise provided by the government, Jeck’s mother does not know to pursue them and get help. Yet, Jecks has such a superior mind and would be considered a girl with genius abilities. The only way to salvage such girl power is to step in and encourage this girl to pursue her dream. Take your place in such lives and speak a word to the Jecks of this world. You never know, you could be encouraging the next Einstein.

Either Win or Perish!

Today, I would like to address the power of decision which leads to determination. Once you decide, not looking back on it, the entire God head will back you up to ensure that you fulfill it. Napoleon Hill tells the story of Edwin Barnes, “The man who ‘thought’ his way into partnership with Thomas A. Edison. Aka Desire. He said within himself, “There is but one thing in this world that I am determined to have, and that is a business association with Thomas A. Edison. I will burn all bridges behind me and stake my entire future on my ability to get what I want.” He left himself no possible way of retreat. He had to win or perish! This relates to our quest for Gender equality and ending FGM, child marriage and other harmful practices that have remained persistent in our societies. We will burn every bridge to ensure that women and girls are free from this hostile practices.

A few days ago, I met with a girl from Borana (from the Horn of Africa, bordering Ethiopia and Kenya). This girl is now living in an informal settlement in Nairobi. What surprised me is that even though she was meant to be safe in Nairobi, hidden away from the vagaries of culture and tradition, this was not to be so. One day in 2017, in a most unexpected turn of events, this 17-year-old was locked up in a room by her mother and sisters. They had called a woman from another informal settlement to perform the ritual of female genital mutilation on her. Her mother informed her that if she did not comply, she will never get married, no man would want an ‘uncircumcised woman for a bride’. She believed them.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where the practice is concentrated and is mostly carried out on girls between infancy and age 15. This girl was 17, she had missed that window, but as fate would have it, she was not to escape it.

The POWER of Vision

A great man by the name John Maxwell said, ‘Minute of thought is greater than an hour of TALK’.

This week, as I was presenting the latest data to my new colleagues that joined the organization, they asked thought provoking questions about what we are doing towards ending violence against women in the region. This was apparent number of intimate partner violence on the rise especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Even before Covid-19, globally, 243 million women and girls were abused by their intimate partners in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified the violence, even as support services faltered and accessing help became harder. Additionally, the numbers of teenage pregnancies increased in the East and Southern Africa region. I was looking for a simple solution as is always my way and the answer came to me in thought provoking pictures from the UN Women website where by during this period of Generation Equality, our office decided to request different artists to paint a picture of what Gender equality means to them. I have chosen one that really spoke volumes to me done by Stephanie Lagunas, a Landscape architect and illustrator, Mexico.

Stephanie said and I quote: “‘Call me when you get home’, ‘Don’t go out alone’, ‘That area is very dangerous’, ‘Don’t go out in those clothes’ … These are phrases women hear all the time. I want the reality for women in my country, in Latin America and around the world to be different, that we can be seen as human beings and not as objects. My greatest wish is that women live free of violence in the streets and in their homes. Women have been underestimated or undervalued for a long time. We must remember that we are as valuable as any other human being.”

Stephanie Lagunas, a Landscape architect and illustrator, Mexico.

A life of No Limitations

Last week, we launched a mapping study on Gender and disability. As I was looking for content and thinking these issues through, I came across the life changing story of Helen Keller. Helen Keller, Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, She lost her sight and hearing at the age of nineteen months. Five years later, on the advice of Alexander Graham Bell, her parents applied to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston for a teacher, and from that school hired Anne Mansfield Sullivan. Anne was met with an unruly girl in Helen, who’s parents had ‘spolit her’ thinking they were helping her. Anne had quite a task ahead of her to teach this girl obedience. From Helen’s story, we understand that the persons with disability also have to learn the things that we all learn while growing up (grooming, cleaning up, etc without any exceptions). The little girl learned to understand and communicate with the world around her. She went on to acquire an excellent education and to become an important influence on the treatment of the blind and deaf.

By understanding issues of Gender and disability, we may just be raising the next Helen Kellers of our generation. Who went on to become widely honored throughout the world and invited to the White House by every U.S. president from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson, Keller altered the world’s perception of the capacities of the handicapped. More than any act in her long life, her courage, intelligence, and dedication combined to make her a symbol of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

A bold person who will remain anonymous said that Helen Keller accomplished more as a blind and deaf person that she ever did as an enabled person. Let us use every opportunity nurture the giftings of those that God brings our way, in whatever state. We have no idea what God has lined up for them.

The Fastest woman on earth

wilma rudolph

We are born with something inside of us that can break the chain of any limitations in our minds and hearts to be all that we were created to be. We can by His grace draw lessons from every challenge as a stepping stone for next level. We were born to soar like eagles, and not allow to be put down by anything.

We will take a small turn from the stories of famous women in the UN and government to a sports figure by the name Wilma Rudoph that I recently discovered while reading the review of a book by the name “Becoming is better than being by Carol S. Dweck.

Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely and it is recorded that the doctors never thought she could survive. At the age of four years old, she had a disease called polio* which causes people to be crippled and unable to walk. Additionally, she also had pneumonia and scarlet fever. She developed a paralyzed left leg. Doctors informed her that she may not be able to use that leg again. BUT…Thank God for parents that never give up on us and siblings that are always encourage us. Her mom always took her for therapy and her siblings worked with her, including playing basketball with her. Not sitting her down as a poor little sister who could not walk. I believe that Wilma’s success is also the parent’s and sibling’s success.

A track coach encouraged her to start running. During her senior year in high school, she qualified for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. She won a bronze medal in the women’s 400-meter relay. In 1959, she qualified for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome by setting a world’s record in the 200-meter race. At the Olympics that year she won two gold medals; one for the 100-meter race and one for the 200-meter race. Then she sprained her ankle, but she ignored the pain and helped her team to win another gold medal for the 400-meter relay!

She retired from running when she was 22 years old, but she went on to coach women’s track teams and encourage young people. Wilma thought God had a greater purpose for her than to win three gold medals. She started the Wilma Rudolph Foundation to help children learn about discipline and hard work (biography by Patsy Stevens, a retired teacher, was written in 2001)

Wilma will always be remembered as the fastest woman on earth after she won three gold medals for sprints and relay in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Angela Duckworth in her book Grit, gives us a  brilliant quote that states: After doing something repeatedly, no matter how hard it is, it becomes easy. But people give up. They knit incomplete sweaters, write incomplete novels, don’t stick with diets. They give up. Strivers, on the other hand, improve their skill so that they are better than the talented who are complacent. It takes people a long time to develop expertise. This is one reason why perseverance is important. I encourage you to have stickability so we can make this world a better world for all of us. Be blessed as you pursue your God given purpose for you. Run your race, not another person’s race.

Famous Women

joyce msuya

Let me start by quoting John Maxwell who said, to overcome any obstacles, there are four traits that you’ll need:

  • Interest: You need to care and be curious. Love the things that you do.
  • Practice: If you don’t practice. Persevere daily. Master your subject.
  • Purpose: There must be a reason to do what you do.
  • Hope: If you don’t think it’s possible, you won’t try to do it.

If you don’t already have these traits in abundance, that’s OK — you can still cultivate them.

The quote above inspired me to begin a series on the people (mostly women) that I really admire within the UN System. Later on, I’d also like to write about top Government officials that are women. These women have beaten all odds to be appointed into positions of power. Aside from their educational qualifications, their drive to succeed and sheer focus, what I also see is favor from above to be at right place at the right time in order to fulfill purpose. Like Queen Esther of old, a Jew, who rose to the position of Queen in a Babylonian system, we know that there is always purpose involved. Their stories are stories of resilience, despite any past issues to go against any odds to succeed. Surprising enough, these people are very kindhearted and loving. Caring enough for those at lower cadres, I can only imagine why God lifts them up.

Let me begin with Ms. Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director, UN Environment. Ms. Msuya, was brought up in Tanazania, near the great Mt. Kilimanjaro, with parents that encouraged her to focus on Sciences as a major in school. This is because her parents told her that Sciences will give her an edge and the ability to have a 360 degree thinking no matter where the professional world will take you. No matter what path she would take, she would always have the ability to think things through. How true this has been for her this far in her path. Such a great mind, combined with great people skills and such integrity is a sure recipe for greatness. Blessings and favor to you Joyce in your work as you lead UN Environment to higher heights. When I mentioned to you that I would write about you, you calmly gave the thumbs up and said, you would read the article. Greatness!

Data to tell convincing stories – Understanding the Data Language

Anyone can be a good story teller – We can turn the difficult to comprehend data produced by Statisticians to something more interesting that people would be interested to use and view.

We have a conglomeration of great data out there, but the issue comes in when we have to interpret the data to ensure that it is well understood so as to be useful not only the policy makers, government but also the local community aka. the ‘mwanainchi’. After the data has been collected from a given community, from my experience, it’s always good manners to go back to the community and share with them the analysis of the data and solutions to how they can solve their challenges facing them. This enables them to have an open mind next time you need to collect a new set of data.

Data is important for it helps us open our eyes to see new perspectives. Allow me to quote Hans Rosling in his famous TED Talk on ‘the best Statistics you have ever seen’ (see:Hans Rosling: The best stats you’ve ever seen). What I’d like to mention is the comparison that he made between the US and Vietnam. In the ’60s these countries were a world apart, whereas US had small families and long life and Vietnam had large families and short life. When we look at the data, it helps us appreciate the social changes that took place in Vietnam before the economic change occurred.

Vietnam experienced major changes from prolonged periods of war, socialist collectivization, political reunification, a shift from a centrally planned to market-driven economy and then opening to the outside world. Vietnam was at war, during which the Communist-driven economy ruled the day then when they finally moved to a free market economy.  By data from Hans, we see the change that took place in terms of smaller family size and longer life span in Vietnam (which is such a long history. Grab a cup of coffee and Please read this article for more information: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/apr/22/vietnam-40-years-on-how-communist-victory-gave-way-to-capitalist-corruption .