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Rosemary, the snail farmer

By | Updated Sat, April 7th 2012 at 00:00 GMT +3

ROSEMARY ODINGA is not only the Prime Minister's daughter but she also mentors boys on rugby and runs the only snail farm in Kenya. She opens up to SHIRLEY GENGA about her life, fascinating pastime and her daughter

Most people know you as the Prime Minister¡¯s daughter. But who is Rosemary Odinga?

People say I am a straight shooter and I do not beat about the bush. I give it to you as it is.

Tell us about your childhood

It was a unique experience. I was born and raised in Nairobi and I am the second born in a family of four.

My siblings are Fidel, Raila Jnr and Winnie. My dad was actively involved in the liberation struggle of this country and on several occasions he was arrested.

My fifth birthday was among the most memorable episodes. It was during the 1982 coup when my dad was arrested three days before my birthday on August 13.

ROSEMARY ODINGA, Prime Minister¡¯s daughter [Photo/Standard]

He had promised to buy me presents on that day but he never made it to the party because he had been arrested.

Because of my dad¡¯s involvement in the liberation struggle, in school everyone ¡ª from the teachers to the pupils ¡ª wanted to know who we were. By the time I was in high school at Loreto Msongari Girls I was used to the attention.

What kept you going through those trying moments?

My mom. She is a strong and prayerful woman. She would sit us down and explain to us what was happening.

The experience made me grow up fast and I started appreciating freedom and democracy at an early age.

What are some of the projects you are involved in?

I love farming. I even own a farm where I rear snails. It is the only snail-rearing farm in Kenya.

I also farm bamboo. Apart from that I am the rugby patron for Upper Hill Secondary School, so I get to mentor the boys. I am passionate about mentoring boys because I feel that for a long time they have been neglected in favour of girls. This creates an imbalance in the community.

Why snails?

They are yummy! I first ate snails while on a trip to Nigeria and I was hooked. I start ed the snail farm ¡ª Shell Tops ¡ª in 2007.

Snails are rich in protein and low in cholesterol. It is especially good for people with hypertension and those prone to heart disease. This is a delicacy enjoyed by fine diners. So my market is basically high-end Chinese and West African restaurants.

Tell us about the projects you run in Kibera slums.

The Raila Odinga Foundation is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to transform the lives of the poor by equipping them with skills to help them earn a living. I am the executive director at the centre and I co-ordinate most of the activities.

Through the foundation we run a number of projects ,but my favourite is the Raila Education Centre, which is located in Kibera slums. It is a school my dad started seven years ago to empower his constituency.

It first started as a nursery school, then grew into a primary school and now it has a secondary school too. We have about 1,000 students and plan to upgrade the school into a world-class education facility.

What is the school¡¯s mission?

Ours is to produce well-rounded students who are not only good in academics but also extra curricular activities. We did research and found out that extra curricular activities can help make a child more confident. So we have begun a music programme and have partnered with Penya Africa to initiate more of such programmes.

We have a team of established and upcoming musicians who mentor the students and help to nurture music talent.

We also plan to start a sports programme to help nurture talent.

Sometime back you relocated abroad but came back. How come?

I left Kenya for the US in 2002 to study. I studied Social Criminal Justice at Howard University between 2002 and 2004. After that I worked at Buckle Up America, a road safety outfit, and also got involved in the real estate business. I would get old houses renovate and then sell them.

Afterwards I worked at the Western Union as a social marketer. It was then that I discovered that I had a love for marketing so I went back to the university for my Masters. I did an MBA in Marketing at the University of Dallas from 2004 to 2006.

In 2007, I came back to Kenya because I was going through some major changes in my life.

I had just had my daughter Saphie Akasa and my family needed me back home. I did not want to be one of those people who go abroad to study then forget to come back home. It was then that I decided to come back home and run the foundation.

What challenges does the foundation face?

People have this wrong assumption that the centre is a political outfit. But we want to change that perception by creating more awareness through avenues like social media. In fact we are now on Facebook and have a vibrant page where we engage with youth.

What inspires you?

The fact that I am making a difference in someone¡¯s life through the foundation. I also love the fact that every day is different and filled with so much possibility.

Where do you see the centre in the future?

I want the school to be the leading institute in research, innovation, science and engineering and math in East Africa.

We will begin the school upgrading project in May this year and we hope it will be complete by 2015. We plan to set up a world-class institute.

Tell us a little about your daughter?

Saphie is adorable. She is five years old, adventurous and loving. Her birthday is in November but the other day she told me she wants it to be brought forward to April because November is too far. She enjoys going to Giraffe Centre to feed the giraffes.

What is it like being the Prime Minister¡¯s daughter?

It comes with a lot of responsibility. Dad is a busy man but he always creates time to bond frequently. We do lunch and dinner with him if we need to catch up.

What are your hobbies apart from farming?

I enjoy photography, especially taking human portraits. It is relaxing as well as creative to capture the essence of the moment.

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