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Charlene Ruto: A day with the President's daughter

News

Charlene is the most outgoing child within the President’s family but comes across as the girl next door — the high fives, dancing to local music, and dining with village folk. Spend a day with her and you can see that she can mix and mingle with anyone, comfortably.

Her family has occupied State House for the last year, but she cannot escape the spotlight being shone on the family, and her in particular; the public scrutiny and media attention, balancing private life with public expectations, and the pressure to conform to an unwritten code of conduct.

Our team caught up with her in and around Kilgoris, Narok County, where she was engaged in several public engagements that included launching the Maa Girl Foundation and tree planting at two schools, Shankoe and Enoosaen Girls schools.

And for the first time, the 30-year-old agreed to an interview where she shared her experiences growing up in a large family, her passion for youth development projects, learning sign language, and the weight of the last name she carries, a name that invites online trolls whenever she says or does something.

LIFE IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Whenever she turned, the trolls flew into her face and initially, stung her more than the bees she keeps in different parts of the country. Today, she takes any criticism in stride.

“Everyone is entitled to an opinion,” she said. “I am associated [with family] politically, and there are people who love that and people who hate it. But that is something that’s a part of who I am. It’s not something I can change. I have embraced it. I pick the good and go with it and leave the bad behind.”

Late last year, Charlene caused an online furore when she claimed to have sold ‘smokie kachumbari’ during her stint at Daystar University. Many dismissed her assertions claiming there was no way the daughter of the then Deputy President could sell smokies to sustain her campus lifestyle.

So did she stretch the hustler narrative too far? “I don’t know why people would think I’d make up that story. What should be the point of making up the story?” She locks eyes with Emannuel Too from KTN, who had asked her about her college business acumen. Her response was resolute.

 At home with Charlene Ruto (Photo: Peter Muiruri)

“You know, when I shared the story of how I was selling ‘smokies kachumbari’, what I realised is, for us politicians’ kids, there’s so much expectation or misconceptions as to who we are. But imagine, we’re just people. We want to make our own way in life, to have our own successes. And so when I was in Daystar University and I was doing that business, it was for my own sake. It was for me to learn something and get something for myself,” she says.

The university hustle, she adds, taught her life lessons about money, lessons she wishes any youth from whatever background learns that there is little responsibility over easy money.

“I’ve learned the sweetest money is the one you make for yourself. It’s not what you’re given as pocket money, but that which you make for yourself. And that’s the money you’re actually most responsible with. Because when somebody gives you money, maybe you were not expecting it, you spend it on your leisure activities. But when it’s money you made, then you’re very keen to spend it on things that are responsible,” she said.

And it is as well she is learning these lessons now for she was not a very serious person in her formative years. She tells yet another story that shaped her childhood.

“When I was younger, I was a bit of a joker. I was in a day primary school and used to take things so lightly. Then my parents said ‘if we don’t help her, she is not going to pass her primary school exams’. So they moved me to a boarding school. It helped me to become more structured and by the time I went to high school, I knew how to behave and take care of myself,” she said.

Would she take her children to a boarding school? Not for primary schooling “but for high school we still need the current structure” However, as she stated, one of her sisters went to a day secondary school and performed well. “She was already disciplined and structured so she could monitor herself. But people like me who were jokers needed someone to help.”

That ‘someone’ includes both her father and mother, who not only instilled a strong sense of discipline and guidance but also gave the children the latitude to choose what they wanted to study. The parents have also been guiding her in some of her projects including the most visible, beekeeping.

In the coming days, Charlene hopes to release her 30-point strategy that she will be working on with the help of the youth. These will be divided into three thematic areas: Youth in action, youth and society, and climate action and agriculture.

Already, some activities in the plan such as climate action and agriculture are weaved into her current projects of tree planting and beekeeping. Others have to do with girl empowerment including addressing early pregnancies and menstrual health.

Charlene has a lot on her plate yet there are those who still feel she should do more and perhaps include the boy child in her programmes. However, she wants men to step up and help young men with mental health, and drug and substance abuse “since I cannot do everything”.

Still, Charlene feels there is a lot these young men can do within the agricultural value chain. For example, she suggests they take up content creation in agriculture and share it with others. If need be, they could use her farm experience as a starting point.

“I am imagining if this young person could visit my farm, record what I am doing and share the information with other people who are doing different things in farming. They would have such rich information for anybody who wants to get into agriculture,” she said.

Charlene says she cannot run like Eliud Kipchoge, but is ready to chase her goals, and like the goalkeeper she was in school, she will make sure none of these slip away from her hands.

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