Fourteen years ago, a young lady walked into the offices of the national carrier Kenya Airways at Nairobi's Barclays Plaza. She was looking for a job in the aviation industry just because friends back home had told her that she had what it took to be an air hostess.
Damaris Too-Kimondo had earlier cleared Form Four at St Mary's Tachasis Girls School in Nandi County, but had little money to continue with further studies. A relative in Nairobi directed her to the airline's city centre offices in her first job hunt. She vividly recalls the event at the ground floor of the building.
"The office manager at Kenya Airways almost fell down with laughter. He was so amused that a village girl, who had no papers and knew little about aviation was so eager to get a job in such an industry," recalls Damaris.
But the unexpected happened. Damaris was offered a job on the check-in counter at Eldoret International Airport and later as a cabin crew member for Flamingo Airlines, Kenya Airways former subsidiary for one year. As much as the experience startles her to date, it shows the go-getter spirit of Damaris, the first-born and only girl in a family of four other siblings.
Her entrepreneur spirit had started much earlier. A good storyteller, Damaris earned some money writing and directing plays while in high school.
Today, Damaris is the director at event organising company Shrand Promotions and has rubbed shoulders with the high and the mighty in society, more so through the confidence she gained through years of coaching from her parents back home.
When the Eve Woman team meet her at the family home in Kitusuru, the amiable lady takes us through one of her pet projects that involves propping up players in the hair styling industry and who have not had a common voice when it comes to articulating their hopes and aspirations.
As a matter of fact, Damaris will on Friday next week, host the inaugural Kenya Hair Awards at Kenyatta International Conference Centre, to recognise the best practices within the sector. Although she is not a trained hair stylist, she has many reasons to go the hair way.
"Between 2005 and 2008, I used to run Luckies Hair and Beauty School in Eldoret that left me wondering at how little the industry was regarded. Parents would come to me pleading to train their girls in hair styling 'since they had failed in school.' I had to close down the school when I realised people had the wrong attitude about what I was doing," says Damaris.
This, however, was a stark contrast to what was happening in other countries where hair stylists and make-up artists are taken seriously.
"I had attended a similar award ceremony in Australia and South Africa and noticed the high regard given to the profession. In Nigeria, for example, it cost me Sh30,000 to have my make-up done. These are some of the reasons why I thought we ought to organise similar awards here in Kenya," says Damaris.
She says that in salons all over the country, one comes across hair pieces and styles known as Abuja, Brazalian, Indian and Ghanaian lines yet we have no brand identified by a Kenyan name. She adds: "yet the proceeds from the industry have educated children up to university level."
Sadly, states Damaris, it is actually those in the industry itself who may have a low opinion on their own profession, looking at it as just another daily chore that brings food to the table. Their clients, on the other hand, will put some important activities on hold just to have their hair done.
"Former President Moi had a barber who he faithfully engaged for decades. He would not have done that if hair was a small matter to him. Before a lady goes out on a date, the first thing she does is to visit a salon to put her hair in order. Those giving the service need to have the same appreciation as to those who receive it," says Damaris.
One of the many feathers in her cap includes being the proprietor of Kenya School of Etiquette and Protocol that she set up to help corporates manage personnel behaviour following her training from the English School of Manners in the United Kingdom.
According to Damaris, the condition of one's hair gives an indication as to the condition of the whole person.
"If you go to an office reception and meet someone with bad hair, you may have a low opinion of the company. The personal appearance of the receptionist gives you a sneak preview of the entire company and its values. No one likes unkempt hair. It is part of good etiquette," she says.
Unknown to many, the Public Relations and Communication graduate from St Paul's University is the chief organiser of Lang'ata Women's Prison's annual fashion show that has, over the years, raised the morale of the prisoners, some who had a low self esteem as a result of atrocities they had undergone.
Some of the prisoners in Lang'ata came from Kirigiti Correction Centre where they had been confined as a result of being part of child prostitution rings.
After hearing the harrowing tales of the prisoners, Damaris got interested in the welfare of the girls at the correction centre. She wanted to help them get a safe landing and avoid "graduating" into serious crimes that would see them end up in prison.
Among the plans she has is to establish a rehabilitation centre that will equip them with practical skills to start up their own enterprises.
"It was sad to listen to a girl who was repeatedly abused by her father, uncle and even the local chief. Later the girl learnt that she could actually earn money through selling her body and taking drugs, thereafter ending up in the correction facility. It is not fair to release her directly to the same world with the same poor conditions. They need a transit home," says Damaris.
The proceeds from the hair award ceremony will go towards Kirigiti Correction Centre.
Apart from the degree from St Paul's, Damaris has another degree in event management from the University of Cape Town.