I did my best and got noticed
She sat poised in a crowd of police officers spectacularly clad in the ceremonial dress reserved for special occasions. The day had been leading to that moment when the Master of Ceremonies made the grand announcement.
One could sense intensity in the air as breaths were held in anticipation and silence descended.
“The winner of the 2015 Best Outstanding Police Officer Award is Constable Sylvana Lengaina from Bungoma Police Station!”
The surprise on the constable’s face was palpable and quickly replaced by a curt smile as she stood to approach the podium.
The navy blue ceremonial attire with gold trimmings made her a pillar of patriotism. After a befitting salute, she began by stating her name and officer number as the audience sat up, some jostling for that vantage position to get a better look.
“I am so happy today to have won this award, I’ll continue doing the best I can in my knowledge and ability,” said Sylvana briefly.
She was bequeathed the award for her exceptional service delivery to the public, in the police records department in Bungoma Police Station.
The inaugural Outstanding Police Office Awards ceremony was a day of victory for Sylvana and for women, as she was crowned best police officer amongst thousands of other servicemen and women in the country.
The 27-year-old Lengaina is the third child to Mr. and Mrs. Lengaina of Samburu County. The family matriarch single-handedly raised Sylvana and her siblings after the untimely death of Lengaina’s father when she was a toddler.
Her now raised social status is almost a fairytale to a girl who grew up amongst five siblings in a peasantry in Kisima, a small town centre in Samburu County.
Sylvana attended Kisima Primary School and moved on to in AIC Moi Girls Secondary School in Samburu.
After acquiring her KCSE certificate in 2007, she was enlisted into the Kenya Police Service in March the following year. She recalls the moment she was recruited as an opportunity, one that she could not easily let go. According to Sylvana, it’s not easy working in a male dominated field, though she compares her experience in the Police service to any other job.
As a new recruit, Sylvana survived nine months of police training the Kenya Police College in Kiganjo.
“We would wake up at 1am to begin training, which was a long run, and other training exercises,” she says, adding that she was not permitted to disclose any specifics.
At 3am, they would return to their dorms and prepare for the rest of the day.
“It was tough and needed one to be physically fit, but I managed. The hardest thing was adjusting to the cold weather,” she recalls, saying that some of the other trainees got sick, but not her.
The Police service gives a provision of 30 per cent for women during recruitment, only taking recruits who attained a C plus average or higher in Secondary examinations.
“The men don’t treat me differently, it depends on who you are. If you allow yourself to be treated unequally, so it shall be, but if you stand firm, then it is OK,” she explains.
Prior to the 2015 Police Awards in March, the Independent Police Oversight Authority went around police stations countrywide to observe how officers were serving people to see who would be commended for outstanding service.
“I didn’t even know that I would win an award, let alone the top honour,” she says chuckling in disbelief. “I can’t tell why I won, but maybe because I was providing services in good faith and not harassing people.”
Though humble as she may be, the constable has grand ambitions.
“In my life, I would like to be an Inspector General, it would be such an honour to be the first female IG,” she says, her voice filled with hope.
Lengaina is a born-again Christian, altruistic at heart and wishes above all, to help people, especially women; she also dreams to be attached to the United Nations to fulfil her calling to goodwill.
She was transferred to Malindi in 2009 where she worked until 2013. In the same year, she was sent to Bungoma and has been working there to date.
“People need to know police officers are just human beings, we are mothers and wives too. The perception people have about the police is not right, they need not be afraid or intimidated by us,” said Lengaina.
Lengaina is married to a fellow Police officer with whom she has a daughter. She describes her extended family as very supportive and understanding of her career...though they have never seen her dressed in uniform.
“I think the only time they have seen me dressed in uniform was on television during the IPOA Award ceremony,” she says, chuckling.
Lengaina’s days are hectic, she wakes up at 6am to dress and prepare breakfast for her daughter. After walking little Melissa to school by 7.30 am, she reports to work.
At Bungoma Police Station, she heads the records department where she spends her days filing paperwork and entering data into a computer system.
“Sometimes I write abstracts for lost IDs and other items, permit letters and whatever other duties my commander assigns, though I don’t come into direct contact with many criminals at the station,” she says.
Lengaina enjoys her work and encourages other women to join the service, saying it is just like any other job.
The ceremony came to an end on a high note with dancing and ululations signalling a village so motivated by the effort of one woman.
When duty calls, a family of three must be apart
Sylvana Lengaina was married to her best friend in 2011. Theirs is a childhood love story, one that is experienced by a lucky few.
"My husband and I grew up in the same place, our families were always close and we have known each other for a long time," she recalls.
Sylvana is married to fellow serviceman Meshack Lenyakopiro, and they have a three-year-old daughter named Melissa. Her free time is spent with her family, who she says is her first priority.
She speaks of her husband in a nostalgic tone, saying that in their five years of marriage, husband and wife have always been stationed far away from one another.
Sylvana was transferred to Malindi in 2009, while her husband, then fiancée, was sent to work in Narok.
"In 2013, I was sent to work in Bungoma, and my husband was stationed in Wajir. He visits us every once in a while, but due to security issues, my daughter and I do not go to Wajir to visit him," she says.
Two years on, the couple has learned to cope with their situation.
"I know it's hard for Melissa, not being able to see her dad often, she misses him even though she is too young to properly express herself. I also miss him a lot," she adds.
If given the chance, the bold policewoman would ask the Inspector General to make it possible for married police officers to be allowed to work in the same station.
There is a procedure in the police service that allows policewomen who are married to fellow policemen to apply to be stationed in the same location.
"It is not effective, I've written letter after letter, but I have not gotten a reply," says Sylvana, adding that she has learned to cope with her situation, regardless of the challenges.
All in all, there is a silver lining; the couple tries to apply for leave in the same month so that they can get a chance to spend some quality time together as a family.
"That's the only time we get all together, and I cherish those moments so much," she says with warmth in her voice.
The young constable says her job requires her to be stoic and tough, both physically and mentally; but when she heads home to her family, she leaves behind her uniform and transforms into a warm, loving mother, much in contrast of her day job.
"It's tough juggling my job and being a mother," she says. "What is even tougher is being married to a fellow police officer, who is always stationed far away from me and our daughter."