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I got a C in high school but here I am, a pioneer

Achieving Woman

Doris Kendi Mwenda with her husband Phineas Mwenda, their daughter Elsie Makena Mwenda and their son Ethan Kimathi Mwenda PHOTO;WILBERFORCE OKWIRI

She is one of two Africans who are on a voyage to Antarctica, the only virgin continent yet to be exploited. She is writing history, becoming the first Kenyan to ever be on an expedition to the South Pole, in Antarctica, a land extensively covered by ice. She will also be the first woman to do so, and at 34, she may remain as the youngest to accomplish the feat for many years to come.

In just more than a decade, Doris Kendi managed to turn failure into success, bestowing a whole new meaning to women shattering the glass ceiling. Not ever did she envisage rising to her current stature. In fact, as a young girl, she recalls living quite the normal life.

“I am the second born in a family of three. I grew up in Nyeri just like a normal child. I attended Consolata Primary School in Nyeri then afterwards joined Kangubiri High School.”

It is right after her KCSE results came out that Doris began questioning her future. She had managed a ‘C’ unlike some of her colleagues who looked forward to a bright future at the university – thanks to their mental acumen, having aced the examination.

“Initially, I felt angry that I couldn’t proceed to the university,” says Kendi. “I had always dreamt of progressing to campus: it was going to be my first time in the city.”

Nonetheless, she went ahead and sent applications to about six local universities. None of them replied to accept her candidature. Disheartened, but still sufficient with grace, Doris applied to study for a diploma in Food Science at the Kenya Polytechnic.

She had run out of choices. She was hanging on a thin thread searching for a suitable career. Had she made it to the university, Doris would be an advocate of the High Court, having nurtured dreams of studying Law. Flowing with the drift and studying Food Science didn’t seem bad; after all she had nothing else to go for.

“I decided to give it my all. I had never seen myself as a food technologist. If I was going to be something I never dreamt of, then I could as well be best at it,” she says.

In 2004, armed with her diploma, she went chasing for employment. She was employed by Coca Cola juices as an intern earning a paltry Sh5,000. Her skills shone and with that came her first assignment as a Quality Controller earning Sh30,000.

Light was definitely shining at the opposite end of the tunnel. Good fortunes only served to reinforce the zeal she had carried within from the time fate seemed so dark.

Doris never relented in her quest to perform above par. She rose through the ranks. At some point, two years into working with the soda makers, Nairobi Bottlers took her in. Her dalliance with the bottlers only lasted a couple of years as Doris sought to find her way back to her former employer. That was after she had gone back to school and received higher diploma in Food technology.

“I went back to Coca Cola, this time in the rank of packaging technology,” she says.

She set on a quest to create new laboratory protocols. She was the first to rewrite the rules of laboratory engagements, putting into place measures that covered safety as well as optimised production. Her employer was definitely mesmerised; something that earned Doris trust within the department.

She was sent to other countries to implement similar changes. Ethiopia, Zambia and Madagascar are among a list of countries to have benefited from her expertise. She became an accomplished woman, one who, she says, focused only on the positive side of every situation forthwith.

“I gained confidence. I am a very positive person. It showers me with energy to go into something. I made myself believe that I could do anything that I set my sights on.”

Women’s ambassador

It was not long before this vibe of positivity paid off. In 2012, Doris graduated from the University of South Africa with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. She went ahead to be appointed as the ambassador of 5by20, an empowerment programme within Coca Cola Company aimed at helping women find the best in themselves.

“5by20 is about steering women to discover that they are capable of so much more: beyond the space society has limited them to. I have always been passionate about empowering our women. That is because the injustice suffered by the fairer sex does not feel appropriate. While in this position, I hope to impact women’s lives in more ways than just telling them that they are capable,” she says.

But that is not all Doris is about; she is also an advocate of the environment. Her voice, she assures me, can be found lost somewhere in the din that is the clamour for fighting global warming.

Going to Antarctica didn’t come so easily like many would think. “It was a competition; I wrote an essay to persuade my way through,” she says.

And if she makes it through the journey, Doris hopes to champion the war against climate change, and women empowerment. She knows that Wangari Maathai’s contribution to environment conservation is unbridled but does not hesitate to emulate the Nobel peace prize winner.

At Coca Cola, Doris befittingly holds the office of Safety and Environment manager. She says she is proud of what she has done to improve her employer’s prospects. Coca Cola has paid her back with trust and career growth, something she feels proud about.

Times have surely changed for the one-time average performer. “I would like to give back now. I am aware that growing to this level is not just me; so many share in my journey. I can only offer others a chance like I was offered.”

And off we let her start her journey to Antarctica: A journey she never dreamt of as a C-student.

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