For Janet David Silla, age is just a number that cannot prevent her from achieving whatever she has trained her eyes on. The 80-year-old grandmother proved that last Friday when she graduated with a master’s degree in Development Studies at St Paul's University in Limuru, Kiambu County.
She was among 2,969 graduands who were conferred with degrees, diplomas and certificates in various disciplines during the university’s graduation ceremony. Silla, who was born in 1938 in Muthumo village, Machakos County, was elated after being crowned with her second degree.
The elderly woman, who has now set her sights on getting a doctorate degree, said her desire to further her education was stoked when she travelled to Bugema University in Uganda in 2008 to visit a friend. And bored of staying idle at home, she enrolled for an undergraduate degree.
Speaking to The Standard during the graduation ceremony, Silla narrated how her family in 2009 tried to prevent her from enrolling for a degree in Social Work at the university. “My children said that I was going to embarrass them and my grandchildren laughed at the idea. I was however determined,” she said. She said life at the university was not a bed of roses as she was confronted by culture shock and fast-paced life.
“Things were very challenging at first for me. My fellow students could not believe I was one of them. They thought I was a lecturer but I soldiered on and graduated with a degree in Social Work,” she said. After bagging her first degree, she returned to Kenya and started to work as a social worker with the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church.
However, even as she continued to work as a social worker, she still harboured thoughts of furthering her education. Her thirst for higher education had not been quenched and she decided to enrol for a master’s degree at St Paul’s University. She said at first, the treatment by some of her fellow students and a section of lecturers almost made her abandon her studies.
Silla told The Standard she was taken aback on the first day when a whole class burst out in laughter. “At first, I felt disappointed and out of place. One of the lecturers even told me I did not belong there. My young classmates asked me why I was studying at my age and who would be interested in employing me. Their attitude did not however deter me from pursuing my goal,” she said. She said the students and the lecturers however came to understand and appreciate her, adding their support and cooperation kept her going.
With the two degrees, Silla hopes to continue with her campaign to empower women and the girl-child. “I want to encourage the young pupils and students in the country that education is the key to a good life,” she said. Her master’s degree supervisor at the university, Dr James Kuria, termed her a good student who was always on top of things. Dr Kuria acknowledged things were challenging at first but added that she was quick to catch up.
If she gets some money, she hopes to enrol for a doctorate degree soon.