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Taking charge: Inspiring stories of students who are striving to make the world a better place

By Agnes Aineah | March 28th 2019

Most people associate college students with happy-go-lucky lifestyles. Harsh economic times have led to increased murmuring about the runaway lack of employment. But is it all gloom and doom? Hashtag speaks to college students who have taken steps to jumpstart their careers and make the world a better place.

Although academics occupy the better part of one’s college experience, exceptional students are using this period to jump-start their careers.

Students who take learning a step away from the classroom are seizing opportunities that come their way to create valuable networks and connect with the real life outside the classroom experience.

Some even graduate college as owners brands that can hold on their own away from the oft-frustrating ‘tarmacking’ job search that most graduates find themselves in.

We spoke to students who have started organisations in college and are impacting the communities they operate in.

I use Helb money to mentor girls in my community

A small body frame saved Sharon Sereti from an early marriage. Suitors simply ignored Sharon, allowing her to go through school unnoticed.

Even now at 21, and almost graduating from university, Sharon has never weighed more than 45 kilograms. But she wasn’t lucky enough to escape other outmoded Maasai cultural practices like female genital mutilation. ven However, she maintained a desire to study up to university.

Sharon says schooling in her Maasai community was considered a waste of time, a choice for despised girls who couldn’t find suitors.

She was brought up by her parents in Narok and went to schools where girls were routinely plucked out class and married off at tender ages.

“Where I come from, favourite daughters are married off. The rest who can’t find suitors are allowed to go to school. It’s like living in the shadow of your siblings and no one notices when you go to school,” says Sharon.

The first time she went to the city was when she joined the University of Nairobi, where she studies public administration and sociology. The third-year student recounts her first days at the university.

“There were not many Maasai girls in university and everyone wanted to know how I had made it to university. It was painful to learn that not many Maasai girls make it to university,” she says.

This jolted Sharon into action, and all she wanted was to empower as many Maasai girls as possible. With the help of assistant chiefs, she started attending barazas where she was slotted in for talks to sensitise parents to allow their daughters to go to school.

Then she started visiting primary and secondary schools on weekends and during holidays to talk to girls. She still conducts the visits under Matasaru Ntoyie Ang’ (loosely translating to ‘let’s rescue our girls’) Pastoralist Foundation, a community-based organisation she registered last year.

The organisation has attracted her classmates, who accompany her during the school visits. She says the organisation has been to more than 20 schools, giving inspirational talks to girls.

 “I am driven by pure passion. All this time I have relied solely on my Helb money to travel to the schools. I also foot the cost of refreshments to entice the girls for the talks. There are others with similar passion, but who enjoy the advantage of funding,” says Sharon.

I founded my business of recycling used diapers in my first year

Brian Were’s schedule at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology is a tight one.

He uses the little time he gets out of class to rummage through dumpsites for used diapers that he uses to make carrier bags.

Sometimes he makes door-to-door visits to homesteads in Juja to collect the diapers from nursing mothers.

The second-year renewable energy and environmental physics student founded Begibora Solutions as a freshman in 2017 after the government announced a ban on the use of plastic bags. His idea was to make affordable bags using waste materials.

“After the government announced the ban to plastic bags, I soon noticed that available carrier bags were too expensive for the average person. My intention was to manufacture affordable bags in a way that could also help clean the environment,” Were explains.

The environment student says most households in Kenya can’t afford bulk shopping and shop at least three times in a week. They buy a new carrier bag each time.

Were started by collecting used diapers and cleaning them using water and detergents to remove the stains.

He would then dry the diapers in the sun and send them together with other fabrics he bought to an aunt in Mombasa who sewed them into bags.

The 21-year-old has participated in the JKuat tech expos, the Kenya National innovation Agency expo, the Youth Empowerment Initiative Program and MyLittleBigThing Innovation challenge where Begibora Solutions was the overall winner out of the 18 finalists.

The innovation has won several awards and earned him Sh2.5 million funding, which he used to purchase an electronic sewing machine and other tools he now uses to make quality bags.

With the funding, Begibora Solutions also obtained licenses from National Environment Management Authority of Kenya and the Kenya Bureau of Standards.

UoN students reach out to rape victims using art

Three University of Nairobi students are the brains behind the event dubbed ‘come rape me’.

The event will see rape survivors speak out against the heinous act meted against them.

They will also attend the event dressed the way they were when they were raped.

The three are also the founders of Anika, an art-based initiative that seeks to create safe spaces for discussions on emerging societal issues such as rape, gender based violence and mental health.

They are hosted at Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA Kenya) offices in Nairobi. The officials of Anika constitute of four executive members, three of them students. 

Bruno Otiato, a third-year political science student at UoN who is the organisation’s head of corporate affairs and resource mobilisation, says art is the most efficient way of enabling young survivors of rape and violence open up.

“We are inspired by the plethora of artistic talent that exists among the youth, especially in places that social injustice is rampant. We choose art as a way of reaching to them.”

The organisation allows victims of societal injustices to express their feelings through the spoken word, songs, pictures, videos and drawing. Since inception in February last year, Anika has organised eight events that were hosted by YMCA Kenya.

How student became Laikipia County contact person

Faith Muyu enrolled for an agriculture course at University of Nairobi, but will be graduating in a different career line.

The third-year student, who has been working with communities in Laikipia County addressing issues of domestic and gender-based violence, says the activities shaped her for leadership.

As a result, Faith has become the contact person in Laikipia County for individuals and organisations working on projects that target women, girls and victims of gender based violence in the county.

She is handy in helping organise events in this field, a role that has seen her rub shoulders with key decision makers in the country.

Faith observed how young girls struggled with their menses while she went to primary and secondary school in Laikipia County.

She says most of the girls who are brought up in traditional settings lack basic knowledge on menstrual health, a situation that puts them at risk of early pregnancies.

“I have encountered young girls who were taken to the dispensaries when the first experienced menses assuming they were sick,” says Faith.

She says girls in communities that still engage in backward cultural activities still face hurdles as they try to access quality education.

To address these challenges, she founded a community-based organisation called the Laikipia Girl Child Foundation.

The organisation seeks to empower men and women alike. “We involve men and boys to encourage them to champion girls’ rights. Only an empowered man will be able to handle an equally empowered woman,” she says.

Faith works in a team of ten, mostly university students, who go around schools located in remote parts of Laikipia County to give talks to young learners.

The team also donates stationery such as books, geometrical sets and sanitary towels to girls. She says the activities have changed her perspective about what she always wanted to do in life.

“I have met people I never knew I’d ever meet in life. They have inspired me to be a leader and that’s what I am going to do after I graduate, says Ms Muyu.

How a Facebook post birthed our organisation

What started as a nondescript Facebook post requesting for donations has seen a Maseno University student build an organisation that is impacting children from deprived backgrounds.

In December last year, Hillary Omuono wanted to donate geometrical sets to a primary school in Kisumu County. He, however, lacked enough sets to distribute to the 50 students he had identified in the school.

Not one to give up easily, he sought support from his virtual friends.

As fate would have it, the Facebook post attracted many well-wishers and in a week, he had received more than 150 geometrical sets to support his cause.

Hundreds of other friends made pledges to support him.

That’s how Omuono, in his second-year of study, conceived G-SETi, an organisation that currently donates school uniforms and geometrical sets to school-going children.

Before this move, Omuono had visited many schools before, giving inspirational talks to school-going children and sometimes identifying the most needy among them and helping them materially. “I was overwhelmed by the huge support I got on that post. It was no longer personal and I knew I needed help to execute the programme,” says Omuono.

With the help of three friends, Omuono started visiting schools and distributing the mathematical sets.

From inception in December last year, the third-year Education science student has already been to five schools in Kisumu County where he has distributed more than 500 geometrical sets and participated in anti-jigger campaigns.

He says running the organisation has also opened opportunities for him. “G-SETi has opened doors for me and given me exposure that I wouldn’t have if I decided to hole myself in books. I have travelled, networked with different personalities,” he says.

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