Anne Wado, 55, is an economist and owner of St Elizabeth Academy-Karen, Group of Schools. She spoke to Njoki Chege about her inspiring journey and family
Besides her jovial nature and reassuring smile, the other striking thing about Anne Wado is her confidence. More so now that she is in her ‘grand 50s’ as she likes to call it. But Anne’s confidence was not borne the other day.
She recalls a photograph in her red album, one which was taken when she was barely seven years old — an adorable little girl with her hands akimbo, bright smile and confident aura. Confidence is what has made her venture into the world of education and conquer it.
“I didn’t know I’d enjoy myself in my 50s the way I do now! I am a stronger woman now. I mean, this is the hour,” she begins.
Anne has come a long way. The first born in a family of seven children from Chinga Location, Othaya Division in Nyeri, Anne credits her strength and will power to the strong women in her life.
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“Growing up, I was encouraged by my grandmother Elizabeth, my mother and aunts to be the best I could be,” she says.
After Muirugi Primary School, she attended Tumutumu Girls Secondary School, emerged the top girl and was immediately called to Kangaru School for her A-Levels.
She was later admitted to the University of Nairobi for a degree in Economics. In 1982, Anne attended the Chartered Insurance Institute in Kent, UK after which she came back to Kenya.
She then joined Crusader Insurance Company and specialised in risk management but later went solo.
In 1999, she closed her company to start a school, St Elizabeth Academy-Karen, Group of Schools.
Thriving as the business is, she confesses that the journey has not been easy.
“I lost my husband 22 years ago and was left with three young children. Risk management is a demanding job and I had to opt out because my family was young and needed me,” she says.
Anne, an advocate of good and sound parenting, had to weigh her options and her young children first.
“The children needed me. They needed my presence to do well in school. I wanted to be there to monitor their growth, study and instill values in them,” she says.
Being a risk manager, Anne wanted a smooth transition in a job that was equally challenging, more flexible and certainly, more rewarding.
“I wanted to feel closer to human nature, more so to children, as opposed to dealing with machines and adults as I had before. Besides, I have always been passionate about imparting knowledge,” says Anne.
On February 26, 1999, St Elizabeth Academy-Karen opened its doors to the young learners, starting small with only eleven children — six in primary school and five in the boy’s high school. Today the school has 1,500 students.
“It has been a challenging but extremely enjoyable job. It excites me to meet my students’ years later doing well. In fact, the doctor that delivered my granddaughter was a former student of mine!” says Anne proudly.
So what does it take to build such an empire?
She notes: “First, I am an economist by training so I am keen on cost control, accounting, sourcing for fair funds and comparing prices.”
Running an institution, Anne says, is not as easy as it seems, with a demanding cash flow, need for discipline, perfection, teamwork, hard work, and the favour of God.
“When you fulfil these simple conditions of life, you become a pace-setter,” she says.
Anne learned these virtues from her late grandmother Elizabeth Wangechi, after whom the schools are named.
“We are celebrating my grandmother, who taught me how to pray and read hard so that I would sit ‘gatii iguru’ (on the chair) as others sat on the grass,” says Anne.
What began as a humble school with eleven learners has birthed several other institutions — St Elizabeth Girls High School and two primary schools and a high school in Mombasa.
Over the years, St Elizabeth Academy has made a name for itself as a top school, both in academics and extra-curricular activities.
Come 2013, the boundaries are set to expand, as Anne anticipates to open the Karen Institute of Science and Technology.
“Mid-management colleges have disappeared yet there is a need for people who have scored below the university cut-off grades. It is important to impart a skill in them,” says Anne.
The nature of her job has seen Anne deal with children from all backgrounds and nationalities.
“Children go through a lot. From my experience, children between nursery and Standard Five are highly affected by the divorce and separation of their parents,” she notes.
She advises parents to spend quality time with their children and instil virtues such as honesty and hard work in them.
Anne says prayer and reverence to God works miracles.
“I recommend young mothers to be careful with their children, nurture them, protect them and stay with them. There is a reason why it is you, not the man, who gives birth,” she says.