Lavender is a 24-year-old final year medical student studying medicine and surgery. She grew up in Kisumu from a very humble background. Her mother was a nurse. Her father passed on in a road accident and after that, her mother was expected to be inherited as is the tradition in Nyanza. Her mother refused. She was kicked out of the homestead. But even before that the village accused her of killing her husband. Because nobody just dies in a road accident, especially a wealthy man. The village elders wanted her to leave her two daughters behind but she refused and she moved out of the village to start a fresh life as a single mother of two daughters. It was tough.
Lavender’s life began.
Must have been tough, your mother, a government nurse starting out with two young girls…
It was. When we left my mother was young. She was 25 years old when she lost her husband. I’m 24 years now, I don’t even know if I could have handled it. My mother was bright, she did very well in her exams but where she came from she couldn’t afford tertiary education. At that time the government was offering free certificate nursing training and so that’s how she became a certified nurse. Her job earned her a meagre KES 3,000, not nearly enough to support two children, pay rent and school fees. Those were tough times by the way. But what I admired about my mother was that she was very strong.
I remember that period, it was 1996 to 2000 and HIV had peaked so much in Nyanza and people were just dying everywhere. People would torment her by saying, “You’re a single mother, you’re working night shifts and you’re leaving your kids in the house…” But my mother had no alternative. We had to be left in the house when she went for night duty and my sister and I had to learn to stay in the house and sleep the night off. “There’s no way these kids are going to turn out to be anything in society. You have two girls and you’re never there.” others would say. My mother had to work many jobs to raise us up. She would do some locum jobs in some clinic to make ends meet. There were probably times when she slept hungry. So there were a lot of vulnerabilities but my mother is tough and firm.
My sister and I were sponsored by an organization called OLPS – Our Lady of Perpetual Support. They paid for my primary education where I scored quite well and was able to join Starehe Girls Center. My mother was relieved.
How was Starehe for you?
It was life changing when I went to Starehe Girls. I saw how everyone had done so well. There was pressure to produce good results. We were given lots of books. I was from a background where I never possessed a lot of textbooks, the food was good and the rules weren’t that strict. We also used to meet very important people in Starehe Girls. You meet these influential women and they share with you their stories, some of them have stories just like mine, so it was inspiring. I scored a straight A in my final exams. I was number 70 nationwide.
That must have changed everything for you?
It did. We lived in Russia quarters, in Kisumu which is predominately occupied by doctors and nurses. That place has a record of girls dropping out of primary school. It’s also known for early pregnancies. After my record performance, I got many girls who would come and ask me, “How did you do manage?” I enjoy mentoring, so I got many mentees as a result. I remember the year after that we had three girls qualify and go to Starehe Girls Center. I now look at my mentees from that estate and I’m proud to say that I have so many girls who have gone to university and come over the holidays and say, “I got an A- in KCSE.” It is life changing. Lavender’s mother is also a champion. She finished her Diploma, started and completed her degree in Nursing at Great Lakes University and has signed up for a post graduate. “It was hustle financially but that woman can save.” adds Lavender.
How does GGBC come in?
In Starehe Girls. The Global Give Back Circle showed up when I was in Form 3. Linda Lockhart, the founder, was starting a project to mentor girls as they transition out of high school. I was chosen amongst the second lot and we were told, “Write an essay of standing on top of a mountain and visualize your life three years from now -write what you want to be and how you see yourself three years from now.”
That time I wanted to be a chemical engineer and so I wrote this very nice story and I read it out to them and they took pictures and informed me that they were going to try look at my interests and match you up with mentors –people who can make you think bigger than you already do and hopefully mentor you through the journey as you transition out of school to university and to your career. I was then attached to a mentor. My mentor was called, Mercy Gardiner* she used to work for Microsoft as a manager for East, West and Central Africa region.
Additionally, it was through GGBC that I worked for Equity bank who were in partnership with the program to give girls an opportunity to transition into the work environment. So, GGBC and KCDF has always been there.
What stood out for you with GGBC?
The life skills workshops. They trained us on so many things like financial literacy, reproductive health and work readiness. They teach you how to be disciplined as well as the importance of giving back to your community.
How are you giving back?
I have done numerous projects since I have been in GGBC since 2008. Initially I used to do more of mentorship in high schools. When I was in Equity I partnered with the Provincial Director of Education through the bank and we went through the whole province giving motivational speeches to students, sharing our stories together with a few friends who were working at Equity then and it was life changing. Then after that we had a Big Sister/Brother society, it’s an organization that was started by the alumni of Starehe boys and Starehe girls. I was part of that organization and its mandate is to give back across the country; we mentor and we do leadership training. I’ve been training prefects in Starehe boys and Starehe girls for many years now.
What’s next for you?
Firstly, finish medical school. Thereafter, I want to engage a lot in transforming the Kenyan healthcare. What is lacking out there for society is information. Other than the financial bit of it, there’s prevention. I’m interested in communicable diseases so I see myself running projects to empower people on prevention then after that look at HIV healthcare.