At just 19, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook and by the time he was 23, he became the youngest billionaire in the world. This year, Greta Thunberg, 16, led a climate change project that attracted global attention. Closer home, Purity Ngina became the youngest Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in the country at 28. Nikita Kering, a Kenyan musician, became an international sensation at only 17.
The narrative that young people are the leaders of tomorrow has been peddled for years, and has caused young people to shy away from actively participating in leadership opportunities in the country. Thankfully, things are looking up. Millennials are seizing every opportunity to bring change within their communities and spreading a new message: No one is ever too young or too poor to bring positive change.
Abubakar Mohammed, 22, advocate of peace
I have visited 44 of the 47 counties in Kenya, although I’ve spent most of my time in Garissa County where I was born and raised. While travelling within the country, I’ve realised that my community is lagging behind in many spheres. Most of our roads are not tarmacked, and so many households lack access to electricity.
The levels of education of most locals in Garissa are lower compared to other regions, and we face serious shortage of food and water. In short, this region continues to be marginalised.
Additionally, we have been victims of a series of terror attacks, and many locals have been wrongfully profiled and stereotyped for being terrorists, and this really irked me for a long time. Therefore, I took the initiative to change things and improve the lives of youth in Garissa.
As a Second Year student in Umma University, Garissa Campus, where I am pursuing a course in business management, I am involved in a number of programmes within Garissa and in neighbouring counties that advocate for peace, and aim to counter religious extremism.
When the Garissa University attack happened in 2015, I was still in secondary school. After the incident, many teachers fled and we were left with just a handful of teachers at our school. Many students dropped out. I had to study by myself for a whole year, but I persevered and completed my secondary school studies.
After that, I decided to do something to help my community. However, I didn’t have the required finances, so I took my campaigns for peace online where I actively engaged other young people. Whenever I needed to meet the youth physically, I sought financial assistance from different organisations that run similar campaigns in Garissa.
A few months later. I struck a deal with a local radio station where I was allowed to pass my messages of peace. Members of my community are nomadic pastoralists, and radio helps me reach so many youth in the region.
Not many youth from Garissa have had the privilege of travelling outside the county. For this, I usually share my experiences with them, and make them aware of the boundless opportunities that exist outside Garissa. I always encourage them to grab every available opportunity and to pull in one direction so that we can show the world that we can be as successful as youth from other parts of the world.
After two years, I can now see the impact that my campaigns have had. More young people have begun to embrace education, and many others are volunteering their time and resources to worthy causes, instead of joining dangerous and destructive groups.
Additionally, we champion for the education of the girl child by sensitising parents and elders in the community on the importance of educating girls. Hopefully, all girls in my community will soon be allowed to go to school.
My efforts have been recognised by the United Nations, and I have been invited to participate in various workshops to discuss issues to do with the promotion of peace through national youth policies.
Tabitha Kavyu, Techie
After I finished my secondary school education, I was selected to study computer science at the University of Nairobi. At the time, I wasn’t passionate about that course at all. I only knew that I would do my best to succeed, and I attended my classes religiously.
In my first year, I met a friend who later became my mentor. She always organised and attended events that involved technology and innovation, and I started following her. She encouraged me to volunteer in such events whenever I could.
It was through these events that I realised that I enjoyed science and technology, and that there are very few women in that industry.
I did my research on this matter and realised that many women are skilled and competent, but lack the self-confidence to pursue their dreams and that they sometimes bring each other down instead of chasing the available opportunities aggressively.
I decided to change that. In the beginning of this year, as I started my third year, I applied to be the Developer Student Club (DSC) leader at UoN even though I was disadvantaged due to my young age and limited experience. I was elected and invited to attend a summit in Ghana where I met other DSC leaders from around the continent.
When I came back, I was charged with the task of building a developer’s community in my university. My role is to help my fellow students become competent software developers. I also introduce novices to the basics of coding by organising events where students get to learn about emerging technologies such as Web, Android, Cloud and Artificial Intelligence.
However, I have realised that very few women attend the events I organise. Therefore, I vowed to excel in this industry so that other young ladies can look up to me and be inspired by my achievements.
I am also working with other young women who help me organise tech events that are open exclusively to women. We bring together women who are passionate about technology, and give them a platform to interact and learn from other successful women.
This way, we build the young women’s confidence and encourage them to continue pursuing science-related careers.
Additionally, I travel around the country with a team of developers called Local Men and together, we talk about our journey in technology and offer advice to other budding technology experts.
I know that this is a marathon and not a sprint, but I am confident that we shall gradually achieve better women representation in the field of science and technology.
Isaac Njihia, 24, Rotaract Club President, JKUAT
Whenever someone tells me that I’ll be the leader of tomorrow, I don’t believe them. I am convinced that the youth have a role to play in making the world a better place. One doesn’t need to be rich or old to make a difference.
I once benefited immensely from the generosity of the community around me, and I constantly feel the need to give back to society.
I am the first born in family of four, and we were all raised by a single mother. We grew up poor, and even getting food was a struggle. In primary school, I used to wait for the leftovers from the meals my teachers ate so that I could stave off the hunger pangs.
At one point, things got so tough that my mother went away and left me behind. My head teacher took me to a children’s home where I could get shelter.
However, the home was closed in 2012, and I was adopted by the Child Welfare Society of Kenya who have been paying school fees and catering for my needs since my mother could not afford it. When I completed my secondary school education, I vowed to make a difference in someone’s life as a way of giving back.
Immediately after JKUAT, I joined the Rotaract club which is involved in community service, which is something I am passionate about. This year, I was elected to be the president of the club.
In the last few months, I have led my fellow students in visiting children’s home around the country where we play with and mentor the children, and also plant vegetable seedlings in the homes. We have so far planted more than 1,000 spinach and cabbage seedlings in various children's homes in Nairobi.
I also championed for the establishment of a library in Muthiga Children’s Home in Gatundu, and I am now working towards helping the children get the books and learning materials they need.
I have noticed that many people my age are not actively involved in community service. Therefore, I talk to them regularly to make them aware of the importance of helping the less fortunate.
Through my volunteer work, I have built strong networks and also encouraged other students to join me in making our community a better place. I sometimes hawk sweets, biscuits and groundnuts to raise the money for the various charity projects, and to meet my needs.
Even though the going sometimes gets really tough, I find a lot of fulfilment in driving positive change in my neighbourhood.
Vivian Chamcham, 21, founder, Elgon Daughters Foundation
I grew up around Mount Elgon, in a community where women endure several hardships every day, and I consider myself lucky. I was brought up in a modest family where my father, a teacher, and my mother, a small scale business woman, provided all our basic needs, but never any luxuries.
However, most of our neighbours were very poor. Most of my classmates couldn’t afford shoes, uniform, or examination fees, and they often had to do manual work just to get some food. Many of my friends endured violence at home and as a result, many of them dropped out of school at a very young age and got into forced and oppressive marriages. To make matters worse, our neighbourhood was badly affected by the 2007 post-election violence, and many young people lost their parents or were displaced. It was so bad that only three girls whom I had gone to primary school with managed to take their Form Four examinations.
I was a bright student and managed to be accepted at Kenya High School. There, my passion to serve my community, and especially women, was born. I knew that it was only by sheer luck that my education had not been disrupted, so I decided to step up and help other girls in my village get access to quality education.
However, this dream took off only after I joined the University of Nairobi. I was elected as the school’s Vice President of Women Students Welfare Association and also the Communications and PR Manager for Kenya Universities Female Student Leader’s Association. My team and I offer mentorship to young girls.
In 2017, I went back home and started the Elgon Daughters Foundation, an organisation whose main objective is to promote the education of girls in Mt Elgon. I created the organisation with help from my co-founder Noel Tiyoy. For the last two years, we have donated sanitary pads and books to girls and school going children in the region. We collect the pads and books from well-wishers before distributing them to those who need them most.
Additionally, we often hold talks where we teach young girls how to take care of themselves during menstruation, and also to dispel the myths associated with menstruation.
Also, we organise interactive sessions where women in the region can come together and share their challenges and also encourage each other through those hardships.
When organising these events, I often use my own money, or get help from individuals in the county who share my vision.
The response has been largely positive. More girls are now enthusiastic about going to school, and the community, especially the church, has come to appreciate our efforts and endorsed our projects. This has made our work even easier. A number of well-wishers have also come on board and starting next year, we shall begin extending scholarships for bright but needy school girls.
However, balancing the charity organisation and my school work has not been easy. The greatest challenge we are battling now is interference from politicians and from locals who are averse to change. Most of them think I am trying to advance my selfish agenda and run for a political seat in future, so they are trying to bring the whole organisation down. Others believe that we want to make money from the young girls.
We plan to register the foundation officially, and to partner with other corporates so that we can help even more girls. I believe that my organisation will help generate strong willed women in our society who will in turn help the next generation.