Earlier this week, a university student struggling to raise school fees used her Twitter account to rally Kenyans to fundraise towards her education, requesting her followers to retweet her post.
Her tweet was severally retweeted and eventually caught the attention of a politician, who offered to help.
Social media is a double-edged sword, it can destroy and it can build - some have had bad experiences with it and therefore use it with trepidation while others swear by it and view it as a bridge to unlimited opportunities.
Student, United States International University-Africa (USIU)
“I got one of my mentors, Ruth Nyakerario, two years ago through Facebook. We shared a few mutual friends, and on several occasions, her profile appeared on the ‘people you may know’ list.
I decided to check out her timeline and I was impressed. There was so much that I aspired to be, and her content, as well as how she packaged it, made me a regular visitor to her timeline. I also learnt that we were in the same field of study: International Relations.
She was adept in that field, and even though I floored my timeline with content related to my field of study, her bar was high and I wanted her in my networks. I sent her a private message requesting her to be my mentor, and she said yes.
She would later reveal that before responding to my request, she had first gone through my timeline, thankfully, she did not find anything questionable.
I was just starting my second year at USIU-Africa while she was in her final year of study in the same institution. This made our meetings easier and frequent. Then, I was 19 while she was 21.
Ruth and I shared similar aspirations and had lots in common. I am drawn to humanitarian affairs, she refugee studies. Last year, when she turned 23, she was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Oxford. How she got this scholarship was an eye-opener for me.
During our mentorship meetings, which would take place at least once a week, I learnt that money shouldn’t stand in the way in pursuit of my dreams.
In her case, for instance, family and friends contributed money to enable her to attend the Harvard Model United Nations (HMUN), a college-level Model UN Conference.
Her experience encouraged her to apply for a scholarship at Oxford. I remember hearing that story and getting excited.
Last year, there was a symposium for young scholars in Thailand, and as one of the student leaders at my university, I was selected to attend. But there was a problem. We were expected to meet half the travelling cost, which my parents couldn’t afford. Through my mentor’s advice, I reached out to a few friends and asked them to help me raise the money.
Attending that symposium was a great milestone for me, it opened my eyes to the many opportunities we have as youth and the tremendous things young people are doing across the globe.
My mentor also introduced me to the world of books. Before she left, she would encourage me to read a particular book, explaining the lessons she derived from it.
Through her advice, I joined a monthly book club where we read and analyse books by African authors. She also introduced me to a couple of her friends and some lecturers that I needed to keep close.
Through one of her friends, I got an opportunity to serve as a volunteer during the Blue Economy Conference held last year.
During the inaugural Hoja Youth Summit held at our university last year, I was one of the moderators and also had an opportunity to be a panellist on conversations on China and Africa relations.
Thanks to her, and social media, I see the world as a place of infinite possibility.”
Age: 22 years
Youth advocate on sexual reproductive health and rights
“At Dandora Secondary School, where I studied, we had a program called Know Your World”. It comprised of comprehensive topics on issues such as reproductive health, STIs and pregnancy.
By the time I completed secondary school in 2013, I had lots of information at hand. I started sharing the lessons I had picked from the program on Facebook.
It was the most suitable platform for me because I had quite a number of friends and followers. Now, I have about 5,000 followers. I noticed a growing interest in what I shared, a factor that inspired me to pursue a career in that field.
Last year, I graduated from Nairobi Technical Training Institute with a diploma in social work. At the Centre for the Study of Adolescence Kenya, a non-profit organisation concerned with adolescent sexual and reproductive health, I am the co-chair for Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) taskforce.
Also, together with colleagues, we create awareness on health and other social issues that affect young people. Our aim is to help them make informed decisions.
Besides visiting various primary and secondary schools across the country where we offer comprehensive sexual education, I advocate for varied issues on Twitter - I noted that most of the decision-makers and political leaders are active on this platform, which makes engaging with them easier. I use Twitter for advocacy and Facebook to share information.
Towards the end of last year, one of the health facilities offering abortion and post-abortion services was banned. Together with a team of youth online advocates, an unregistered movement of young people who advocate for various issues on social media, we felt that the ban was unfair, and so we took to Twitter to engage the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Silicy Kariuki on the same.
According to a study by the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) and the Ministry of Health (MoH), between 2012 and 2016, an estimated 2,600 women died from unsafe abortion annually.
Some of those who survive the unsafe abortion go to public health facilities to seek post-abortion services.
We sent numerous tweets to the CS, and on the same day, a press release was sent out saying that the ministry had lifted the ban of the said facility.
This year, we are planning a Twitter campaign to urge the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health to work hand in hand to curb cases of teenage pregnancy and female genital mutilation - while carrying out advocacy campaigns, we have noted that a gap exists in the way information is relayed from one ministry to another.”
Student, Moi University
In charge of communication, Oloolua Ward
“I am in my third year studying a bachelor’s degree in mathematics major. I pay my school fees and meet my daily expenses thanks to a job I got through social media.
In 2017, during one of the political parties’ nominations, one of my friends was vying to for Member of County Assembly (MCA) for Oloolua Ward in Kajiado County.
I believed he was the best fit for the position, so I began to campaign for him through my social media accounts, including a Facebook group with me as the admin. Then, I was a first year student and would do the job during my free time.
I was very professional and my posts were well researched and articulated. As a result, I garnered a big following. Unfortunately, my friend lost the nominations and requested that I offer similar support to his friend who was also running for the same post.
This campaign was more intensified, and I became a popular online figure amongst Oloolua/Ngong residents, where he was vying. As fate would have it, even after the passionate campaign, he lost in the election.
Through my visibility on social media, I got to interact and network with various leaders from the region.
Towards the end of 2017, I received a call from the current MCA, Martin Kimemia, requesting that we meet to discuss ways to enhance communication with his ward residents. He said that he was impressed with the content that I shared and that he wanted me in his team.
Presently, I help to formulate policies for the county. I am also in charge of communications on behalf of Oloolua Ward. I also help in proposal writing and preparing budgets for the ward development fund as well as writing speeches.
Bearing in mind that what I am studying is completely different from what I am doing, it means that I have to research a lot and read extensively on various topics such as proposal and speech writing, a plus for me.
I may not have much time left between my studies and work, but I am happy with how my life has turned out. All this would not have been possible had it not been for social media.”
Social Media Manager
“Last year, when I started volunteering for Decent Conversations, a blog on relationships, lifestyle and sexual reproductive health, the founder introduced me to content creation and development.
She later tasked me with the responsibility to come up with social media campaigns for our various clients. During last year’s Climate Change and Development Conference held at Safari Park, Nairobi, I was one of the social media influencers.
It was a tough call but also a great opportunity for growth in content creation and understanding the different dynamics of online audiences.
In a quest to grow in the industry and sharpen my skills, I have also worked on temporary contracts with organisations such as HelpAge International and Afrom Media. Currently, I work for Mtandao Creative, a digital marketing and branding company.
While carrying out these responsibilities, I realised that social media, if used effectively, can help create awareness and impact the society in a positive way.
With two friends who have a strong background in IT, we started a company, ARC Technologies mid-December last year. We intend to provide branding, digital marketing and graphic designing and are in the process of registering it.”
The section featuring Wilkins Fadhili’s interview was pulled down because it was not factual.