When 25-year-old Winfred Munguti got her first job, she was paying off a debt.
When her age mates were finally beginning to ‘do life’, Winnie was beginning to pay off a chunk of money that one of her lecturers had paid to clear her university fees.
Life has been a long and winding journey for Winnie.
For as long as she can remember, her sole purpose in life has been to run away from lack and brokenness. Life has not given her many breaks.
“I was born in a broken and poor home in Kilungu, Makueni,” she recalls her rough beginning to life.
She spent her early years living with a relative. Things were so bad that when her age mates began schooling, education was something she could only dream about. Her guardians had bigger issues to worry about like what she would eat and the clothes to put on her back. She spent the first decade of her life hoping, dreaming and scribbling in the dirt.
Then, when she was 10, a miracle happened. “We were out playing in the fields when this couple came around. They heard that I had not been to school and offered to help me.”
“They asked me to scribble something in the dirt and I did. They were impressed. Soon, I was wearing a uniform and going to school,” she recalls.
She got what seemed at the time, as half a chance and grabbed it with both hands. Knowing what she was running away from, she made a conscious effort to be a good student. She went to Precious Girls Kilungu.
“It was a paradise in the wild. It was here that I realised I was very good with my hands. I would make birthday cards for my friends,” she recalls.
When she went to Maseno University to study Fashion design and textile construction, it was a wild dream come true. Fashion design was not something that she stumbled into, or a course that the system bundled her into, it was what she had been dreaming of studying.
“After form four, when my friends were going to study driving, I was going to a neighbour, who was a tailor, to learn how to stitch.”
Maseno University was where she got her dream going. It was also where she fell in love. Where she faltered.
“I fell pregnant while in my final year. As soon as I saw that positive pregnancy test, I knew that keeping this baby was my only option. I also knew that because of my circumstances, it was going to be tough,” she says.
It was tough. First, her boyfriend made for the hills. Then, her guardians, disappointed that they had trusted her but she had failed them, also bailed out.
“It was a very difficult time. But with school waiting and with a child on the way, I couldn’t break. Being at rock bottom forced me to tap into my creativity,” she says.
To put food on the table and to fill the bag that she had bought for the baby that she was expecting, she began styling her friends and making small fashion accessories for sale. She remembers one night when she had to leave her new born daughter to go and style some pageantry contestants late in the night.
She took on as much work as she could. Unfortunately, what she was making was not enough to cover her school fees.
“Not knowing who to go to for help, I began going to my lecturers. One was gracious enough to pay the fee for me on condition that I would pay it back after graduation,” she recalls.
Graduating didn’t automatically iron out all her troubles. She had a few false starts. First was an interior design business start-up that was crippled by the 2017 elections. She invested quite a bit of her capital in election material that was never paid for. Next, was a partnership in Mwingi that lasted only a few months.
Giving back to the society
Winnie is not where she wants to be yet. She is not even round the corner but she is well on the way there.
For the past year, she has been managing a creative programme at Multiple Christian Network, an NGO based in Uthiru. Here, she passes on her sewing and design skills to needy women so that they can stand on their feet.
“I know exactly what lack looks like. I know that being needy is what brings about things like domestic violence. When a woman is financially empowered, she has a bargaining power. She has options. In the past year, I have seen about 40 women grow,” she says.
She reckons that no one has too little that they can’t give.
Eventually, she wants to be able to grow her design brand — Tausi Touch — to become a house hold brand. Other than clothes, she makes bags and fashion accessories.