Cynthia Wambui Otieno is a relationship coach who is passionate about women and the family as a whole. Her passion led her to found La-Mead Network Trust, an organisation geared towards women empowerment.
“Lamead is a Hebrew word that means ignite and thus the organisation aims at awakening and empowering women through engaging them and becoming a part of their lives,” she expounds.
According to Cynthia, the La-Mead woman is uninhibited and charged to influence society with her talents and skills. Cynthia organises ladies’ quarterly networking sessions where women get to sharpen each other and learn from one another.
“I believe that as I have encounters with women, I help ignite their purpose and passion. Watching the women I have served reach their potential has been quite fulfilling,” she says.
Warm and outspoken, Cynthia believes everything she has experienced in her life has led her to her purpose. She was very shy and reserved as a child. She buried herself in books as she loved writing and reading and dreamt of living her life through the books she would write.
“Mine was a very shielded childhood and my teenage years were very uneventful. However, going to a girls-only secondary school run by Catholic nuns made me very aware of my femininity,” she says.
It was here that she began to form strong bonds with other young women as the school had no male staff for the longest time up until much later when she was in her last year of high school.
The school emphasised a lot of order and decorum regarding how a proper young woman ought to behave.
“For instance, it was almost a crime to run on the hallway,” she says with a lot of humour. She adds that this was where she formed great social skills and an attitude of excellence at everything she does.
On completing her high school education, Cynthia trained as a kindergarten teacher. It was while teaching that she interacted with a child in her class with special needs.
Feeling unequipped to adequately handle this particular student, she was prompted to research on how best to attend to the child.
At the time, special education was a very new field in Kenya and the only training available at the time was a certificate course. This led her to travel to the US to further her studies.
Getting out of her shell..
Cynthia enjoyed the new found freedom and independence away from her watchful parents.
She loved the diversity of people and cultures. In addition to attending college,
she started a part-time hair dressing business and became quite popular, drawing many women to her salon.
She would also regularly throw parties as well as plan meet-ups with women at her house.
“Despite this success, I suffered a great void and torment in my heart because my parents were going through a rough patch in their marriage. Their marriage eventually ended and this really affected me,” she explains, adding that at first she was angry with God for allowing her parents to go through a divorce.
The pain of seeing those close to her go through broken marriages – first her parents and later her pastor, who was also her mentor – led her to bury her sorrows in alcohol.
But she later made her way back to God and leaned on to her friends with the hope that she and others would find healing in their pain.
This led her to hold weekly fellowship meetings in her home and over time the crowd grew into a church. Cynthia eventually got into the women and youth ministry and was ordained as a pastor.
While in her mid-30s and having been in the US for 13 years, Cynthia chose to return home and married her then fiancé Donald Otieno.
Nonetheless, the transition was not easy as she was without an income. As if life was aligning her to her purpose, she took up a volunteer position at a local church where she got a chance to learn about the Kenyan woman – her pain, her needs, her longings, her dreams, hopes and desires.
It was after she became a new mother that she was plagued with several questions regarding the role of a woman.
“I learnt this was not just something I battled with alone. It didn’t matter whom I asked; women had the same challenge – how to handle new roles as a wife and mother, and also a career and still live out their purpose in life,” she says.
Founding La-Mead Woman
The search for answers to her many challenges as a woman led to the formation of La-Mead Woman Network Trust in 2012.
Admittedly, Cynthia sees herself as a relationship doula who helps women transition into their different roles – wife, mother, daughter and friend – without losing their spark.
And because some of these women are in courtships, the organisation also mentors soon-to-be brides in group forums, and walks with them for the first year of their marriage. She has also incorporated La-Mead couples’ session such as couples’ nights, annual couples’ getaways and boot camps.
In her experience, Cynthia says many people relate to practical and tangible experiences. Having learnt in her training as a special education teacher that there is no one way of learning, she incorporates a varied way of learning in her La-Mead sessions.
“I share from my experience in a very vulnerable way and encourage the same at my La-Mead sessions,” she says.
Although she is a pastor, Cynthia reaches out to women from all walks of life regardless of their spirituality or lack of since hers is a value-based experience and not necessarily a religious one.
Currently, Cynthia has plans to launch her book dubbed D.I.V.A’S SPARK, which among other things asserts the importance of femininity and why women should not shy from being who they were destined to be.
It’s been five years since she founded La-Mead Woman Network Trust and she reveals that her biggest lesson so far has been the importance of having peer mentors as well as accountability partners as hers is a service of pouring to others and hence it is easy to get burnt out and neglect oneself and family in the process.
“From the onset, I got into an accountability partnership with three of my peers. We gave each other permission to ask difficult questions about each other’s life,” she says.
Cynthia has been married for eight years to Donald Otieno. Aware that the two are from different cultures and therefore have things that could work for and against their marriage, they decided during their courtship what kind of marriage they wanted theirs to represent and strive to live by this.
The couple strives to be authentic in their marriage even as they parent their two daughters and serve couples as they conduct La-Mead couple sessions together.
They feel privileged to be part of those who are working towards strengthening their relationships and admit they get to learn a lot and equally refine their marriage in the process.
As this interview comes to an end, I pick her mind on how best to deal with the many issues that seem to rock relationships and marriages today.
“A Chinese proverb says: ‘The best way to eat an elephant is piece by piece.’ In any relationship or marriage, there will always be issues but the best way to go about them is to pick one issue at a time and deal with it. Otherwise you will feel overwhelmed if you decide to tackle all the issues plaguing your relationships at once,” she advises.