Emily Muthaa Karechio found herself stranded without a job after graduating from the University of Nairobi with a law degree and a Masters in development studies from Northern Ireland. Aware of the plight of young people who complete their education and are unable to get a job or internship, she started a foundation that helps the youth become integrated in society. Emily shares her story with Mwaura Muigana.
As most young people know, finding a job can be quite a challenge especially when you lack work experience. Yet to get work experience you must first find a job. Although an internship is a good way to begin, very few organisations are willing to offer it let alone train new graduates. This is a reality Emily Muthaa Karechio knows only too well having found herself in that predicament after graduating from the University of Nairobi with a degree in law and later with a second degree in development studies in Northern Ireland. Although her search for a job or internship seemed futile, she didn’t give up but instead became more innovative.
“I began by doing voluntary work for different organisations just to gain some work experience. First I volunteered for Kayafungo Women Water project in the Coast region where I worked as a trainer. I trained the community on water management and HIV and Aids, as well as good hygiene practices. I also facilitated training in schools on hand washing. I later did some online voluntary work for the United Nations, mainly researching and writing papers on women issues. The highlights included research on women and girls in Kenya in 10 selected areas. The focus was on the role of women in their communities and access to education. This report was highlighted on the UN website. During the 2007 World Social Forum in Kenya I volunteered as a coordinator training and supervising over 200 volunteers during the event that had over many delegates,” Emily explains the innovative ways she used to gain work experience.
“I also worked on different projects at Oxfam, a UK-based aid and development charitable organisation, which seeks solutions to poverty and related injustices worldwide. I earned the title of ‘young action partner’ with the organisation due to my hard work and dedication. As a ‘young action partner’ I worked hard to provide leadership training to high school prefects, college students leaders and leaders of youth organisations around the country,” she continues.
From 2007 to 2010, Emily represented Oxfam in Kenya as a youth leader and rose to become the national youth focal point for the Global Youth Coalition on HIV and Aids. She was elected to this position by 300 youths from all over the world to represent them at the international platform. She became the voice of the youth in this prestigious forum. Here in Kenya, she was involved in the creating awareness and educating the youth on HIV and Aids prevention measures and networking with other youth organisations. She traveled to various parts of the country and became aware of the great need for community services in rural areas.
Emily developed a great passion for community work. Her dream was that one day she would start a community development organisation where graduates from universities and colleges would volunteer as interns to gain work experience while helping the community. She hoped to establish within such an organisation sustainable projects that would impact positively on society.
“Though my first degree was in law, I realised right from the beginning that I didn’t want to practice law. I was passionate about projects that impacted more on society and didn’t like the idea of spending long hours in court defending clients. This was why I decided to pursue a degree in development studies to give me skills that would enable me do community development work,” says Emily.
Intent on helping young women open their minds to career opportunities available and not just focus on the elusive white colour jobs, Emily started Muthaa Community Development Foundation (MCDF) in 2006 at the age of 23. All the projects undertaken by the MCDF are focused on service to the community.
A beadwork project…
Her first project involved working with teenage mothers infected or affected by HIV and Aids in Kaloleni in Mombasa County whom she helped make beads to generate income. The project is ongoing and has been very successful in transforming the lives of young women in the area. It won the ‘Market Place’ award at an international AIDS conference held in Toronto, Canada, in 2007. Emily regrets that the group was not able to raise funds to send their products to be sold at the conference. This was a missed opportunity but it didn’t deter the group from continuing to look for markets locally and internationally.
Educate a woman and you educate a nation …
The mantra that if you educate a man you educate an individual but if you educate a woman you educate a nation made a lot of sense to Emily. She incorporated a mentorship programme in her foundation – Nufaisha Girls (to benefit a girl), whose aim was to nurture young women leaders. The school-holiday programme trains and mentors young teenage schoolgirls into responsible adults, then links them to employers. The girls come from diverse social backgrounds and are selected by their school administration to participate in the programme.
They are moulded into well-rounded individuals by helping them focus on their education, spirituality, personality and other gifts such as music and sports before exposing them to different careers. These girls eventually become influential peer mentors and role models in their schools and community. The Foundation invites mentors drawn from individuals in the society who have exemplified positive leadership qualities in various sectors including academic, business, entrepreneurship, banking, civil service, media and so on.
The girls pay a small fee for accommodation and maintenance during residential programmes, but training and mentorship are offered for free. “The Foundation is currently working with the ministry of education to offer leadership skills in secondary schools that targets prefects and student leaders,” says Emily.
Why girls only?
Nufaisha purposely targets girls because they are more vulnerable than boys. “ In many communities especially the ones I work with, boys undergo a rite of passage or circumcision during which time they are mentored to transit into manhood. The girls don’t get this opportunity and the programme covers the gap during school holidays. This programme has a ripple effect because the girls share the knowledge they gain with other girls in their schools and community,” explains Emily.
The programme offers the girls an opportunity to shadow professionals in the workplace to get an understanding of what different careers entail. MCDF has partnered with different companies to actualise this. Currently the programme has been implemented in Nairobi, Central and Eastern regions and plans are underway to include more counties. Emily says she has five girls in the programme from North Eastern who are sponsored by the World Vision.
The most recent event was held from April 16-20 at the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya in Nairobi. “The girls were mentored on exemplary leadership, making good career choices and personal growth and hygiene. There were mentorship sessions on career development, team building, community service, role-playing, etiquette, sex and relationships, drugs and substance abuse, financial skills such as saving and investing, fitness and wellness. The programme also included corporate visits and sports activities,” says Emily.
Positive leadership programme…
Under this project, the youth are empowered to appreciate that they can take leadership roles from an early age, for example, being student leaders. Since all of them can’t be student leaders, they are encouraged to work closely with student leaders to help in the smooth running of their schools and institutions and also help forestall strikes and other anti-social activities.
The students get mentored on the importance of academic excellence as well as balancing schoolwork and extra curriculum activities. They are encouraged to come up with solutions to problems facing them or their institutions using problem-solving skills they learn in this programme.
MCDF enlists the help of a team of professionals to visit schools and learning institutions to train the youth. It works closely with the administration of schools and institutions to offer this service at no cost.
Creative thinking programmes
This programme is tailored to encourage young people who have completed school to start businesses that are creative and innovative. “An example of a very successful project is Wazo (idea). This is a project initiated by twelve young people from Mwamba Wa Nyundo Youth Polytechnic in Mombasa. They are engaged in a unique echo-friendly shoe-making project using recycled tyres and the kikoy fabric. The shoes are popular locally and in Netherlands where they have found a market,” says Emily.
Another programme under creative thinking is BizTech, which targets young women, especially those in college, to come up with business ideas that take advantage of technology to make their businesses more efficient and profitable. MCDF partners with an organization called Kubmo, which invests in mobile technology and resources to empower female entrepreneurs to be financially independent. “For instance, a girl who wants to do poultry farming is provided with a smart phone and trained to use quick books computer programme,” explains Emily.
MCDF has also partnered with different micro finance institutions to provide the youth with capital at reasonable interest rates. During the initial stages, the young women are trained on proposal writing, registering a business and looking for a loan or capital. They are then helped to actualize their business idea.
Using the female condom…
During the International Aids conference held in Mexico in 2008, MCDF started a programme dubbed FC2 to advocate for accessibility, availability and affordability of female condom in Kenya. It started training government officials, NGOs and individuals from the private sector on the use of male and female condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections and HIV, as well as unintended pregnancies.
MCDF also coordinated a successful female paper doll campaign in Kenya. A paper doll campaign is when dolls are collected and made into a long chain, representing the demand for female condoms in Kenya. The foundation believes that female condom promotion and training should be integrated in sexual and reproductive health programmes. FC2 instills knowledge and skills on the use of the female condom and also provides materials to use in advocating for its use.
“More than five thousand people have been trained on the correct use of the female condom through this programme. Some beneficiaries of the training include health care providers, Aids control officers, community based distributors, outreach workers, service providers, peer educators, community health trainers and the general public,” says Emily, adding that the training is given to men and women who are sexually active. The programme also targets commercial sex workers, gay couples and drug abusers.
MCDF has held major events to help promote the female condom, including a fashion show in Washington DC in July last year that was graced by among others the then minister for special programmes Esther Murugi as the chief guest. The foundation also celebrated the global female condom day on September 12, 2012 in Kajiado with a road show. The celebrations to mark the 2012 World Aids Day were held in Kitengela in Kajiado County.
Published on June 2013