Mwihaki Muraguri is the founder of Paukwa House, an organisation that is passionately devoted to representing and sharing positively inspired African stories to counter the dominant negative social stereotypes on Africa. She speaks with MONICA MBOGO on her purpose to reclaim the African narrative.
Mwihaki Muraguri grew up in a household of avid readers hence words effortlessly come to her. The first-born in her family, she yearned to study video editing, a little known course then. Her parents dismissed her request and insisted she pursue a ‘serious degree’. Gutted, she opted to major in economics and geography with the hope that it will eventually land her in the environmental field.
“When I completed my Bachelors, I searched for a job in my field in vain. I thereafter landed a job with AMREF to run a volunteer program. I was now working in the health field, something that was never in my radar,” she shares.
This meant that her love for writing and creative arts would take a back burner as she immersed herself in the world of public health and development that spurned more than 20 years.
“By 2015, I had gotten used to my work and nothing excited me anymore. I needed to do something different. A friend challenged me to take a writing course and I did. The course reignited my love for writing and from there I started blogging furiously,” she says.
In the process, she decided to apply for a fellowship for mid-career professionals. The application process required one to describe a project they would undertake and to her disappointment, her mind was blank. The night before the due date, she experienced an aha moment and thus put down what would be the beta version of Paukwa Storyhouse.
Leaning on her passion for storytelling, she wanted to create a platform where positive aspects of Kenyan history and contemporary life would be celebrated. Sadly, the application did not go through but she now knew what she wanted to do going forward.
She decided to hone her storytelling muscles and applied for a storytelling fellowship that was so competitive she couldn’t get in at first. Determined not to be left out, she called the organizing body and argued her case.
“My efforts paid off and I got into the fellowship,” avers the mom of three.
Her aim was to get empowered with resources and knowledge to enable her share factual, positive African stories unapologetically and since charity begins at home, she would start with Kenya.
“African storytellers need to contribute to what the Internet knows, sees and understands of Africa. Less than five per cent of content on the web is generated in Africa. If our languages, identities and faces are not there, then soon Africa will be deemed non-existent,” she explains emphatically.
She adds that there is a dominant, narrowed narrative that Kenyan children are exposed to such as corruption, insecurity and terrorism yet Kenya has such a rich heritage. Through stories, Paukwa uncovers and unlocks a wider appreciation of Kenyan history.
“Until the story of the hunt is told by the lion, the tale will always glorify the hunter. We focus on Kenya because we can either have other people tell our stories or we can tell our stories the way we want them told,” she elaborates
The storytelling process entails doing interviews and sourcing information from the crowd while going through media and personal archives. She encourages young people willing to take up storytelling as a career to go for it as preexisting barriers are no longer there.
With an already existing digital mindset, Paukwa is planning to finally incorporate young people and put the expanded version of their website with more animated features for kids just like the already existing alphabet with a Kenyan twist on YouTube.
Paukwa also provides storytelling training, emcee, writing, photo and film documentation services for clients; and curates and delivers positive content about Kenya through digital media channels as its social mission.
This article was first published in the January 2020 issue of Parents.
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