Exploring Her Way to Success

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When Wendy, 20, completed her primary school education in 2015 in a private school in Nairobi, she was super excited about the prospect of going to a boarding high school within the country. But to her shock and dismay, her mother couldn’t afford her high school education at her school of choice.

Her mother had just closed down a lucrative business in entertainment due to a sudden change in her religious stance; opting to run a grocery store. The family income took a dip.

“It was the worst feeling ever. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t live my dreams because my parents didn’t have money,” Wendy recalls.

It took some convincing from her aunt for Wendy to understand the need to adapt to the new situation and attend a different high school within Nairobi.

On completion of high school in 2018, Wendy toyed with the idea of a career as a doctor, but it did not align with her interests. Then she considered journalism but she got discouragements about it not being such a lucrative career. Wendy, seeing that her elder sister was a successful graphic designer after only a year of training, decided to settle on the same path.

But once again, financial constraints came between her and achieving her dreams. That was how she opted to try volunteering.

A friend told her about, Crime Si Poa, an organization which provides alternative creative and entrepreneurial outlets to at-risk and vulnerable youth susceptible to engaging in criminal activities.

“I was idle at home, and here was an engagement that provided me with fare and lunch. I just thought I could go and pass my time there and maybe make a difference,” Wendy observes.

Through the program, Wendy mentored young girls aged 9 -18 in youth detention centers (called Borstals in Kenya), on sexual and reproductive health, life skills and computer skills.

“I am an out-going person, so doing this work made me fall in love with social work and showed me how much I love helping my community.”

Through her social work, Wendy was informed of Digital Divide Data (DDD)where she worked in data analysis and some basic graphic design. Her supervisor Calvince saw her keenness to learn and started to walk Wendy through basic software development skills in CSS/HTML.

“Seeing how the software worked on the browser was amazing,” Wendy smiles reminiscent.

Wendy was immediately drawn to technology, she started researching online on technology companies while also studying the work they did. In November 2019, after 5 months of volunteering at DDD, Calvince informed her of the AkiraChix codeHive program intake that was happening at that same time. She did her research on the program, following the stories and career developments of the codeHive alumni and after a while she was completely sold.

“It’s a free program, tech, only women and it’s a residential program in the Nairobi suburbs of Kilimani. This was the perfect opportunity for me!” Wendy enthuses.

Wendy made her application and to her pleasant surprise, she was accepted.

“I thank God I got this scholarship, I got a C- so there was no direct entry into a public university.”

As the codeHIve 2020 program kicked off, Wendy was eager to learn, and everything was going on splendidly, but just six weeks since her journey at AkiraChix began, Wendy was met with another hurdle in her pathway. On Friday, March 13 2020, Kenya announced its first case of COVID-19 and following a government edict, all learning institutions were directed to close. All 52 students in the codeHive residential program had to go home.

Thankfully, all hope was not lost because at the start of April 2020, codeHive Lite was kicked off and classes picked back up virtually, though not without it's challenges.

“It was hard, we had to study via WhatsApp, there were internet connection issues for some of us, we couldn't talk to our friends until the end of classes, I had to find a balance between learning and doing my house chores, then there was my noisy kid brother, not to mention how bad Mum's business was doing thanks to the pandemic. It was a lot to handle but I did my best.”

Wendy decided to resume volunteer work with Crime Si Poa in between classes where she would get a stipend and lunch- a perk that helped ease the pressures at home. She was able to once again serve her community by conducting environmental cleanups, sharing information on COVID-19 prevention, and carrying out peer education sessions where she taught on sexual and reproductive health with most at-risk youth.

When the ban on public meetings lifted later in the year, in-person classes resumed and Wendy was back on campus August 2020. She recalls how it was a struggle reconciling all she was learning virtually, and what she was now picking from the physical classes. “Whatever I was learning at home, I didn’t quite understand. It felt like I was going back to March when the program was starting.”

Wendy did not let this break stop her though, and after a few weeks of adjusting, she caught up with class work, this time with more clarity about what she was really passionate about; coding.

“I am drawn towards back-end development with Python, I don’t need to be pushed to do it. When it comes to coding python I have that inner drive.”

Wendy is determined to push forward, as she nears graduation in November 2020. And hopes to one day be a founder of an organization that mentors other young women to success.

“I have learnt along the way I need to be open-minded. If I am not successful in this life is because of me not being open-minded,” Wendy concludes.