I met Nyokabi Njuguna at Education Challenge Africa hosted by The DO School in Berlin. We both had to work on scaling a project called Experimento that was created by the Siemens Stiftung. She was at The DO School because she has done some incredible things in her life. She is the founder and executive director of Impacting Youth Trust, a youth-led organization that advocates for youth empowerment in Kenya, and she actually stayed on Experimento and she’s now Kenya’s project consultant for the implementation of Experimento there. You get to learn why Nyokabi Njuguna is part of the #womenatwork series.
You are authentic, down-to-earth, driven and you inspire and raise up young people in Kenya. What does it take to become Nyokabi Njuguna? What character traits did you use to build your life?
It takes making a lot of crazy moves, accepting support from friends and family, remaining grounded, being empathetical and of course a lot of prayer. The whole idea of taking on youth empowerment and inclusion requires being daring, remaining relevant, staying true to helping others and being persistent.
I believe that being principled, honest, a risk-taker, relatable, open-minded, spiritual and believing in synergy have built me to the person I am today. I cannot take all the credit for the things that I have achieved because everything has come full circle with the support of so many people.Life gets really difficult at times. How do you keep yourself inspired? And, can you tell me a story about one challenge that you faced?
I always go back to where it all started – in the Mathare Slums in Nairobi where my spirit and will to fight for young people was rebuilt again. I also enjoy talking to my dad, mum and brother who know me the best and have always supported my passion towards helping others.
After I graduated from my master’s degree in December 2012, I went through a period of self-doubt and depression where everything that I had always thought was important to me as a 27 year old lost meaning. Looking back at that experience right now, I am thankful that it happened even though it was the most trying experience of my life. I learnt so much about myself, life and people in general and as a result, I love a whole lot more, I listen so much better and I help with all that I am – I value each and every life.
What have been some of the highlights that you’ve experienced along your journey?
Well… I have loved, I have had my heart broken, I have learnt to rise again, I have learnt to always have an open heart, I have learnt to live my dreams, I have learnt to say no when I need to, I have learnt to be a go-getter, I have learnt to be a better friend, daughter and sibling and I have learnt to sometimes be okay not being in control. I think that sums up my highlights because my story is not really that unique.So many people get stripped bare by life and forget that it’s more than just about getting a job, money, a family and then dying. Why are you so different? Were you always surrounded by people who challenged you to think outside the box or did you have a moment of serendipity which changed how you looked at the world?
I am different because at a young age I learnt the value of life and the importance of always doing something that makes you happy and something you love. My parents played and continue playing such an important role in my life because they have always told me that I can be anything that I want to be and that the sky should never exist for me. I think when I was young I tried out almost everything and my parents would facilitate my experimental activities even though we were not rich – I was into drawing, playing football, acting, playing the piano, community service, knitting and fashion design. My older brother was always there to make me think harder and older than I was – 4 years difference in age did a lot for me because I was always trying to keep up with him. It was a healthy competition.
Additionally, there were people such as my aunt Mrs. Mbuthia and Dr. Eddah Gachukia – the director of my alum high school who really noticed my interest in helping others earlier than I did and provided the right platforms to learn while helping. However, I wasn’t extremely active especially while studying for my undergraduate in the community service field until I spent time in Mathare Slums in 2012. It was there that I had a moment of serendipity and realised that I wanted to be at the forefront of the fight to include young people in all areas of development and society. My life has never been the same since then and I have learnt so much about life. My priorities are very different than what they were before the end of 2012.
Why do you care about young people and seeing them involved in their communities?
I care so much because I can relate so much to the struggles and frustrations they experience on a day-to-day basis. It’s like we are living with everything working against us – society, diseases, unemployment and so much more. There’s nothing that gives me more pleasure than seeing the selfless youth taking their rightful place in society, using these platforms to voice the concerns of the youth and following through with sustainable changes.You live in the heart of Nairobi. In your vision, what does your ideal city look like?
My ideal city would probably be a bit more organized and the inhabitants would be a whole lot more invested in keeping the city clean. I can’t tell you how many times I have cursed under my breathe when people randomly throw banana peels out of the window. Can we just ban the sale of bananas in the city centre?!
I would like to see better infrastructure development especially in public schools because a majority of them are old, poorly maintained and falling apart. It’s a disaster.
Following on that question, what small steps could you do right now, or are doing, to make that future happen?
I am working hard to teach the young people on the importance of being aware of the consequences of their environmental footprint on the world. I am also lobbying the government to improve on the schools’ environment in Nairobi and it has been a slow but sure fight. So far, the Starehe Constituency Member of Parliament, Mr. Maina Kamanda, has heard our cry and is renovating the public primary schools in his area. You should see the change this has brought to the overall educational environment in these schools.
Which women have inspired you to be greater than you are?
My mother – Alice Njuguna. She is so passionate about public service and sharing with others. I can only pray to be half the woman she is in my lifetime.
Dr. Wangari Maathai. Her determination keeps me grounded and gives me validation for the work that I am doing. Her quote ‘I will be a hummingbird, I will do the best that I can’, is my constant reminder that I don’t need to be the biggest to have the most impact and that the little that I do goes a long way.
I want you to complete this sentence, “I have one wish and I wish…”
I wish that I will have visited all 55 African countries by the time I am 35 years old.
Photos by Yetunde Dada