Disruptive Innovation fueled by Empathy

Have things always been this good for you?

Not at all, before attending university my family was shunned and discriminated against because my father believed girls should be educated too.  When he decided I would attend high school, no one in our community could understand why he would sacrifice so much by working every day and never taking a penny for himself, just so I could get an education.   

I am proud of my name, Catherine Chelaa.  My name tells you I am Pokot. I come from a very tiny village in West Pokot, Kenya. Who would have ever believed I would be sharing this information while in my third year of study at Kenyatta University where I am pursuing a Degree in Education Science.  Coming this far in my educational journey is already a dream come true.

Growing up in my community, everyone especially looks at girls as a source of wealth. I was lucky to have a father who would hear none of that – not even from my mother.  He made sure I had a chance to get educated.  You may wonder how he was able to pay for my school fees.  He did it through a barter arrangement at the high school I attended.  He worked every single day as a watchman without getting paid.  His only payment being that his daughter never missed a day of school.

The day I joined University was one of my very best moments.  I had only heard about Nairobi through the radio and the books I read. The moment I arrived in the city I was excited and dazzled.  In all the excitement, I even misplaced my bags and documents which were only to be found a day later.  The first few weeks at the university were hard for me. I made too many wrong turns and got lost too many times, because I was afraid to ask for directions. The Computer Lab was the first place I sought out. By the time I finally found my way around, I already had made the computer lab my haven.  It was a familiar place. I feel at home in a Computer Lab given that I spent 6 months at the ‘21st Century Skills Computer Lab’ as part of the Global Give Back Circle program.

At Kenyatta University, everyone is required to register for classes on the on-line Students’ Portal.  My classmates were quick to notice how skilled I was at using the computer and the internet services.  Thanks to my digital literacy skills, I was able to help my fellow first year students, who had no prior computer skills training, in the registration processes. This boosted my success at making new friends, and to them, I was no longer ‘the shy timid girl from a marginalized region.’  I was a ‘tech expert’.

My journey has been made easier because I have my Mentor, Erica Marley. Erica works for Microsoft in the United States. We use technology to communicate with each other, e-mails, Skype and WhatsApp.  Anytime doubt in myself, or in my abilities, starts creeping in, or when I am almost ready to give up, Erica reminds me of how far I have come. Her positive attitude pushes me harder at achieving my dreams even more.  Erica has exposed me to an even bigger, more diverse world.  We even read books together!  This has helped improve my reading skills.  Erica introduced me to TedTalks and she sends me links to TedTalks she knows I will like.  She inspires me every day, to be the best version of myself.

More and more girls from my community have now started going to school. My sisters now have a chance to pursue their education. Just this year, I was helping my younger sister decide what she wants to do in college.  As part of my Give Back Commitment, I have been facilitating group discussions, in my village, on the importance of girls’ education and saying ‘No’ to FGM.  

Through the communications skills I have learned through the Global Give Back Circle, I am able to lead conversations that people used to shy away from – because they were too confrontational. Finally, people are listening. Community leaders are now coming to me for direction, especially on encouraging even more girls to say ‘Yes’ to education. I am so honored to be an agent-of-change and ensuring more girls have a chance at obtaining a good education and proving that so many myths are wrong, especially myths surrounding girls’ education and female reproductive health.  I know I can count on Erica to support me along this path.  I am positive things will always be this good!