Alice Kirambi; The Driving Force Behind Women Empowerment In Kenya
As a community leader and public figure, it is not easy to get an interview appointment with Alice Kirambi. So it was a pleasant surprise when she scheduled an interview for a Sunday morning, possibly the only day when she could be on a break from her work. The short formal chat led to breakfast and soon she insisted I stay back for lunch. Over the next few hours, it was evident that she was a rock and pillar to the women in her community, and to womanhood at large.
Her community work started in Mangelete of Makueni, an area prone with water scarcity. She lobbied for the community and provided over 300 hand pumps, to ease the burden of water borne diseases that plagued the area residents. The women have since managed to beat hunger because Alice taught them to plant food crops for sale, to improve their economic situations.
Around the same area, in Kitui she witnessed children learning under a tree.
“I wanted to give those children a classroom so much that I did not rest until it was not only one room, but am proud to say that it is now a fully fledged Utawala Primary School,” Alice reminisces.
Alice and her siblings, from a very humble background were orphaned young and remained with her mother, who ensured they had basic education. She joined a secretarial college, and was able to get a job after registering with Conference Secretaries, an employment bureau.
“It was so hard to get a job those days, especially if you didn’t know anyone in high places, thus we opted to register with an employment bureau,” she said.
A year into her first job, Alice was invited for an interview with All Africa Conference of Churches where she got the post of the Administrative Secretary attached to Research and Development and the Women’s desk.
“Here I got exposure to different cultures through numerous travel assignments to the outside world, organizing conferences among many other duties. Looking back, I believe the AACC is the best thing that ever happened to me, because it taught me a lot. This is the organization that built me to be the woman that I am to date. It is here that I came to understand the meaning of development, women issues, the struggles that women are going through, the development concerns as far as the communities are concerned, among many other matters that I wouldn’t have learnt anywhere else,” she said.
Alice worked for the AACC for over 20 years, before setting up the CPDA, (Christian Partners Development Agency), an NGO, in 1993. Her work is in Chavakali town, Vihiga County of Western Province, approximately 400 kilometres North West of Nairobi, although she also has another office along Waiyaki Way, Westlands, Nairobi. Her family has been very supportive of her work, before and after she was widowed a few years ago. A believer in education, she has ensured that all her children attain university education.
At one time, she was the Vice Chair of the National Council of Women, and head of the Women and Agriculture Committee. It was here that Alice found herself on the list of women who had been sponsored by the DFID to go advocate for women issues in Beijing. Her pleasure for the honor was short lived as she was alone from Western Kenya. Alice approached the wife of her area Member of Parliament at the time, after a Maendeleo ya Wanawake meeting, to sweet talk her husband into sponsoring some women from the community to Beijing unsuccessfully.
She came up with a fundraiser for the ladies dubbed, SPONSOR A SISTER TO BEIJING, which was the vehicle she used to get 22 women from her Western Kenya community to China. She even sponsored two from her own DFID sponsorship kitty!
“All the 22 ladies were empowered in different spheres and are now influential members of society in different parts of Kenya. It gladdens my soul to hear these women refer to me as their mentor at influential forums,” she quips.
She joined the Soroptimist International, a worldwide volunteer service organization for businesspeople and professionals who work to improve the lives of women and girls in local communities and throughout the world. During a meeting, majority of the high profile members unanimously endorsed Alice as the Secretary. Her hard work and determination to fight for the rights of women saw her become not only the first but Founder President of Soroptimist International in Kenya. At the helm, Alice saw that quite a number of Kenyans from very poor families were educated.
She rose to be the first Governor of Soroptimist International, charged with global policy making decisions. This involved more traveling around the world than she’d done before, which also meant that she was better placed to push for and implement solutions relevant to women issues.
She left in 2002 to head CPDA herself. Presently, Alice is still a member of Soroptimist International, though she doesn’t hold any office.
Alice Kirambi ran for the Women Representative Office in the just concluded General Elections, and lost, by virtue of having been admitted in hospital in critical condition at around the same time, occasioned by her fast paced life which saw fatigue set in. As at now, she is taking it easy. She is eating right and exercising and looks in good shape.
Currently, she is introducing Value Addition and Marketing, where women are provided with professional skills to make their efforts economically viable. Neighborhood Assemblies, an initiative that has since spilled over to neighbouring Uganda is her brainchild. These are forms of village level parliaments intended to address common concerns like poverty, food security, local leadership and governance.
As we part, she says, “You should never be afraid of challenges in your life’s journey, as these are just stepping stones to immortal success.”
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.