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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.

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Comments

Mukut's picture

Excellent profile

Keep it up Phionah !! Alice is such an inspiring community leader. Along with Alice, I admire your contribution towards building your community immensely.

You are also a huge inspiration for all of us.

Love you.

Mukut Ray

Phionah Musumba's picture

Thank you!

It is so inspiring to be a part of such a supportive group as this one.Thanks for your vote of confidence, Mukut.
You just challenged me to go through all your profiles, though I really must admit that I just admire your air of camaraderie here.

You are such a strong shoulder for many of us yourself.

Love you too, bunches.

Phy
Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya
www.galsissues.blogspot.com
https://www.facebook.com/MalkiaCDG

Iryna's picture

Stepping stones to success

I always trying to catch every word when I have a chance to speak with such people as Alice. They charge you with their enthusiasm, and so much of wisdom is in their words.
Beautiful profile, Phionah, and interesting writing!
Warmest greetings,
Iryna

Phionah Musumba's picture

Insightful!

It takes a keen listener to read between the spoken lines.
Thanks, Iryna.
All the best.

Phy
Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya
www.galsissues.blogspot.com
https://www.facebook.com/MalkiaCDG

Ayunnie's picture

Powerful Lady

Hi Phy,
I must admit i loved reading this piece about Alice.She is a powerful lady who has had a big impact on women and girl-child. Thank you for the good choice of the woman leader to interview. Keep it up!

@ Nairobi KENYA
Women have impeccable character, if tapped society realizes quantum leap in development

Phionah Musumba's picture

Woman of Power

She was my first and last choice interviewee, for obvious reasons.
One thing she does for me, she exudes and oozes power.
Thanks.
All the best.

Phy
Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya
www.galsissues.blogspot.com
https://www.facebook.com/MalkiaCDG

Ketzel Levine's picture

Immortal Success! Yes!

Hi Phionah,

I'm a VOF mentor and just had the pleasure of reading your piece. Wow, I can see why Ms Kirambi was your first and only choice for a profile. What a biography! Time and again, she looks out at the world around her, sees something she doesn't like, and changes it. I was particularly moved by her unwillingness to go to Beijing alone, and her success at bringing almost two dozen women with her. Her capacity to change lives will indeed make her success immortal.

I find myself wondering what she is like as a person, what little things give her pleasure (she may be saintly, but she is human!), what her voice and laugh sound like, whether there was a twinkle in her eyes. Little clues to what it was like to be with her. Maybe it's because I haven't eaten breakfast yet, but I find myself hungry to know what she fed you while you were there!

If you're interested, here's a profile rich with details you might find inspiring: http://worldpulse.com/node/11389

Again, thanks for the introduction to Ms Kirambi, and continued good luck with your next module.

All the very best, Ketzel

Phionah Musumba's picture

Invaluable Input

Hey Ketzel,
I must say that yours was timely, invaluable advice, for which am very grateful. I intend to take full advantage of all your wise counsel in my susequent write ups.
Thanks a lot for your inputs.
All the best,

Phy
Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya
www.galsissues.blogspot.com
https://www.facebook.com/MalkiaCDG

Alice Kirambi is truly a woman leader, an inspiration, and a shaker.
The contribution she has been giving for women empowerment is simply mind blowing and humbling.
With a few more people like her we surely can make a lot of difference to the underrepresented, oppressed women worldwide.

Thank you Phionah, for bringing her to us. You have a played a tremendous role in inspiring others through Alice Kirambi's story.

And I am very impressed with the way your wrote the piece. Very engaging.

Salaam
Aminah

Phionah Musumba's picture

Emulation Beckons

Every time I think about Alice, what comes into my mind is to follow her footsteps, and penetrate where she might have not reached. There is this strong urge to go the extra mile in her shoes that makes it quite a task to just sit back and do nothing. I totally agree with you, Aminah, she is a force to reckon with.
Thanks a lot.
All the best, dearest,

Phy
Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya
www.galsissues.blogspot.com
https://www.facebook.com/MalkiaCDG

Phionah,
I was very moved by your article about Alice Kirambi. What a courageous and wise woman she is. You did a very nice job summarizing her rich career and many contributions. I particularly love the way you ended the piece, "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.'" Something we can all aspire to!

Well done Phionah!
Lina

Lina

Phionah Musumba's picture

Its all about teamwork!

In as much as I would love to take all the credit, Lina, I couldn't have done it without the great input of my wonderfully patient editorial mentor who held my pen every step of the way. Even so, I was very inspired by Alice, who will remain a bigger than life full colour picture of how women leadership should be!
Thanks for your encouraging words too.
All the best,

Phy
Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya
www.galsissues.blogspot.com
https://www.facebook.com/MalkiaCDG

binapatel33's picture

Great job

Thank you for writing such a wonderful piece. You did a great job illustrating to us how well Alice has done in her career in such a difficult area/time. Thank you providing us with a great piece that easily enables us to create an illustration in our minds. Great job, and very inspirational.

Kind Regards,
Bina Patel
hc Mediate, LLC
www.hcmediate.com

Phionah Musumba's picture

Inspiration Indeed!

That's what a subject as wonderful as the content does. It goes without saying that overcoming the kind of obstacles she encountered takes a woman of strength, and that is Alice.
Thanks.
All the best,

Phy
Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya
www.galsissues.blogspot.com
https://www.facebook.com/MalkiaCDG

Zoepiliafas's picture

Nice

I love the stepping stones metaphor at the end. Great positive conclusion!

I so appreciate you featuring a woman who is taking a grassroots solution perspective to challenges faces communities.

Thank you for your work!

Zoe Piliafas

Voices of Our Future Community Manager
World Pulse

Phionah Musumba's picture

Many Thanks

Thank YOU!

I enjoyed interviewing Alice because everything she said came out naturally!

She is a woman empowered to empower.

Welcome!

Phy
Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya
www.galsissues.blogspot.com
https://www.facebook.com/MalkiaCDG

Y's picture

Alice Kirambi is obviously a

Alice Kirambi is obviously a visionary with great leadership skills. We need more women with such clear vision and plans for implementation and community building.

I wish that all of us would embrace the idea that the impact we make while on earth IS our immortality, as Ms. Kirambi seems to believe. “You should never be afraid of challenges in your life’s journey, as these are just stepping stones to immortal success.”

Thank you for this inspiring profile, Phionah.
Blessings.
Yvette

Y

SanPatagonia's picture

Spanish translation | En Español!

Alice Kirambi, la fuerza detrás del empoderamiento de mujeres en Kenia
por Phionah Musumba

Como líder comunitaria y figura pública, no es fácil conseguir una cita para una entrevista con Alice Kirambi. Por eso, fue una agradable sorpresa cuando programó una entrevista para un domingo a la mañana, posiblemente el único día en que ella se tomaría un respiro de su trabajo.
La corta charla informal llevó a un desayuno y enseguida insistió que me quedara para el almuerzo. A lo largo de las horas que siguieron, se hizo evidente que era una roca y pilar para las mujeres en su comunidad, y para las mujeres en su conjunto.
Su trabajo comunitario comenzó en Mengelete de Makueni, una zona propensa a la escasez de agua. Ella cabildeó por la comunidad y consiguió más de 300 bombas de agua manuales para aliviar la carga de enfermedades transmitidas por el agua que asolaba a los residentes del área. Desde entonces, las mujeres se las han arreglado para pelearle al hambre debido a que Alice les enseñó a cultivar alimentos para vender, para mejorar sus situaciones económicas.
Cerca de la misma zona, en Kitui, fue testigo de niños aprendiendo debajo de un árbol. “Quise tanto darles un aula a esos niños que no descansé hasta que fue no solo una habitación, sino que estoy orgullosa de decir que ahora es una escuela hecha y derecha: la Escuela Primaria Utawala”, recuerda Alice.
Alice y sus hermanas, de un origen muy humilde, quedaron huérfanas de pequeñas y permanecieron con su madre, quien se aseguró que tuvieran la educación básica. Ella ingresó al colegio de secretarias y pudo obtener un trabajo luego de inscribirse en “Conference Secretaries”, una agencia de empleo.
“Era tan difícil conseguir un trabajo en esos tiempos, especialmente si no conocías a nadie en las altas esferas, así es que optamos por inscribirnos en una agencia de empleo”, dice.
Tras un año de permanecer en su primer trabajo, Alice fue invitada a una entrevista con la All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC - Conferencia de Iglesias de África) donde consiguió el puesto de Secretaria Administrativa asignada al área de Investigación, Desarrollo y Mujeres.
“Aquí tuve exposición a diferentes culturas a través de numerosos viajes en comisión al mundo exterior, organizando conferencias entre muchas otras tareas. Viendo hacia atrás, creo que la AACC es lo mejor que me ha pasado, porque me enseñó mucho. Es la organización que me formó como la mujer que soy ahora. Es aquí que llegué a comprender el significado de desarrollo, temas de género, las luchas que las mujeres están atravesando, los debates sobre el desarrollo en lo que hace a las comunidades, entre muchos otros temas que no habría aprendido en ningún otro lugar”, cuenta.

Alice trabajó para la AACC por más de 20 años, antes de formar la CPDA (Christian Partners Development Agency – Agencia de Desarrollo de Parejas Cristianas), una ONG, en 1993. Su trabajo está en Chavakali, Condado de Vihiga de la Provincia Occidental, aproximadamente 400 kilómetros al noroeste de Nairobi, pero ella también tiene otra oficina en Waiyaki Way, Westlands, Nairobi.
Su familia ha apoyado mucho su trabajo, antes y después de que enviudara hace unos pocos años. Una creyente de la educación, se ha asegurado de que todos sus hijos alcanzaran una educación universitaria.
En un momento fue la Vicepresidenta del Consejo Nacional de Mujeres y la responsable del Comité de Mujeres y Agricultura. Fue aquí donde Alice se encontró a sí misma en la lista de mujeres que habían sido patrocinadas por el DFID para defender los temas de género en Beijing. Su placer por el honor duró poco ya que estaba sola por Kenia Occidental. Alice se acercó a la esposa del Miembro del Parlamento de su región, luego de una reunión en la organización Maendeleo ya Wanawake, para persuadirla de hablar con su marido para que patrocinara a algunas mujeres de la comunidad en Beijing. No tuvo éxito.
Se reunió con un recaudador de fondos para PATROCINA UNA HERMANA EN BEIJING, la vía que usó para llevar a 22 mujeres de su Kenia Occidental a China. Ella incluso patrocinó a dos con su propio fondo de patrocinios de DIFD!
“Las 22 mujeres fueron empoderadas en diferentes esferas y ahora son influyentes miembros de la sociedad en distintas partes de Kenia. Me alegra el alma escuchar a estas mujeres referirse a mi como su mentora en foros influyentes”, bromea.
Se unió a “Soroptimist International”, una organización mundial de servicio voluntario para personas de negocios y profesionales que trabajan para mejorar la vida de mujeres y niñas en comunidades locales alrededor del mundo. Durante una reunión, la mayoría de los miembros de alto perfil apoyó a Alice como la Secretaria de forma unánime. Su trabajo duro y determinación para pelear por los derechos de las mujeres la han visto convertirse no solo en la primera sino en la Presidente y Fundadora de “Soroptimist International” en Kenia. En el trayecto, Alice vio cómo un cierto número de keniatas de familias muy pobres fueron educados.

Llegó a ser la primera Gobernadora de “Soroptimist International”, a cargo de decisiones globales en formación de políticas. Esto representó más viajes alrededor del mundo de los que había hecho antes, lo que también significó que estaba en un mejor lugar para impulsar e implementar soluciones relevantes para temas de género.
Se fue en 2002 para encabezar el CPDA ella misma. En el presente, Alice todavía es miembro de “Soroptimist International” a pesar de que no ocupa ningún puesto.
Alice Kirambi se presentó para la Oficina de Representante de Mujeres en las recientes Elecciones Generales y perdió, a razón de haber sido ingresada en el hospital en condición crítica por la misma época generada por su frenético ritmo de vida que la llevó a la fatiga. Ahora se lo está tomando con más calma. Está alimentándose mejor y haciendo ejercicio, y luce en mejor forma.
En la actualidad está presentando “Valor Agregado y Marketing”, donde se les da a las mujeres habilidades profesionales para hacer sus esfuerzos económicamente viables. “Asambleas Vecinales”, una iniciativa que desde entonces se ha esparcido a la vecina Uganda es de su creación. Son formas de parlamentos a nivel local de los pueblos, donde se intenta que aborden preocupaciones comunes como la pobreza, seguridad alimentaria, liderazgo local y gobernanza.
Mientras salimos, ella dice: “Nunca debieras tener miedo de los desafíos en tu viaje de la vida, ya que solo son peldaños hacia el éxito inmortal.”

@SanPatagonia
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