Wangari Mutungi, who currently works as the Operations Officer for a state parastatal, rose from a house help but worked her way up.
She shares her career journey.
“I was born 37 years ago in a rural village in Nakuru County. I happen to be the third born in a family of five girls. My father was an absentee parent, even when he was at home, he had no idea he was under the same roof as his children, for he cared less. But our mother filled the void and played the role of both parents. She was a hardworking peasant farmer, who gave her all for her girls in seeing to it they had the best education possible.
I sat for my KCSE in 2003 and scored a B-. But I didn’t get the cut-off mark and the director of Anestar group of schools offered me a scholarship to repeat Form Four in 2004. Having seen the vagaries of poverty and what the parent was going through in educating us and putting the food on the table, my dream was to study hard, secure a job and break the poverty yoke in the family. It seemed to be a daytime dream, for, despite scoring a B plain, I again missed the university entrance mark by a single grade!
This broke my heart and dispirited me completely. I would have repeated examinations a third time but my mother was not for the idea. I remember her saying that everything was not just about pursuing educational papers, and there was much that could be made from failures.
Life took a twist when my parents separated and my mom moved to a one-bedroom house that went for Sh250 monthly rent. All five siblings plus she were to share, as we took up manual jobs like cultivating our neighbour’s farms to put food on the table. Our circumstances were dire and in 2005 I sought a job as a house help in Nairobi where I used to care for an elderly woman with the pay being Sh2000 per month. This money was enough to cater for my mother and siblings back home. I was a housemaid for nine months.
A chance for education
While still a housemaid, I got a scholarship to do a diploma in IT at Toprank Kikuyu College. I would wake up at 4 am, do all house chores then walk to school seven kilometres away daily. I could not afford the Sh20 bus fare, so I used to trek a total of 14 km to and fro college. I would be back at my employer’s place by 3 pm and do the remaining house chores before retiring to bed at 10 pm. It was a delicate act juggling between studies and employment – and then things got worse.
My employer began complaining that my contractual obligation did not come with a clause that I was to further my education while still under her roof. It was either I choose between employment and the pursuit of acquiring life skills. I opted for the latter and was unceremoniously kicked out.
It wasn’t gloomy though, as I met with a kind woman who took me in. We had a deal I stay at her house and help with the chores as I continued with my studies. It took a few months to clear college. Empowered with skills, I landed a job. I still was residing with the kind woman, and I would do chores very early in the morning, dash to work and return in the evenings to continue from where I left off.
Then the woman’s children started complaining that I had no time for their mother as I was supposed to be babysitting her but I was working late sometimes. I had to leave. Now that I was working, with a Sh12, 000 monthly pay, we teamed with my sister and rented a one-roomed house which only had a kerosene stove and a mattress.
Challenged to scale heights
Growing up, I looked up to my elder sister who was studying law and dreamt of becoming a lawyer myself. In 2011, I got a well-paying job at the Law Society of Kenya SACCO, saved for a year, took a loan, and paid for my undergraduate courses. But the dream of emulating my sister to be a lawyer path fizzled out. Having worked for lawyers for a while, I realised that I didn’t want to be one. I found it more satisfying talking to people, planning and organising things. That was how I ended up majoring in Operations Management
I hold a Bachelor of Commerce, in Operations Management, from the University of Nairobi, and diploma certificates in both Information Technology (IT) and procurement. I currently work for one of the leading parastatals as an Operations Officer. I am a single mother of twins aged seven. I am also a home commercial baker and a pig farmer.
The ups and downs of my life have taught me to be very independent and content with the little I have as I struggle to seek for more. I have learnt to be humble and adapt very quickly to difficult situations.
I gave up on love a long time ago. Looking back, I realised I should have allowed myself to love unconditionally, but the fear of the unknown took the best of me.
I’d like to encourage those despairing in life not to give up or give in, but to keep moving even if an inch a day. Also, be open to change or adjustments. Don’t be rigid. There are so many ways to kill a cat.
My fear of poverty, lack, and what it does to a human being makes me wake up every day. I don’t want my children to lack as I did.
I am a movie addict in my pastime. I also love my ‘me-time’, alone, quiet and doing nothing in particular.”