Gmin’s programs reach out to many students from diverse cultures. In our philosophy of youth, innovation and the future, we interact with our students and listen to their stories as they journey into the world of innovation. During the innovation camp in April 2017 held in Nairobi, Kenya, Tamara Cheruiyot, one of our finalists had interesting views to share with other fellows and the Gmin community. We share her story with the hope to inspire young people to dive into innovation and take charge of their future.
How it all began
As a child I always dreamt of making a change in the world, my desire was to see a better future for us all. As my ambition grew, my inaction choked me, as I just could not see how I would be the one to make the change. I had many thoughts but didn’t know how or what I could do to make a change. I realized that within me, I envisaged things in a whole different perspective from most of my peers. Much as I loved school, it was soon becoming routine. This is mainly because I had many ideas, but I had no opportunity to express them or share them in a structured environment. Eventually, I learned to express my ideas through art. I carried my pencil and paper and expressed my thoughts on paper. By the time I was a senior at primary school, I was sure I wanted to become an architect. I would draw so many different designs of buildings. I even drew my city… I kept drawing, drawing and drawing. My ambitions were dashed when I joined a Secondary school and realized that my optional subjects were limited to Agriculture, Business Studies and IT as technical subjects. The school schedule was a whole lot different from my expectations. I soon realized that time was limited and this affected my drawing as well. Nevertheless, I still drew sketches at every opportune time, sometimes in my exercise books. I always did my work in the most artistic way possible. Art meant so much to me.
I transferred from the school and went to Loreto Convent Msongari, a prestigious school. I honestly never thought I would have ended up there. Msongari has been a cut above the rest. Being there taught me so much and molded me into who I am today. The school offered many opportunities among them art, not only as a technical subject, but also a club and society. I chose art as a technical subject and joined the club. We were able to express ourselves as students. I felt like I was on cloud nine. When I had just joined, we were to sit for an examination before we closed for half term. I wasn’t pushed to the limit about the art exam because I knew art was about drawing and painting. Little did I know, there was much more than just drawing and painting. There was leatherwork, woodwork, sculpting, tie and dye… and the theory part of it. In that exam, they tested my theory in the subject. I was chilled to the bone. I had no knowledge on the elements and principles of art. I had no idea. I still sat for the exam and eventually got my results… I honestly expected much worse, but to my surprise, I did much better than I envisioned. I continued with art. I learnt and enjoyed our lessons with Ms Mugambi. Ms Mugambi introduced a few girls who had a passion for art and the sciences for an exchange program. Only 15 girls applied. I applied for it because I had a feeling that I could do it. I envisioned a beautiful future, and I wanted to help our communities. After the application, we were all interviewed at the Nairobi National Museum and five of us proceeded.
The program, Girls Design the World initiated by the American Alliance of Museums in which young ladies in their teens from Kenya and the United States have a chance to support green communities through STEM. Throughout the program, we took visits to the communities and interviewed them and through the design thinking process, we came up with solutions for the environmental challenges facing the community. The design process was the longest we had training each Saturday for about six months and mentorships too. We had to sacrifice a lot of our time and classes for the program. We would video chat with the girls from the States on their progress with their projects. On March 2016, seven girls were selected each from Kenya and the United States to represent their country for the exhibition in each country. In the United States, it was at the Minneapolis Institute of art while in Kenya at the Nairobi National Museum. I was among the girls that got the opportunity to go to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and see the exhibition. We had a chance to tour Minneapolis and meet the girls. It was an exciting breakthrough. We got to see the American culture. I recall giving my first speech in the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I was nervous as speaking to a crowd of people was always a challenge for me, but that day, I did it. I couldn’t believe I gave an amazing speech!
A new point of view
The program changed my perspective regarding our environment. I wanted to dedicate myself to helping communities in Kenya especially those in the informal setting. The environment became something I highly treasured. All I thought of was how to save our environment from depletion. I dedicated my time and effort to finding solutions to save our biodiversity. I began to have a desire for wanderlust… going for road trips, game drives, nature trails. From then I promised myself that whatever invention I made would be inspired by nature and would aim at saving our environment. I became the Environment Secretary at my school which is a hard task mainly because many students think that the only way to help our environment was by collecting trash and doing all the dirty work. It saddens me sometimes, but I aim to change that not only in my school but also in the world. The environment, our biodiversity is part of us and should be considered in every development and invention. I, therefore, plan to mentor the youth on our environment.
Two months later, the Science Club patron, Mr. Ondeyo, called forth a few students interested in science for a design workshop by women in STEM facilitated by Marian Muthui an alumnus from our school. In 6 teams, we worked on projects that provided solutions for the community in the topics; Waste, Road Safety, Health, Water, Information Technology, and Light. Our team focused on Light and thus we came up with a bio-battery which solves the lack of an accessible and affordable form of electrical energy in informal settings. After the challenge, a panel of women in STEM gave us a talk on our career choices and possible university options. We were inspired by the women and felt like we could do much more than we could have ever imagined. I became interested in STEM because art is related with the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Before the mentorship program, I was more geared to pursuing an art-related course and therefore my interest in STEM was subdued. However, after the design workshop I felt highly empowered by getting the opportunity to listen to young women in STEM.And that’s the foundation of how my love for innovation began.
Marian, our mentor, told us of the Innovate Kenya program. It seemed very captivating, and as a team, we applied for the Innovate Kenya program. We were unnerved because it was a few days to the deadline for applications. In fact, it was on the last day when I sent the application for our team. I remember I was late for school that morning. I slept at 2:00 am the night before trying to submit the application for my team. After several failed attempts, I finally sent the application and hoped for the best. When I got to school, the first thing my teammates asked was whether I sent in the application. With mixed feelings, I told them exactly what happened. We remained hopeful each day until March when the results were out! It was highly unexpected.It was the lesson before lunchtime, Mathematics when Mr Ondeyo got an urgent phone-call. He left class and answered it.He came back with the best news ever. Our team qualified for the Innovate Kenya program! It was the best feeling ever. At first I couldn’t believe it. We actually made it. We were so thrilled that we couldn’t wait for the April holiday to begin. Hearing that our team was among the top 12 was an eye opener.We finally closed. All we could think of was the camp the following week.
It was invigorating. Getting to meet new people from different backgrounds with futuristic ideas that have the capacity to solve today’s social, environmental and economic challenges was motivating. I was nervous at first and to be honest, I felt quite intimidated by some of their projects. My team’s project was very different. Most of them came up with revolutionary projects. Well for my team, a Bio-battery. A battery that we knew could change the lives of people mostly in the community. Well, an asset we couldn’t do without was the determination that our project would bring change to the people in the community.The week was full of empowering discussions each with its significant lesson. I can now do much more than thought I could. I am filled with confidence and belief that I can achieve anything and my dreams can become a reality.
Experience of a lietime!
In truth, everything I learned has empowered and equipped me with a larger scope of leadership and innovation. One of the most important lessons I learned was teamwork. Without teamwork and collaboration, it could easily get tedious. Another was that you should never give up. Always be purposeful and no matter the situation, make every effort. As they say, half a loaf is better than none. When we began making our prototypes, we had to make a list of the things we needed. My teammates and I sat down and began… “What material do we use? What electrolyte? How big is it? OMG!!! Is it even going to work??? Wait, from glucose to glutathione? An oxidizing agent.” It literally almost got to the point that I cried my eyes out. Have you ever been so anxious? To top it all off presentation day was two days from then.Thank goodness it was what we had learned during the first few days of camp- The design thinking process. Aha! Why not make a design prototype? That still works, right? We had done it before so why not? There and then I went to our facilitators boldly with my head held high, I simply asked if we could do it. Yes! We got the materials thanks to Richy and his team. We made it! The teamwork and collaboration in our team made this happen. At last, we finally finished the presentation slide and our prototype.
My best experience was visiting the community of Kibera. Working with the community has been something that I always enjoy. Hearing from different people and listening to their challenges, gives me that drive and motivation to make a difference. It just doesn’t feel right when you’ve got a proper home, clean water, electricity, security and much more while others out there suffer greatly. Margaret, the beautiful lady who gave us a tour of the Kibera Town Centre inspired me. She reminded me of myself especially when she told us about her experience working with the community. I do hope to work with her and other organizations to help our communities. Building a town centre for Mukuru Kwa Reuben, a community I had been working with would solve many of the problems the people in that area face. The people in these communities have a vibrant sense of life. They have many ideas and express them in the most artistic way possible; dancing, art, music. In fact, in Kenya, we have quite a number of artists from these communities among them are Octopizzo a hip-hop artist, activist and youth ambassador. Without a doubt, not all heroes wear capes.That week was the highlight of my April holiday. We all got out of our comfort zone. Staying in class till 9:30 pm, being awake and ready by 7:30 am… It felt like once again I was in a boarding school. Even more, because I was sharing a room with three other girls, I had never met before which was amazing because we got all a chance to share our experiences and ideas. It’s amazing how we all wanted to attain the same goal.
In addition to being the best week ever, attending the camp has instilled in me passion, determination, creativity, positivity, courage, resilience, integrity, and teamwork- The most important values. I’ve been able to embrace challenges and growth which blows my mind away. It has prompted me to the realization of my innovative capacity. This camp truly has channeled me to learn the most abundant potential I have, which enables me to do anything I set my mind to.
As schools open, I can’t wait to share one of the best experiences I had and to inspire other leaders. I believe we all can make a difference in the world. In every little thing we do whether huge or small, it has an impact in our community and the world at large. I am really grateful for this opportunity, and I am looking forward to meeting other leaders and make our world a better place.
Thank you for the best week ever!!!