My name is Valarie Neema Waswa, a fourth year law student at Catholic University of Eastern Africa Nairobi. I was born and raised in Kakamega County. Early last year, I was strolling in the streets of Kakamega town when I saw several ladies stone drunk in broad daylight, fighting with some men over some “fee” they were to be paid after spending a night with them. My heart tore to a million pieces with the sight before me. I carried on with my activities but made a mental note to make a trip to the place again to know more about what those girls do.
About two weeks later of occasionally frequenting the street, I gathered enough courage to inquire from them to get to understand what they do and why they choose to engage in prostitution. Their stories made my heart sink further, on learning that that is the only way through which they foot their bills. Most of them hail from poverty-stricken homes, and have to indulge in prostitution so as to get money to even buy sanitary towels.
They shared with me the challenges they face working in that industry and the health and security risks involved. That is when I did a soul search to determine what I really want to do with my career and life. I decided nothing is more fulfilling than transforming the lives of people, giving them a new perspective of life, and putting a smile on their faces.
That pushed me to start an initiative that empowers women and girls in Western Kenya, specifically Kakamega county, so that they can be able to earn a living though decent activities and help young girls believe in themselves and do great things, go for leadership positions and further their studies just like the boy child.
I started an organization, VIPEP(Village Pillars Empowerment Project) that works specifically with women and girls. My vision is to see women and girls who are economically empowered, aware of their human rights, bold enough to traverse the extremely male dominated career world and leadership field and do great things. I hope to see a society where there is gender equity, where girls do not have to stay at home because of the taboos, or lack of funds to purchase sanitary towels.
We have done mentorship programs for young girls in the villages around Kakamega on proper financial management skills, basic skills such as soap making to help them earn a living out of it. We also visit schools ,donate sanitaty towels and train primary school girls on proper menstrual hygiene practices. We encourage women to practice small scale farming or rather food crop farming to earn a living.
Since it’s inception , VIPEP has been able to impact the lives of approximately 2000 girls from different schools and about 500 women in the society who are now doing something great with their talents and skills to support their families.
It has not been an easy journey. I would say what has made me not to fall off when things got tough is putting God first , and two, passion. I came to realize how sweet it is to do something that you love. I would be lying to say that it is easy to juggle a law course and an N.G.O at the same tine, but thanks to the VIPEP team, friends of VIPEP and my mentors who have always provided sound advice on how to go about it, how to manage my time and all.
When i first started , I was a bit scared because of the financial constraints -but I later came to realize that when you are doing something you are passionate about, money should not be an issue. And somehow through the Law of Attraction, once you start something and be committed to it, you just sort of get persons that would like to support your idea.
Word of advice to young people out there: you should never doubt yourself. Don’t you ever think that your idea is too ridiculous. Just as you are, you have what it takes to change the lives of people or to live your dream. Always believe in the power of your dreams.
By Valarie Neema