Emmanuela Alimlim successfully shook off the shackles of a tough childhood to set up her own NGO, Penda Dada. She tells us how. I was born in a small village called Loikas, in Maralal, Samburu County. My mother was barely 16 when she gave birth to me. I grew up in an environment I would not wish on anyone, but it made me strong. My mother was a Standard 6 dropout, so she wasn’t able to get a job, and turned to brewing chang’aa. Going to school without breakfast was a normal thing in my family, but the one thing we would never forget to carry was a plate, since we depended on the food offered in school. I used to wake up early to help my mother with her business; it was a normal life for my sisters, brothers and I.

Were you ever caught by the police?

Yes! We thought we knew all the routes the police would use when conducting raids, but there is a Saturday we were caught completely unawares. My mother had left to clean the Catholic church near us — it was a duty for members of the congregation. I was left preparing chang’aa, since Sunday was usually a very good day for business. That day, I don’t know how it happened, but I came out of the house and found three police officers standing before me. I pretended nothing was going on, and since I was in Standard 6, I thought they would believe me. They asked to speak to my mother, but I lied she had travelled. They forced their way into the house and found the chang’aa, and barely a minute later, my mother walked in. We ended up spending two days in jail.

When did things begin to turn around for you?

Life teaches us to be strong and look for ways to do something great. I did my KCPE in 2007 and got 306 marks. I was admitted to St Theresa’s Girls Wamba in Samburu, and with the help of the  Northern Rangeland Trust, my school fees was paid. But during the holidays, I kept brewing chang’aa to support my family — I did not know any other way. After my KCSE results came out, I got an internship at Equity Bank, Maralal branch — I had scored an A-, and was one of the best female students in my county. Working with Equity changed my life. I asked my mother to stop brewing illicit brews as I now had enough money to support her.

How did you end up in Canada?

While at work, I learnt about a programme that allows students to apply for scholarships abroad. I sent applications to close to 15 schools in the United States and was rejected. I also applied to the University of Toronto in Canada, and was fortunately accepted me for a full MasterCard Foundation Scholarship. I am currently in my first year, pursuing a degree in economics and finance.

You started an initiative that seeks to reduce incidences of teen pregnancies. How did that come about?

I recently participated in a Unesco competition that drew close to 700 applicants from across the world. The organisation wanted to know from young people: given a chance, what would you do to make the world a better place? My idea is to provide education and leadership training to young girls as a way of preventing teenage pregnancy through my initiative, Penda Dada. I was named the second-best applicant and I am the only African on the list.

Parting shot?

I believe everyone has his or her own stories, and every young person has dreams and goals. Never stop trying to achieve them. I always wanted a different life, and that is why I never gave up. Keep working on what you want in life and one day you will get it. Also, do not forget to thank those who directly or indirectly improve your life, and make God your priority.


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