Kenya rights defender claims place in history

May 28, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 28 – When she was filling in her career forms during her A levels, her career advisor tore them up!

“Why do you want to study law when this school has never produced a lawyer? This is an institution that churns out teachers,” she was told. 

It’s not that Ann Njogu – who is now the chairperson of the Centre for Rights Education Awareness – has anything against teaching (her mother was a teacher), but her passion just wasn’t in teaching.
She had four choices to fill out in the career forms and this is what she was instructed to write; 1.Teaching 2.Land Economics 3.Teaching 4.Land Economics.

“If I didn’t have the kind of incredible dad that I had, I would have then gone on to do something that was not my passion.  I did very well and when I told him what I had been forced to fill in, he was able to change it (to law) using his influence at the university.  But how many other children have that kind of a dad who is able to go out and stake it out for their children?” she posed during an interview this week.

That marked a turning point in Ann Njogu’s life.  “Every day, my journey takes me to new heights I never expected to.”

She however finds it difficult talking about herself since her day-to-day life involves talking; listening to other people.

“I am just who you see.  A mother… a great mother!  I have two amazing adolescent children. Stephanie who is going to be 18 in January and who is now finishing her grade 11 exams and is likely to join campus in September; and Ted who is in form one and is 15 and a half years old,” she explains.

She describes her children as extra-ordinary. “They keep me going… they inspire me to no end and hold me to account.  They are my biggest critics but also my biggest fans.  They question me and I am privileged to have had the opportunity to influence their ability to think for themselves,” the award winning human rights defender says.

She goes on to tell me about the remarkable six spheres of her life.

Her first sphere is her relationships.  “This means how I relate with the people who are most dear to me and the rest of the people that I have the privilege of interacting with, in the course of my work.”
Her second sphere is her emotions.  “How do I manage my emotions?  If I wasn’t able to balance my emotions I would still end up having a frustrated life.”

The other sphere in Ann Njogu’s life is her career.  “Here, I divide my career and my studies.”  At the moment, she is a student at Strathmore University in a part-time leadership and strategy course within an MBA framework. 

“It is a very intensive course.  The only thing that is part-time about it, is the name.” she says jokingly.  “But it is also everything that I need to have in this time of my life.  It gives me an opportunity to learn so much more.”

The fourth sphere in her life is her spirituality.  “Without my spirituality I would be empty.  I seek everyday to have some time to develop my spirituality and even when I don’t have time, to have the ability to say thank you God for everything you have given me.  Or, just to thank him for the parking I have gotten in town or the small things I know I should never take for granted.”

Fifth on her list, is her health.  “Every morning (four times a week ) at 6am, I am out in the gym working out and this gives me amazing energy to be able to face the kind of day that I face.”

And finally, there are her finances.  “If I didn’t have a balance in my finances, I would not be able to realise many of the things that I have.  I would be able to pay fees for my kids and take care of the other financial needs that I need to.”

It may sound like a complete cycle but she is quick to add that it is not as inclusive as it ought to be.   “Some areas take more from others, but it is working progress and every day I am aspiring to make it.  I surround myself with very positive energy.  I cannot work in negative energy. I find it completely suffocating and I’m always looking for people who energise me; people who give me the ability to realise my fullest potential.”

Sounds like a life full to the brim doesn’t it?  Well, at the moment, Ann Njogu rarely has any free time.  “But when I don’t have exams I have some free time which I strive to spend with my children.  I try to give them as much as possible, but I also need me time.  In me time, I read my motivational books and sleep because I am so sleep deprived. “

But lack of sleep did not deprive her of the ability to get nominated for the International Women of Courage Award by the United States Department of State.

She recalls getting a phone call from US ambassador Michael Ranneberger earlier this year telling her that she had been nominated for the prestigious award.

“I had just come from taking my son to school in Mombasa, when I got a call from the ambassador who told me that I had been successfully nominated for this award by Hillary Clinton who is the current Secretary of State.”

She travelled to Washington to pick the award in March and had the distinguished honour to interact with Mrs Clinton, Michelle Obama, fellow winners and a host of other influential personalities from across the globe.

“It was a special and very humbling experience because this was an award that has been used to recognise other phenomenal women in the world who are working in extra ordinary circumstances.”

She says she later learnt that nominations for the award – which was initiated in 2007 by former US secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – are quite stringent and highly competitive.  The award recognises the courage and leadership shown by women as they struggle for social justice and human rights.

“There were nine of us and they put us in a very intensive one-week programme where we were able to meet amazing top level government officers and talk about our work; talk about our continent, our plans and what this meant for us.”

She said on getting the award, she dedicated it to the women that she works for.  “Because without them, I would never ever have been given this honour.  I also dedicated it to my staff here (at CREAW) because this is not something you can do alone.  I also dedicated it to the other human rights defenders because it is not that I do any special work from other human rights defenders. “

She recalls a case where a doctor had the temerity to ask a woman who had been raped to use her own fingers to remove semen from her private parts because he did not have gloves.  She becomes speechless when she remembers such incidents but adds:  “Just when you think you have seen the worst, you encounter even worse.”

At the moment, Anne Njogu holds two jobs.

Apart from being chairperson of CREAW she is also the Chief Executive of the African Community Development Media which is a new media initiative to leverage media for development.
The initiative already has an online radio in Nairobi and hopes to roll out community radios in all the 210 constituencies in Kenya in due course.

She hopes that in the next five years, Kenya will get the sort of leadership the country desperately needs.

“I see myself in the next five years playing my role to influence the kind of leadership that we need.  I hope to create a level of consciousness among my countrymen to enable them make decisions that will enable us refuse to manipulated,” the human rights defender who relishes a fusion of mukimo, avocado and spinach concludes.


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