Crime incident that drove me to youth empowerment

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019 06:54 |

By Berryl Wamalwa

Turning 18 is usually a big moment for many. Legally, you are considered an adult able to make independent decisions, obtain national identity card and get a right to vote. Most likely, you have just completed your secondary education and you have freedom back at home as you prepare to join college. You can enter the dating scene or have a drink without being roughed up by bouncers.

For Emmie Erondanga, when she turned 18 in 2000, she moved in with her aunt at Korogochoslums, Nairobi.

"I couldn't walk alone. Insecurity was high. Men and even teenage criminals waylaid women in broad daylight. Rape cases were rampant," the 37-year-old says.

She recalls the incidences that led her to reside in the slums. "I was born in Uasin Gishu county where my late mother was working as a domestic worker to an Asian family. I later moved to my paternal home in Kakamega when I was just two years old. I come from a polygamous family and my mum was the second wife. Ours is a big family of 10 siblings. At the age of 10,1 moved to Nairobi to stay with my dad and some of my older siblings. Dad was then working as a domestic worker for an Asian family in Lavington Green and we used to stay in the servant quarters," she says.

Emmie sat for her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) at Kabiro Primary School, Kawangware and was enrolled at St Valentine Girls Secondary School, Machakos.

Form Four certificate

After secondary school, Emmie went to live with her aunt in Korogocho. With only a Form Four certificate, she didn't have much choice. She started doing casual jobs to support her mother and siblings.

"I did enumeration and data collection in Korogocho, funded by non-governmental organisations. I also worked as a waitress and later receptionist-cum-office administrator where I was never paid for six months. I had a choice of turning to prostitution to earn a living, but then, that was not my cup of tea. I had to lead a dignified life even though it was tough staying in the slums," she adds.

Coming into contact with criminals was her turning point. "I remember in 2005 while going home at around 7:30pm, some criminals cornered and stabbed me at the back. My uncle took me to a nearby clinic, They wanted to get away with my purse, so when I clung on it and fell, I heard them saying 'Dunga yeye kisu' (stabher). Some passersby scared them away before they could do further damage," Emmie says.

It is from this experience that she had to rise and focus on youth empowerment programmes. "I thought they needed some love — that they weren't really bad people, but victims of circumstances," she says.

The opportunity to fight the vices came sooner than she expected. She contested in the 2005 Miss Koch Beauty Pageant — an initiative that exposed Korogocho beauty (capacity) to fight the beasts (social evil) in the slum. Her creative display on the runway, active involvement in the initiative's activities earned her a win as the coordinator, Miss Koch.

"Miss Koch Kenya was founded in 2001 at a time there was high insecurity. Rape and gender-based violence was rife in Korogocho and its environs. The situation was so bad that government agencies, including the provincial administration and police, were unable to visit certain areas as they had become the preserve of organised criminal gangs. Many people suffered under the gangs' hands, but no one would dare say or do anything. The silence led to a culture of impunity and even more suffering,” Emmie says.

Together with other initiatives such as Pambazuko Mashinani, Miss Koch urged the community to shun animosity and vote wisely in 2007. Among the activities was the People’s Manifesto, where the community made vying leaders sign an agreement to implement the community’s agenda.

In 2010, Miss Koch changed its status from a community based organisation to an nongovernmental organisation, allowing it to apply for funding from other partners.

Never give up

But her thirst for higher education lingered and she never lost hope. “The opportunity to study at the University of Northampton, UK, came after I met a friend, the late Big Kev, who noticed my work. At that time, the university had partnered with Edulink International College in Kenya and Big Kev urged me to apply, which I did in July 2017 and here I am,” she says. She graduated in July this year with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Business and Business Entrepreneurship.

Her advice: “No matter your current position or status in society, never give up. You just never know when your life will experience that shift that could propel you to greater heights.”


• Emmie Erondanga’s passion to see youth in informal settlements achieve their dreams is her driving force.

• Since the establishment of Miss Koch Kenya, the organisation has evolved to advocate and push for participation of young people through education, talent development and awareness.

• Miss Koch Kenya has four main pillars: Education and mentorship programme, talents and entrepreneurship, sexual reproductive health, human rights and governance.

• Emmie takes care of her siblings. Her dad passed on in 2002.

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