Educationist with a heart for environment
It is said fortune favour the brave — you won’t regret having a go, but you will regret not trying.
So, despite the challenges she faced while growing up and in her school days, Winfred Nyokabi says it is courage that helped her forge ahead.
Today, Nyokabi wears many hats; she is an educationist, an environmental researcher and a Commonwealth Scholar currently pursuing a Master’s of Science in International Development (Conflict, Security and Development) with a focus on pastoral communities.
She also holds Master’s of Science from Hungary whereby using nanotechnology, she studied invasive bivalves as bio-indicators in water systems.
“My research focused on using invasive bivalves to determine water quality. I have enrolled for a PhD in Environmental Management and Governance and I start my classes in September,” says Nyokabi.
Nyokabi — a mother of one, a foster mother of three and a grandmother — was born and raised in Nanyuki.
“Being the first born, I was taught responsibility from a young age. I had to be a problem solver as well, a trait that has served me to date,” she says.
She says life as a child was full of drama. “I would play truant in Class One, which led me to repeat the class.
I sat at the back of the class. I was short-sighted, but no one knew about it, hence I would play throughout lessons, and end up being punished,” she says.
From a pass to first class
“It is while in Class Three when a teacher—Tr Tabitha—noticed I would struggle to read from the board and moved me to the front. I was later transferred to another school in Class Four.
My first year in the new school was hell. I had a deep Gikuyu accent, and I am pretty loud.
I got used to a life of daily ridicule, but by the time I sat my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams in 1998, I was top of my class.”
Her secondary school days were pretty much enjoyable, and characterised by being in every school team in the first year, eventually settling into hockey then basketball, a game she played up to college.
“I did not make it to university. I missed by one point, but there was no way I was going back to repeat.
I went to Kenya Science Teacher’s College where I graduated with a diploma in Chemistry/Biology in 2007. I got a pass, the lowest grade in diploma,” she recalls.
After three years of tarmacking, Nyokabi got a job with the Teachers Service Commission and served for two years before enrolling for a Bachelor’s degree. She still teaches, which is her day-to-day job.
“I later got a scholarship to pursue Master’s of Science in Environmental Science (Limnology — the study of inland waters, both surface and underground), graduating top of my class last year. I am on my second Master’s degree from the UK,” she adds.
Her passion for environmental science stems from when she was a child. “My paternal grandmother would always instil in us the need to plant trees. I spent most of my holidays with her.
She never littered and would punish us for it. Going back home to a town where it wasn’t always clean, I would often pick papers from my neighbourhood and burn them.
As I grew and read more, my interest piqued. I have been working in the dry side of Laikipia and for over four years, we did not have drinking water.
Thus, naturally, I took an interest in the water-related side of environmental science,” she explains.
Nyokabi has carried out various works and projects with farmers in the line of conservation agriculture and water conservation methods.
“I have established community linkages with the donor community to sink boreholes, as well as practice conservation agriculture to preserve irrigation water.
I have also equipped schools in Laikipia Central with information communication technology devices.
I have since moved to Tharaka Nithi county and hope to replicate the same,” she says.
Are there challenges she faces in her line of work? “The teaching side has the usual challenge of the generation X attitudes and perceptions.
The research part is a whole box on its own. The most glaring is racism from the white settlers and ranchers,” she reveals.
Some of her greatest achievements include introducing sex education in her former school, Ol-taffeta Day Secondary School in Laikipia, which saw more girls stay on board.
“Initially, there was a problem of teenage pregnancies and the girls would not come back after delivery, but this has since changed.
I am also proud to have equipped the same school with a computer lab fully furnished by liaising with the donor community.
I have co-authored 10 books for the Competency-Based Curriculum,” she says.
When it comes to motherhood, Nyokabi has great support from her family and friends.
When not buried in books, she trains and supports conveners and delegates through organising conferences and workshops globally through various video conferencing platforms.
“I am a gender advocacy champion concentrating mainly on the boy child who was left behind in the girl empowerment campaigns of the 1980s.
I enjoy adrenaline-filled activities, good books and silent company with stimulating minds of shared interests,” she adds.
She hopes to one day set up a community-based organisation dealing with international linkages to climate change and how it has affected communities and offer solutions, most importantly around the issue of conflict in the Horn of Africa.
For girls and women across the world, Nyokabi says: “Go for it. That which you want is yours if you go for it. Nothing gets handed over on a silver platter; you have to work for it.”