Overcoming the odds, raising the bar
At only the age of 24, Wendy Aura is standing tall amongst her peers due to her enviable passion and experience in leadership.
She wears many hats; she is the country director for Pan African Female Young Leaders (PANAFYL), global ambassador to TheirWorld, an entity committed to ending education crisis of children, Young Women Mediation Ambassador by IPHRD-AFRICA, an Open Source Leader 2019 and an alumnus of American Express Leadership Academy.
She also sits at the board of Hope for Kenyan Slum Adolescents Initiative and is also an executive director of Young Women Leaders Connect (YWLC).
Coming from a family of girls only, Wendy who was born in Kisumu county has charted her path, working hard and demystifying the notion that the girl child cannot break barriers and become what she dreams to be.
“I am a first born in a family of five girls. I have a passion to inspire young people.
I am a leader, a mentor, a graphic designer, an entrepreneur and a mum,” she best describes herself, adding: “I was privileged to be brought up by parents who sought to provide me the best in life.
Life was good until the day my dad lost his job while I was still in primary school.
I have tasted and come hand in hand with the two sides that life can offer. Our lives took a complete U-turn and we had to grapple with real poverty.”
During that time, Wendy was in and out of different primary schools due to lack of school fees.
“I had topped my class and one private school agreed to take me in without fees, but that lasted only a year after which I went to study in a local primary school in the village.
I have seen my mum do odd jobs to put food on the table and there are times when we even slept hungry, but we understood the situation,” she says.
After years of struggle, Wendy’s dad was reinstated back to his job and he enrolled her in a boarding school, St Teresa’s Yala.
“I worked so hard and was admitted to my dream school, Loreto High School, Limuru,” she says in exuberance.
However, not long after she was admitted, her dad passed on in 2010 after only a term in secondary school.
Wendy explains: “I felt crushed. Dad was my mentor, our breadwinner and my hope. For some time, my academics were affected and I was in and out of school, again, due to school fees.
My mum walked to every office and we wrote several applications. By God’s grace I secured a scholarship and that eased the financial situation.” Back at home, she says life was tough without her dad, their pillar whom they largely depended on.
“That is the time we felt so defenseless since we faced a lot of criticism from the community for being a family of girls only.
It was painful. It felt like the entire world had suddenly turned its back on us. I saw my mother being harassed and criticised, and witnessed injustices melted on us. Our mistake was that we were a family of only girls,” she says.
Despite the rejection and the harsh criticism, Wendy decided to remain strong and soldier on for the sake of her mother and siblings.
“All these challenges motivated me to push forward with life. I knew I had to prove that girls too can top and achieve great academic standards.
Being a firstborn, I have always had to pass, win and set pace for my other sisters. People say that I am over-ambitious,” she explains.
Service to others
Wendy passed her Form Four exams in 2013. She scored an A- (minus) and was admitted at the University of Nairobi to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce degree. She graduated last year.
Did she always want to be a leader? “No. I guess experience shapes us. We find ourselves in situations and we try to find solutions, and that is how leadership in me just popped up.
I just grew a passion of speaking to girls in schools and came up with an initiative ‘sheRise’.
Together with friends, we would visit needy schools in Nairobi to mentor them. Since then, there are more problems I have identified and organised to come up with solutions,” she says.
Wendy is passionate about advocating for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 and 5.
She opines: “SDG 4 is education; SDG 5 is gender equality. I founded Young Women Leaders Connect (YWLC) to provide a platform to nurture young women in the society in leadership so that they respond to issues affecting us such as teen pregnancy.
The programmes seek to fill the gender equality gap and so far, we have done a lot of amazing stuff in Nairobi, Homa Bay and Machakos counties.
On education, we are keen on mentoring young people in school and equipping them with knowledge beyond books.”
For Wendy who got a baby while still in campus and later got married, she says it takes a lot of strength to juggle between motherhood, leadership, marriage and personal life.
“My experience as a young mum in campus has strengthened a bigger part of me. I learnt how to multitask, plan myself and love myself too. When it’s too overwhelming, I learn to take a little break.
I love dancing and I would just dance and laugh, have fun as a way of releasing stress,” she says.
A vision of a better society with women stepping out, grabbing and claiming their rightful spaces and never seen as the inferior gender is what gives Wendy the drive to push on.
“I have heard my mum being told how unlucky she is to bear girls only and I’ve worked so hard to prove many points wrong.
I am a testimony of what girls can do and can be, and that’s what I am keen on instilling in my mentees,” says Wendy.