To have deep community roots and the wisdom to soar highly like an eagle are attributes that one generally associates with a wise soothsayer who has lived life for many years. When you meet someone who embodies this sense of uninhibited confidence and vision for the future, you are inspired to join them in their journey, and I saw such characteristics in Ms. Agnetta Nyalita.
From the moment that you meet Agnetta, you realize that she is not a typical 25-year old. Her sense of responsibility to Kenya is so great, that if every elected official in Kenya adopted just 1/10th of her commitment and determination to making the country empowered, the whole of Kenya would be obliterated of the economic and social inequities that currently hinder its progress. Although she is young, she has not hesitated from defying the “impossible”. She sees a Makueni county that uses innovation to make water accessible to every resident year-round, a community that gives every youth the opportunities they deserve to be educated to their greatest capacity and employed gainfully, and a place where women and young people are not only local political, economic & social leaders, but also regional and national representatives. She is not just envisioning change, but embodying it by running for office in Makueni County in the coming elections. As an ambitious and focused change maker, her words carry tremendous credibility.
As the last child in a family of ten children, Agnetta has always exceeded expectations, and creatively embraced leadership opportunities in her early career. While completing a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Management Science in just two years and eight months at the University of Nairobi, she served as a student representative and a Volunteer Projects Administrator of the National Volunteer Network Trust (NAVNET). Upon graduation, she continued working with NAVNET as a Programmes Administrator, and further pursued her interests in youth empowerment and economic development by founding the Itaava Development Youth Group, an organization dedicated to tackling food poverty by mentoring unemployed and youth susceptible to drug-addiction with opportunities to contribute to their communities economically. With a passion for connecting with local youth and the larger international community, Agnetta is a prolific user of social media and the author of the Hands on Africa blog. Her networking and writing skills have given rise to her involvement as a coordinator and correspondent for the International Association of Volunteer Effort (IAVE) and NOPE Kenya & Shabaa Youth Leadership Movement, where she regularly organizes peer education sessions in person and on the radio. In 2011, her distinctive contributions to youth engagement were honored with The International Women's Day Top Service Award. Although her list of leadership accomplishments and international awards may outnumber those of some Members of Paliament, it does not change Agnetta’s sense of humility, nor hinder her ability to realize that real impact is not about what she does, but who she empowers and how many young people she can catalyze to action.
During my community visit to Makueni County, we ride into a landscape that evokes images of what a dust bowl might look like. Every living thing, from the thickets and sparse vegetation on the roadside to the unfettered motorcycle riders, are covered in a residual coating of powdery red earth. We drive across at least five dried out streams, and the only water in site seems to be pumped from underground and out through spickets at several public water stations where women wait in line to fill their jerry cans. This is Makueni County, a geographic pocket in eastern Kenya that seems more like the deserts hundreds of miles away in Northeastern Kenya, than like the lush landscape of the hills of the Central Valley, neighboring the area just an hour or two to the north.
I am not the first outsider, nor the last one that Agnetta will introduce to her community. As I observe the small rocky hills of the Makueni landscape and ask if they are utilized for hiking or recreation, she smiles, and quickly replies back that it was a resource she never thought about until a friend from Europe asked if he could go rock climbing on them during a recent visit. From this insight, Agnetta grew a vision for creating innovative tourism initiatives that could generate jobs, increase revenue for roads and infrastructure, and bring diverse opportunities for local residents, who are struggling to survive in agrarian lifestyles. Agnetta frequently invites outsiders from other parts of Kenya and the globe to her home, because they may see things that she could not see by herself. In fact, during my community visit we are joined by an entire entourage of youth volunteers from the Itaava Development Youth Group, a NGO volunteer from Australia, several donors, and a staff member of the Kianda Foundation--- an educational trust that awarded Agnetta and her family an social innovation award for building the first library and community resource center in Makueni County.
You do not have to search very far to see the tangible impacts that Agnetta has already made in Makueni County and in Kenya. When termites and weather caused the ceilings of multiple classrooms at the Itaava Primary School to cave in, Agnetta responded to the unfortunate tragedy by convincing a contact that she had met via an international event to donate a painting to be auctioned off to generate funds for repair work. Her gratitude for the education she received motivates her to ensure that every child in forthcoming generations is as fortunate as she was. Improving local school infrastructures, as well as guiding their curriculums is not only important to her, but also to the entire Nyalita family. As both of Agnetta’s parents were primary school teachers, all of their children completed University studies. As educational opportunities in Makueni County have not improved significantly from what was available during her childhood, Agnetta recently convinced her siblings and her parents to contribute funds to start the Partnership for Growth Foundation –an NGO that established in 2011 to promote access to quality education, healthcare, food security, safe water and environment conservation to the most needy in rural areas. In the fall of 2011, the family opened a Community Resource Center that serves not only as a library with classic literature, daily newspapers, and educational resources for adults, but also as a community center that hosts monthly movie showings about creative international development approaches, and after-school reading rooms for local youth. As the Community Resource Center is not located in an area with electricity, the center uses solar energy to provide basic power needs to the center. With funding from the Kianda Foundation, the Nyalita family has staffed the center with one full-time officer and two assistants, and plans to acquire computers that would give local residents access to the web.
With strong roots in the community and extensive involvement in the NARC-KENYA party, Agnetta is well prepared to run for office in Makueni County. Although she did not always imagine herself participating in politics, she realized it was “...her time to rise up to the occasion” in 2007 when she noticed the lack of elected youth leadership in Makueni County and across Kenya. With mentorship and political training through the Young Women’s Leadership Institute and FIDA Kenya (Federation of Women Lawyers), she now envisions herself serving as Kenya’s President in ten to fifteeen years. If her previous accomplishments are any measure of her impending success, I have no doubt in my mind that this determined young woman will find a way to achieve her dream. Watch out world, this young eagle is growing her feathers through experience and will be flying out front as a national leadership icon soon.
ISSUES THAT DRIVE HER VISION for OFFICE
1.) Food Poverty
-Makueni County is fertile, but most farmers cannot produce food from their land
-Consequentially, Makueni County receives food from relief funds twice a year
-More funding for youth organic farming initiatives could solve much food insecurity over the long term
2.) Water Access
-Extreme drought occurs during some seasons
-Access to water is frequently determined by where leaders can get vote
-High performing students in Makueni County have no money to attend National Schools
-Limited educational resources in the community---Partnership for Growth Foundation’s Community Center will be the first in the county
ADVICE TO OTHER YOUNG WOMEN LEADERS
1.) Don’t discredit your vision, but remember that “Vision without action is hallucination”
2.) Be socially responsible to having an impact on the world
3.) Being educated is just the beginning of being learned