Josephine Maina is advocating for basic rights for girls in Kenya
Josephine Maina is a communications expert by profession also a former renowned award-winning journalist. She is strategic communications and public relations expert with extensive experience gained within a number of sectors in government, public, private and international development sectors spanning over 12 years. Having previously developed communication and marketing strategies for NGOs and corporate industry, Josephine has maintained a positive image and facilitated revenue/donor funding for the organizations for which she has worked. Josephine founded the Hadassah Initiative in 2014. The Initiative is an NGO aimed at mentoring young girls through education by spearheading major projects in Kwale and Kajiado with assistance from her team.
Josephine consults on strategic communications, brand development, project management, crisis management, policy facilitation, regulatory frameworks, advocacy, media management and outreach (both electronic, print, and social media, marketing, stakeholder engagement, and government and public relations.) She is passionate about changing and impacting lives through media. Josephine is currently a TV-show
host for a local inspirational talk show by the name ‘From grass to Grace’ at a local station in Kenya.
Josephine believes strongly in the mentorship of young girls as well as women’s empowerment. She is dedicated to social change, involvement, and empowerment of youths in development, particularly in Africa, where there is a sprout of a new generation of leaders. Along with founding the Hadassah Initiative, she also serves as CEO. The Initiative has ongoing projects in Kwale, Kilifi, and Nairobi; areas where Josephine is also certified as a Mediator by USA-based renowned Duncum Center on Conflict and Resolutions. With her extensive experience in this area, she has played an active role in reconciling communities and families within which her organization operates.
Q & A with Josephine Maina:
Q: What is the story behind why you started Hadassah Initiative?
A: I founded Hadassah initiative back in 2014 simply because I believe in the motto that goes ‘we rise by raising others’. I thought to myself why don’t I just start with my village where I was raised and bred. I grew up in the southern coastal region of Kenya – a place
called ‘Kwale’ which is one of the 47 counties we have here in Kenya. Kwale County is one of the counties in the country with the highest prevalence of girl-child marriage (37.9 % because of poverty levels and cultural barriers.) Growing up as a small girl in the region, I was
no exception to the rest of the girls in the region who were raised from struggling families except that my father was a civil servant and so he understood the value of education even though he struggled to pay school fees for the 9 of us as his children. While I was lucky to continue with my education after primary level to high school none of the girls in my class made it to high school. Due to poverty, their parents opted to sell them off in marriage to cut on expenses. This set in my mind for a long time as I lost friendships I valued as a young girl, and, I vowed to myself that someday when am successful, I would go back and put an end to this practice or pattern, which was a norm in my little village.
Almost 30 years later, the dream I had of bringing change to my community surely came to pass. In September 2014, after quitting my career as a journalist and working for an International Girl Child Organization, my dream was revived. I quit my career as a Communications specialist to begin Hadassah Initiative, a registered nonprofit organization here in Kenya whose vision is to have an African society where girls and young women have access to their basic rights and live in dignity. Almost 5 years later now since the vision began, we have spread our wings to 3 other counties here in Kenya namely; Kwale, Nairobi, Makueni, and Kajiado North counties. Many girls’ and women’s lives are being changed; destinies secured for the better.
Q: What kind of impact are you looking to create with the programs and what types of programs are working best?
A: Our main intended impact is to increase girls and women social-economic empowerment for self-reliance. Our strategy involves mentorship of young school going girls and women between the ages of 3-25 years of age, to equip them for the future with life skills, education, and entrepreneurship among other things. This is because the girl child is the most vulnerable group in Kenya. Early child marriages are most prevalent in the areas of our operation. Our intervention aims to equip girls and motivate them to complete their education through different methods that we apply. Through these methods, we have strived to increase the rate of completion of primary, secondary, and tertiary education. We have been able to increase the number of girls pursuing and completing their education to at least 3,000 girls in the 4 respective counties we operate from. We have been able to reduce cultural and religious discrimination against approximately 500 girls from the above counties we operate from. As an organization, we have also been able to motivate, assist, and inspire about 1,000 girls toward achieving their goals in life and to improve access to quality education for about 3,000 primary school children in the above-mentioned counties. We have also been able to improve levels of knowledge on sanitation and hygiene among 2,000 girls who have at one time missed school for lack of sanitary towels. We have also been able to develop effective partnerships with not only the Kenyan government but other formal institutions such as schools, churches, mosques and like-minded organizations. Lastly, but not least, we have been able to ensure increased community visibility by catalyzing meaningful participation and resources.
We have been able to achieve all of this by working with at least 5 schools in the above-mentioned counties. It cannot go without saying that we have also been able to empower older women from the households where these girls come from. We realized that we cannot empower the girl without empowering her mother and sisters by enabling them also change their mindsets as well. We have done this through trainings and seminars where we have taught them to be self-reliant as mothers in their homesteads. One of the world’s renowned leaders, Kofi Annan, once was quoted… “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” Therefore as Hadassah Initiative, we strongly believe that, as we endeavor to secure the future of these girls with an education, we can never forget where they come from and that there needs to be a shift of mindset as well.
Some of the programs that have worked best for us include:
a) The Mentorship Program for girls in primary, secondary and university/college has been a great platform for engaging successful women in society excelling in different careers in the market place. We engage these pacesetters to give motivational talks to the girls in schools
and walk through a journey with them for those aspiring to be like them in matters career. This helps to encourage the pupils and students to continue with their education and strive for success. The aim is to present to the girls successful cases to emulate. This program that I
personally pioneered has worked very well as I can confidently say. I have personally mentored 3 journalism students who are now successful news reporters in our mainstream media here in Kenya.
b) We have also organized visits for the girls to take them from their local environment and expose them to a different environment through tour visits during schools vacations. Arrangements are made from some of the girls from poor families in need of exposure to spend
part of their school holidays in the city and interact with various people and institutions under supervision. These girls are shown what a high school or university in the city looks like which helps in changing mindsets and attitudes and catalyzes their efforts to complete their
education. This has worked very well.
c) We have also been able to support bright children from poor families to steer their way to the top by sponsoring their education with the assistance of like-minded partners, institutions, etc. At the end of each year, the organization ensures all top-performing candidates in the
targeted areas are able to pursue further education without any struggle. This has fairly improved with time, although it is an area we feel we need committed and consistent partners.
Q: How do you see the programs helping participants to become better global citizens?
A: Our Programs have changed many lives. To begin with, let me say, the high prevalence rate of child marriages in the counties we operate from has drastically reduced. The rate of girls dropping out because of early pregnancies has also reduced greatly. We have encouraged even
those that are early mothers and still in school to still pursue studies after childbirth. We have partnered with the Ministry of Education in our country to offer special programs to such victims. Now, we have girls and young women who are of the knowledge that all is not lost
when bad choices are made; there is always a second chance to make it right again. Secondly, the mindsets of these girls have been transformed tremendously including the society around them who have seen their lives transformed step-by-step. Now, we have girls and
young ambitious women who have dared to dream again and know they can be anything they wish in life if only they embrace education through knowledge. They know it is their right to access education; it is their decision to get married at their own appointed time. They are also well aware of the fact that, unlike African traditional beliefs which define a woman’s place as that of the kitchen and bearing and nurturing children only; the recent global times dictate that a woman also has a place at the high table with the game changers if only she
manages to break the glass ceiling. We have girls and young women who have been empowered with skills and are saying enough is enough and are saying they are ready to change the world by a storm if given a chance to be the leaders of tomorrow.
Q: The Hadassah Initiative is a fairly young organization, how do you see it growing?
A: Hadassah may be a young organization, but I have seen it create a lot of impact, especially in the grassroots areas where most of these girls and young women come from. I see Hadassah’s vision growing tremendously in the next few years to all the 47 counties of Kenya and from there further expanding to other African countries. I believe it is time for Africa as a continent to arise and take its rightful place in matters concerning growth and development. Past regimes of girls and women not embracing the evolving technology world through knowledge are way gone. The world is slowly turning into a global village through the various safe spaces we have for every group of people. It is time for women to embrace a shift in their mindsets and grow with the times. Secondly, I see the organization grow to one day having safe spaces or shelters where girls and young women from dysfunctional families, orphans, and broken-hearted families can have a second home at ‘Hadassah Rescue Center’. In this center, we will focus mostly on counseling, psychiatry, and healing through special teaching of the gospel of the word of God. As a born-again Christian, I strongly believe, there is no greater peace than that which comes from knowing that there is a God in heaven who loves us unconditionally despite our current circumstances, seasons, or the past we come from. To him all things are possible and we can be anything we dream of if we only depend on him. Thirdly, I see Hadassah grow to be one of the most influential organizations spearheading and eliminating all forms of discrimination against girls through mentorship. This shall be not only in Kenya but Africa as a continent and beyond. I believe when you have empowered a girl, you have empowered a whole society. An African proverb goes…”It takes a village to raise a child”…I believe it takes a whole global village to educate these youths least they are lost in the different erupting vices in this busy world. Lastly, I see the organization spreading its wings in terms of networks and working hand-in-hand with other international like-minded organizations. Through this, I hope to see a new sprout of generational leaders who will not only change Kenya but the world at large. The power to network and interact with other nations plays a big role in achieving this.
Q: Can you share one compelling example of how you are changing lives?
A: Eva is a 20-year-old girl. She ran away from her home in Nyeri County and came to Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi after her poor parents wanted to sell her off in marriage to a 64-year-old man as they had no money for her school fees. I happen to come across her one Saturday
afternoon posing as a street girl last year on my way home from shopping at a local store. She was begging me for 20kshs which is equivalent to 2 dollars to go buy food as she had not eaten for two days. Her persistence and confidence struck me when I asked her what a young
beautiful woman like her was doing on the streets, she narrated to me her story which drove me to tears. I offered to go buy her lunch at a local restaurant instead of giving her the coins which she might probably use on something else. Fast forward after buying Eva lunch, she was convinced she needed to change her life by moving out of the streets and going back to school. She shared the bad experiences she has had to go through on the streets to survive. Touched by her story I decided to pick her the following day after church and take her to a rescue center belonging to one of our partners. Almost a year later Eva has gone through counseling and mentorship and has resumed her studies back in form three at Glorious Brain Academy in Nairobi’s Dandora area. Hadassah Initiative, with the help of a partner, is currently sponsoring her education. Eva is a success story to Hadassah Initiative. She dreams of becoming an electrical engineer. She has since been reconciled with her parents who now support her vision to pursue education back in Nairobi.
Josephine’s Networking Interests:
- Like-minded international NGO’s focusing on girl child and women empowerment to help us grow our projects in the affected regions.
- Donors and Partners who would help sponsor some of our needy girls and give educational scholarships to study abroad. Donors to assist us build and establish a safe space/shelter for our girls.
- International role models, mentors to our young team leaders running Hadassah’s programs. I believe in exposure and international tours to learn what other older organizations are doing to succeed that I may pick a leaf from them. This will help us get better at growing our young organization which is fast growing.
- Christian organizations that would help us mentor and teach the word of God to some of our young women wounded, broken-hearted and in need of inner spiritual healing.