I am an only girl in a family of 4. Single. Lover of God, food, art, travel and moon watching. I am a poet and mental health & epilepsy crusader who recently got awarded for the East Africa Philanthropy Awards and Spark Kenya Change Makers Program. I also own an events company, Events by Sitawa and a jewelry line O-collection. I spend my days creating awareness about mental health through talks, my blog and media engagements after dropping out of Actuarial School due to my mental health condition which I developed after a rape ordeal.
Why did you pick the career path that you did?
It came by default when I got raped and later developed a mental health condition. I started writing a lot, trying to get answers of what I was feeling or going through and also releasing what was happening to me internally. It was also fueled by the fact that there is little information about mental health in the region.
Who and what are some of your influences?
My experiences, going through a rape ordeal and getting a mental health condition are life changing experiences that can make or break an individual. That coupled with people around me who have turned messes in their lives into messages inspire me.
Joseph from the Bible also inspires me from Pit to Portiphar’s house to Prison and later promotion.
Do you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance?
Well yes, I do wish I didn’t get raped and sometimes I wish I could have gone ahead and finished my Actuarial Science studies and lived my life doing Mathematics, Probability or Statistics, but again this is what is my plate so I give my best at it and leave the rest to God and God can never give you more than you can handle.
What and who inspires and motivates you?
Rape and Mental health are considered taboo topics in Africa, that and the fact that I did not have someone to talk to when I got raped and the lack of information in matters of mental health. I want to create a different environment for those to come. Also the responses for those who read my blog or hear my story really motivate me to keep going.
What do you count as your greatest achievement?
I have three things that happened in the span of a week so I am yet to wrap my head around which is the greater achievement; Getting into Spark Kenya Changemaker Program, being appointed as Assistant Secretary at the National Epilepsy Coordination Committee and winning the East Africa Philanthropy Awards in Youth Philanthropy.
What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?
Top of my head, the fact that I am a girl led to my getting raped so that has to be my greatest struggle and I think that one struggle overshadows everything else I go through.
How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?
A rape ordeal is a permanent scar that only I see. It was very hard at first, I contemplated suicide, attempted and failed and after that discovered, God has a purpose for my life. God is definitely my anchor. I decided to spend my life making things better for myself and others like me and that has turned out to be something bigger than myself.
How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?
My family is my greatest support system. I still live with family because of past episodes, my relapses and risk associated with my mental health condition. When I am with family, I am more relaxed, get less episodes hence do my advocacy even better.
Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?
Yes, Yes it is very important for anyone to share their stories. I never knew I was to go to hospital or police or see a counselor when I got raped because that information was not readily available for me. Now I make sure that information is available for others and the responses I get reassure me I am on the right path, that I am making an impact in people’s lives. It is also therapeutic for me.
In your experience, what do you think are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?
Through my talks and also from the emails I get, there are a number of mental health issues that women face, top most being depression. They have pressure to be a wife, a mother and still ‘play like the boys’ in the work place. They slowly lose touch with themselves in an attempt to fit into all these titles.
What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?
Lifestyle management. There is greater need to literally teach people work life balance especially women as they wear so many hats and crash in the attempt to be perfect in all of them. Women need to be empowered to say no we cannot have a work related meeting over the weekend because I have to take care of the children. We need to structure our lives according to our limits and not people’s expectations as they do not walk in our shoes.
What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?
1. Have a goal – Know where are you going
2. Know your target audience – We all have a price, place and people for our influence, we were not meant for everyone.
3. Know your limits but do not limit yourself
4. God - Let Him be your beginning and end, take all your plans to Him and you will prosper
5. Mentors- Learn, learn and learn some more. Have people ahead of you who you can look up to and learn from, also associate yourself with those who (not necessarily in your field) have goals similar to yours.
What do you do to give back to your community?
I give my time. I spend my time educating people on mental health and expressing themselves through poetry.
If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?
Resilience – They should know what they want in life and go for it irregardless. There are many bumps on the road, I dropped out of University and now pursue a career in something I never spent a day learning about and I am a force of influence and voice of authority in it, so can they in whatever they set out to do.
A spoken word piece about rape by Sitawa Wafula