Often when people think of the Sub-Sahara, they conjure up images of starving children, slums, and corruption. Although these images are real, in many places they only tell part of a story. The story they tell is the part of a society that is broken. That is not the complete story of Africa. Africa’s story is also found in communities where families insist on educating boys and girls. Its story is found when parents ensure they educate themselves on nutrition. Its story is found where parents try to provide their children with the best opportunities for education, and it is found where a woman finds a man that supports her and her dreams.
To hear this story, you would need to know a woman such as Leah Ngini, Executive Director of St. Christopher’s School, and namesake of the newly developing Leah Ngini Community Centre at Africa International University, in Nairobi, Kenya. Leah’s spirit is contagious. Her purpose is focused, and her vision is realized. This is the third time I have been to Kenya and on my last two visits I had the pleasure of visiting a couple slums and orphanages. I always left with a hole in my heart not because the kids were so bad off, but because in spite of their circumstances they smiled and played and welcomed you with open arms. While I visited St. Christopher’s my experience was completely different. First, there were no kids, due to spring holidays. Secondly, this was a school that would be envied in the West. They thought of everything when they built this place from small toilets for the little ones, to themed rooms, to Maasai (semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania)and Eco-themed courtyards. It was a place to admire. The school was just finished in January 2011 after Leah had the opportunity to buy more land and extend it to include younger ages. She now educates kids from pre-school to Fourth Form.
I had the pleasure of listening to Leah speak in November in Toronto, Canada at a conference I was producing hosted by my foundation, Ignite Excellence, to raise funds for women leaders in Africa. To hear Leah speak of where she came from was truly inspiring. She was a storyteller that drew you in with every word. Leah is the third child of ten and is now in her sixties. At the time when Leah was born, it was not common for a mother to have ten children and for all of them to survive. When I met her mother, however, it was not hard to see, even at ninety-one, where Leah received her spirit and determination. Her mother ensured that her children were well-nourished and educated no matter what the cost.
I think if I asked Leah why she has been so successful, she would first credit her mother, for her dedication and fortitude. I think she would then speak of her late husband and of his commitment to her and their children. Then perhaps speak of her daughters and their insight and drive to keep their mother’s vision alive while ensuring the school operates at the highest standard.
Leah speaks of her husband with such fond memories and a glow in her eye when she admits that the school was her dream, but building it and expanding on it was realized only with his support.
Leah Ngini tells the story of the education, the obstacles, the opportunities and the possibilities she has experienced. She is part of a legacy of women who were committed to education. Her grandmother ran away from her village so that she could go to school at a time when girls were not considered worth educating. Her mother made sure that Leah was able to go to school. But even then, girls just went to school if they had nothing else to do, so it was no surprise that Leah became a teacher so that she could influence the next generation.
Leah seems to be a woman who was sandwiched between all that was good. The determination of a grandmother, the insight of a mother, the support of a husband and the pride of her children. Leah has a family business that focuses on educating the future children of Kenya. Leah would admit that she has a special place for education particularly amongst girls. Leah started a school where girls and boys studied together, and saw from the beginning that girls could do just as well as the boys, or better, and they did. Today, St. Christopher Schools are visible around Nairobi, and their reputation for excellence is well known.
Daughters educated in law and accounting have proven to be quite an asset in the running of the family business. In meeting them both, you can see their spirit, insight and determination, and perhaps the most visible trait is their pride in their mother and their grandmother for being women that had a voice and an opinion and made sure people heard them.
This is the Africa I am coming to know: the one filled with possibilities and leaders that have a voice, and seem to use it with authority and grace.
Leah Ngini will be interview on wisdomexchangetv.com in July. Leah’s interview will be located under business & education. She will tells a bit of her story, but more importantly the lessons she learned and the leadership lessons she suggests.
Visit www.wisdomexchangetv.com to hear women inspire us to stretch our vision of what we can do, and what WE can be. New interviews and Expert Perspective blogs will be updated regularly with the insights of the African women leaders of today for tomorrow.
Suzanne F Stevens
Chief Edge Optimizer
Visit our other Ignite Excellence Group of initiatives’ websites with corresponding blogs.
Suzanne F Stevens – Profiling women leaders who have pushed their edge to personal or professional potential from backpack to briefcase to boardroom
Ignite Excellence Foundation – Leadership, Advocacy, Education – following donations to scholarships for women in developing countries
Wisdom Exchange TV – A forum where women will be inspired from the achievements of African women in business, education, philanthropy and politics.
You Me & We – a husbands and wife’s journey through Africa in 2011/12
Ignite Excellence Inc. – Influence, Differentiate, Engage more people and more business – a training & development company