Amy Ochiel Ochieng is a lawyer who is passionate about children, women, devolution and international law.
At only 23, she has made a name for herself through her passions. She is the founder of the Wings of Hope Organization and runs an initiative called African Women in Leadership Narratives. She is also the former chair of the Young African Leaders Initiative, YALI, in Kenya. She talked to Nation.co.ke about her journey.
When did you realize you had so many interests?
In 2014, a year after finishing high school. I wanted to add value to my community based on my experiences because I was orphaned at the age of 14. I have been privileged; I was able to even further my studies and have never lacked. I wanted to use my knowledge, skills and finances to give back to the society so that someone in my position was able to get access to basic needs.
How exactly did you start?
One day, as I watched the news, I was touched by a story of some girls who missed school because they lacked sanitary towels. My friends and I were able to raise funds and we donated 250 packets to Cheryl Children’s Home. It was moving seeing how much hope these girls had. They had dreams that they wanted to achieve but could not because of the lack of basic needs. I had planned on doing this donation as a one-off thing but after this first visit, we decided to do it continually. We started the Wings of Hope Organization in 2014, with a team of nine.
I had joined the School of Law at the University of Nairobi earlier that year in January. Law has always been my passion, but learning made me realise what my interests were. I was more passionate about human rights and international law. I also got to realise that in Kenya, we do more of making laws; which is beautiful and progressive, but with zero implementation. I decided to use my knowledge in projects instead of going to the courthouses.
With Wings of Hope, I was able to implement some laws in terms of ensuring that these girls are in school and getting an education. This was a problem because without these sanitary towels, these girls would miss school when they were on their menses.
Our donations are done annually through the help of other friends and family. Over the years, we have also donated to Star Rays High School, Kayole Stars High School and Kajiado Rehabilitation Centre.
At the beginning, people doubted my abilities because of my age but we have been able to earn their trust and support.
YALI is an initiative founded by former US president Barrack Obama in 2010. It supports young African leaders as they work to spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across the continent. While there, I met people doing projects similar to what I was doing; in business and entrepreneurship, public management or civic.
I joined YALI in November of 2015. We were taught on leadership, and ensuring we have our victory first. As leaders, we give out to the society a lot and forget to invest in ourselves. This may lead to us becoming irrelevant because we fail to upgrade our skills, or we get worn out.
We are also taught on how to interact with the community and to get to know what it wants. People often think that only the leaders have solutions to problems, yet the community members do.
I graduated from YALI in February of 2016. Going through its training, I was able to know how to approach people, mobilize resources and run the Wings of Hope Organization.
I started studying a Certified Secretaries, CS, course at KCA University around the same time.
Wasn’t it hard having all these things on your plate?
(Laughs.) I thrive on doing a lot of things at the same time, so juggling all these responsibilities was not as hard.
YALI fellows join the Alumni Chapter of Kenya after their 12-week training, which is what I did after I graduated. I decided to vie as the YALI chairperson in April of 2016. At this time, we were about 300 alumni. There I was; a 22-year-old trying to convince 30-year-olds that I was fit for the task.
It got a bit political because one needed to campaign and have manifestos to persuade others to vote for them. I stayed away from politics while in the University so this was a new and exciting experience for me.
Luckily, I had built a good rapport with the alumni as an active alumnus and this made it easier to convince them. These people had also seen the kind of work I did so there was that trust. I was able to garner 87 per cent of the total votes.
At YALI, members do not discriminate because of age. They will listen, and even help you achieve what you want to if you have the content.
I was sworn in as the YALI chairperson in May and immediately took a break from my CS course because law school became very demanding at the same time.
What was your job as the Chair?
Mainly, to implement things on the ground. Previously, most activities were done in Nairobi. We, as the YALI alumni, had to devolve and fund the activities. I believe in structures, so we created county structures which made devolvement easier. We would place them in clusters within the counties, where they would be able to brainstorm, plan, implement and fund these activities. I got a lot of support. I was the only woman in the executive committee made up of five. My term ended in June this year.
I then started Africa Women in Leadership Narratives where I showcase news and blogposts on women. I also write stories of what women do, as well as their achievements. We are two members for now; my other colleague being Hellen Mutua, a vibrant and amazing lady who is passionate about women.
What have been your highlights in the past three years?
Being the YALI chair, and part of YALI, of course. I also got to be featured in True Love and People Daily for the work of implementing activities across the country.
In July 2016, I was nominated for the Africa Youth Steering Committee by United Nations Women was also a great moment for me. I also exceled in law school despite having so much on my hands.
I was also honoured to be a co-curator at the TEDx Muthangari. TEDx is an international community that organizes TED-style events anywhere and everywhere — celebrating locally-driven ideas and elevating them to a global stage.
On that note, what challenges have you faced?
It takes more hard work to convince others to do anything when you are a young woman. People still have a patriarchal way of viewing things in our society.
In implementation of policies, higher authorities were sometimes not on the same page with us as the leaders, and yet we were still pressured from down below. Creating that balance was difficult.
What’s next for you in five years?
I will have gotten my Master’s Degree, be part of policy-making boards that deal with women and children and hopefully be in diplomacy.