Intrepid Women: Elizabeth Kyunguti in Kenya
As a part of SAMA’s efforts to educate our travellers about issues facing women around the world, we want to share a story from another inspiring Intrepid woman. We’d like you to meet Liz – our wonderful Operations Assistant in Nairobi. Her story is one of true grit and determination…
“I was born in the arid Eastern Region of Kenya, where the majority of residents are the Kamba people, who are known to be hard working. My family are Kamba people. Coming from such a region and from a humble background, I am proud to narrate how I grew up and ended up in my present career, and the various hurdles I have had to overcome along the way.
I am the last born of six children. My mother was a primary school teacher and my father was an accountant in a co-operative society. My parents had to work hard to raise the family and buy properties, including the land where we lived simply because they did not get any inheritance from their parents. My grandfather was a Mau Mau fighter and died at war so my grandmother was taken up by one of his brothers – as it is in the Kamba customs – who sired all her children but one. When her sons grew up, they couldn’t be absorbed in the extended family. Their blood father had his own legal sons who were competing for the few available resources, which meant that my father was not entitled to an inheritance.
Ten years after my parents’ marriage I was born and was lucky to receive a primary and secondary education. One remarkable incident I remember from my childhood was a day we went to JKIA Airport to see my father off to Zambia. It was my first time in Nairobi, the first time I had seen an aeroplane and the first time I had seen so many white people – many of whom were tourists. I immediately made up my mind that I had to take a career related to tourism so I could have the chance to fly out and visit foreign lands.
I joined a public university at the age of 19 and graduated four years later in 1998 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Tourism Management. Getting a job in the tourism field was very hard. During that year, there were many travel advisories warning against travelling to Kenya. There were ethnic clashes at the coastal region, bouts of terrorism and the infamous Nairobi bomb blast of the USA Embassy and surrounding building, which killed more than 200 people. That particular day I had planned to go to Nairobi but fortunately something stopped me.
I had to settle for any job that came my way and ended up working in over eight different places in a span of seven years. I was a sales assistant in Nairobi and Mombasa, a computer teacher, a training manager, an administration assistant, an accountant and finally an operations assistant at a tour company.
My proudest achievement in life is finding a job in the tourism industry and beating all odds to be at the place where I am. It was not easy but one thing I am always surprised and proud about is that I have never bribed anyone or exchanged favours for a job, as is the norm with many Kenyan ladies and especially university graduates.
The most memorable day of my job-hunting was a time when I paid a visit to the office of the then Minister of Tourism, the Honorable Kalonza Musyoka (who is today’s Vice President). I had been given a letter by my local Member of Parliament to deliver to Mr Musyokato to assist me in getting a job. At the time, everyone I showed my papers to was so surprised that I was be jobless because I had the highest scores anyone could achieve. Starting from primary, and throughout secondary and university, I had scored straight As in most subjects, including the challenging ones like mathematics and French.
To deliver the letter and get a chance to see the Minister, I had to travel 90 km from town of Machakos, where I was living with my husband and two children. I spent three consecutive days waiting to see him, arriving before dawn to sit with over fifty other people in the lounge. Each day, the Minister would only see a few people or not come at all. After the third day I could not stand it any more, bearing in mind I had to fetch the bus fare from my husband’s wallet without his knowledge because my husband had told me he could not afford to finance these visits any more with his meagre earnings. My daughter was barely five months old and I was earning a paltry four thousand Kenyan Shillings.
The third day was to be my final job hunting day in Nairobi, so I gathered all my courage, stormed out of the Minister’s office and went to the nearest tall building. I took a lift to the top 21st floor, armed with several copies of my certificates and application letters. I went door to door, downwards floor to floor, submitting my papers to whoever gave me a positive response until I reached the first floor. It was there, on the final floor, that I met someone who had attended the same university campus as me. He went through my papers, asked me if I could teach computer studies and told me to return for an interview the following day. I passed the interview and was immediately posted to a school in my home region. This to me is the day that I overcame all the frustrations and disappointments of job hunting. I still hang on to the letter to the Minister and one day I hope to deliver it to him.
For me, this was just the beginning. I have never wanted to settle for second best or mediocrity. When I was teaching, the headmaster advised me to enrol for a Postgraduate Diploma in Education. He said he would recommend me to be employed by the government and continue teaching at his school. I was very happy to win the confidence of the headmaster and to get such encouragement, so I did not want to loose the opportunity. I immediately went to my only surviving parent, my mother. To my disappointment, she told me that since I was married, she could not pay for my fees for the Diploma course or for the Masters Degree course, which was the second option. It still hurts me to this day that I could not accomplish my dreams in life simply because I got married. My two brothers have been given all the wealth that my parents acquired during their lifetime, which now amounts to several millions, yet none of the girls have been given a single shilling.
I continued aspiring to get into the tourism sector and finally succeeded in the year 2005, amidst much economic turmoil. I worked at more than three places where they failed to pay me my salary; instead I was given excuses about these companies not doing well financially. Before I joined intrepid, just after the post election violence of 2007, I had been working for a tour company that gave all the employees a notice either to quit or work for half pay. I opted to work for half pay as I looked for a job. It is one of our customers who recommended me to apply for a vacancy at Intrepid because she was impressed with my work.
The tourism industry is one that requires a lot of patience and agility, a sense of humour and a person who can easily create a rapport and I have found women to be among the best workers. Indeed women in the industry are the minority. I aspire to enrol for a Masters Degree program to further my studies and one day achieve my long-held dreams. I also aspire to become a better mentor and role model to the many millions of women out there who can relate to my story.”
You can join the fight against gender inequality by supporting SAMA – Intrepid’s global gender equality project that aims to improve the lives of communities and help bridge the gender gap through education.