Handwashing and social distancing have been preached as the best ways to protect ourselves and our families from getting infected with COVID. We have (re)learnt when and how we should wash our hands to stay safe.
As we slowly inch through the current post-pandemic resurgence, space has seen more visitors than usual, including NASA’s Perseverance rover, Blue Origin’s New Shepard and most recently the James Webb telescope, our new, more powerful window into the mysteries of the universe. Well, I won’t get into astronomy, because what I am trying to do here is ruminate on safety and spaces. Staying safe. Exploring space. Get it?
Safe. Space. These two words were first used in connection with LGBTQI+ communities in the 60’s. At the time, these groups were intensely marginalized. Recently, the two words have seen an increased use in schools, mental health advocacies and on social media. In light of the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, new challenges alongside persistent ones, have led to an amplification of conversations around mental health. I have been encountering a lot more education and hearing more encouragement among my peers to speak up, support each other, and to seek help when many of us are feeling more and more detached from society.
I know I need to feel safe. A safe space for me is an atmosphere that has elements within it that look at me with totality; as a human being who deserves love, growth and support. I have been in a relationship, and I know the beauty one feels while things are going good. I have also been heartbroken and I am aware of the searing pain that comes with it. I have sworn not to love another; but here I am, feeling loved again.
August 7th 2021 was the beginning of this loving relationship. Ironically, on that day I had a calendar clash with an IEEE Engineering festival I was taking part in planning. My gut chose KamiLimu, and I went with it. The KamiLimu Cohort 6.0 launch was remarkable to me in 3 ways:
- The meeting was high quality: it did not feel like an afterthought. The venue was well-prepared, the ambient music playing was pleasing to listen to, the lighting sanitized everyone’s half-masked faces, and the keynote speaker was a Toastmaster who proved to be a proficient storyteller. Listening to the curated experiences of previous KamiLimu mentees was itself motivating.
- The KamiLimu committee, made up of really impressive people pursuing various interests, had chosen to spend time with me.
- My heart felt in the right place. I remember telling myself that I had to give 101% attention.
That day I went home with two Red Bulls, an Andela branded T-shirt and 38 new contacts. All these for zero shillings!
Support in adulting
How does adulting feel? Do you miss your early teen years? (Assuming you were not on the receiving end of thorough caning.) For me, asking for help was becoming weird. I thought exhibiting any signs of weakness was a repugnant and childish trait. For a long time, being vulnerable was the last thing I wanted to do. However, I knew that I had to change this perspective as it had locked me out of building meaningful relationships with others and asking for help when I most needed it. For this reason, my overarching question while joining KamiLimu was: How do I live a life modeled around support that yields growth?
Going into KamiLimu, I had a five page CV in a format we learnt during high school English lessons. Initially, I assumed that writing my achievements is a basic skill and it, therefore, appeared shameful to ask for help. In our first KamiLimu workshop — CV writing and personal branding — I had a chance to see one of the finest CVs I had ever laid my eyes on. I was also given space to ask questions and interrogate the subjective process of communicating my own experiences to different audiences. My CV is now tightly knit into a single page. Putting my new one-pager out for testing proved an instant success as it quickly led to me securing a role at Centre for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence as a data science researcher, working on wearable device technology.
At first, I also thought of research, writing, and public speaking as skills to learn on my own using the Internet as a guide. However, this perception changed the moment I entered KamiLimu, where opportunities to receive guidance in these areas are endless. For example, my first lesson in building these competencies started the moment I set into the program through participating in Red Bull Basement 2021. I had never felt as supported at doing something so beneficial to me as I was during the weeks leading up to the Red Bull pitch. At KamiLimu, we adopted a structured way of identifying problem areas on which to focus. First, we were grouped in 2-members teams and I was lucky to be paired with the amazing Tom Brown Otieno, whose clear way of thinking was an asset throughout the competition. We followed this up with a design thinking process where each team went through activities to distill firm reasons why their identified problem was one worth solving. Lastly, we documented our problem statements and later communicated possible solutions in one minute video pitches.
From our research, we found out that 18–54 year old Kenyans make up the largest percentage of the population using the Internet to seek medical information. Unfortunately, 86% of them are more often presented with misinformation. We proposed a solution that harmonizes verified and peer-reviewed information from health researchers, healthcare institutions, and healthcare providers. By making this information available through a web-accessible tool, we postulate that internet users are less likely to wander around the internet looking for accurate medical information. We named the tool HealtHub.
My most memorable and exceptional experiences at KamiLimu come from observing and appreciating the program’s approach towards mentorship.The program guides one through learning fundamental principles of problem solving, personal branding and communication, which prove to be replicable across disciplines and opportunities. The lessons leave you feeling indebted to do better everyday. Indeed, just a few months into KamiLimu, I was not surprised to see myself presenting research in two conferences, the first being the Polish Telemedicine and eHealth Society last September, where I spoke on the usefulness of telemedicine in response to challenges resulting from COVID-19, such as a decline in health-seeking due to the fear of contracting the disease and doctors lacking enough PPEs to safely handle patients. I also spoke at the 12th AMEK Conference in December, where I highlighted the role of Kenyan biomedical engineers in bridging the gap in demand of technically competent frontline workers involved in COVID 19 management.
I do feel loved and supported at KamiLimu. I know that I matter, and this changes how I approach living my life. I am now doing the smallest things, like cooking for myself, very well. I am studying seriously, being intentional in my friendships, and managing finances trusted under my care. The community behind KamiLimu’s support reminds me that I am not alone; that what I do affects others in equal measure to how what others do affects me. I have become a better team member in school, at clubs and within KamiLimu activities. I am showing up as an intentional being.
And truly, I feel safe. Safe enough to grow.
Edited by Mwaniki Nyaga & Allan Wasega.