Eliakunda: the Best Version of Herself
There are people you meet and keep company with for some time and you just can`t stop admiring for who they are and how they do things. You wonder where they are from and think out loud that their backgrounds must have prepared them so well to be phenomenal individuals. Eliakunda Kaaya, Kisa Mentor in the Arusha Region, is one of those people.
Eliakunda, who goes by Ellie, is 25 years old. She is the last born in a family of nine children, but the first one to graduate university in her family line. She was raised by a single mom in the Meru Highlands, one of the many communities in Tanzania that does not believe in or support girls` education. Her journey to school wasn`t easy, nor was it for her to believe in herself and consider herself as a leader for her community.
Ellie explains, “I grew up in a community where inequality in education persists. Very few of us thrive – not because we are lucky, but because we choose not to agree to the village`s status quo. It is never an easy journey, but it is possible when we get empowered.” The strong status quo against girls` education did not mean “impossible” to her. She believed in the right of every girl to get an education and was ready to go out of her way to become educated. She had always wanted to overcome and beat the status quo. Because she was ambitious, compassionate, rational and resilient she managed to advance to university level.
Early Days of Leadership
At Enaboishu High School, Ellie joined the Kisa Club as a Kisa Scholar. She practiced the leadership training she learned in Kisa by contesting for a Head Girl position and won. After she graduated high school, she was an active Kisa alumna and volunteered at AfricAid’s Arusha Office during her holidays. Later she started working as a part-time Mentor when they needed her. At university, she continued implementing her leadership skills by contesting for the Student President Post. Though this time she did not win, it didn`t stop her from being an impactful person to her community.
In her second year of university, Ellie organized and conducted an entrepreneurship project to help girls make batiks and toiletries to reduce the problem of unemployment, which is intense in Tanzania even for graduates. She used the skills of social entrepreneurship, understanding leadership styles, event planning and project management that she gained as a Kisa Scholar and also an AfricAid volunteer. The project positively impacted 30 girls in her university community. Some of them organized themselves and started an ongoing partnership for designing and tailoring batiks. Ellie acknowledges, “Helping someone be successful as an entrepreneur has been one of my achievements as a leader. Doing something for my community and making others believe a woman can lead made me feel that I have been part of change and inspired others. Even my lecturers and the university administration were proud.”
After she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at Saint Augustine University in Mwanza in 2017, Ellie was hired by AfricAid as a Kisa Mentor in the Arusha Region. For her, AfricAid is a family she has always loved and never left. She speaks of her job with so much love and passion as she explains, “I want to impact lives of young women I mentor so that they become the best versions of themselves, reach their potential goals and impact their generation. I want every young girl I spend time with to understand that every woman in Tanzania can understand their rights and stand tall for them.” Ellie certainly positively impacts the lives of young women in the five schools where she mentors her Kisa Scholars.
To make sure her work is effective, Ellie counts on her team of fellow Mentors and Managers, which she describes, “AfricAid’s team is very supportive and the best team to work with. I have been learning so much from other team members that makes me grow every day.” A member of her team says “Ellie is a very resourceful colleague. Her strong networking skills help the team to find potential people needed by us, especially during events and also make our organization known. She is very concerned about others, charming, understanding and a good team player.”
She’s the First Fellow and New Project!
Ellie was awarded a fellowship from another Girls’ Education organization in January, 2018. She is putting the resources to use immediately with a side project that addresses an urgent situation in her home village of Nkaorisambu. She calls it the My Journey to School Project. Ellie says, “In this community, being born female is a disadvantage and you have to fight for your right to an education. I feel responsible for other girls in my community who have gone through the same thing as me, or even worse scenarios. There are many girls dropping out of Nkoarisambu Secondary School because of pregnancy and the door to their education is being shut.” Last year, 5 girls out of 127 had to drop out because of pregnancy and in just the first three months of this year, 13 girls have become pregnant. The reason for this alarming trend is simple: lack of access to information about sexual and reproductive health. Ellie forcefully states that her goal is “to help girls get the right reproductive health information, from the right people, in the right place and at the right time.”
Ellie’s approach to her new initiative is multi-faceted. She acquired a curriculum from the Population Council and started working with a group of 30 girls. These girls remind Ellie of herself at that age, hardly able to pay for school fees or materials, or sanitary towels. While the teachers at the school have been very supportive in group meetings, gaining buy-in from the parents has been more difficult. So, Ellie has also been holding parent meetings to persuade them that “prevention is better than a cure.” After closely monitoring and carefully evaluating the program after one year, Ellie hopes to find a way to expand it to many more vulnerable girls. “Girls have the right to advocate for sexual reproductive health. Once they gain an understanding, they will stay in school healthy and resilient, and change the community status quo.”
Apart from her job, Ellie likes cooking, singing, networking and spending time with her mother. She calls her Mom her rock and her first role model. She is growing up to be as strong, loving, tough and caring as her Mom. And Eliakunda is so happy that she makes her mother proud.