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Cluster member named Kenya's 'Social Founder of the Year'

LINDA SALBEI from Kenya's Kericho Cluster was recently named the country's ‘Social Founder of the Year’ at the FOYA Awards. The award was for setting up the Linda Msichana Organisation, which mentors teenage mothers. She's been telling us about the award and her work.

Congratulations! How did it feel to win? I didn’t know how to react when they read out my name, but it was nice! I think it’s very important to recognise someone doing something positive, no matter how small. Especially if it involves changing people’s lives.

Did you do a speech? I did. I dedicated the award to the girls and women I know. So many women in my life have really pushed me forwards - I am who I am because of them. They've been great role models to me, now I want to be a role model to others.

Why did you set up the organisation? There was a girl in my class at high school who was a mum with two kids. I'd never met anyone who went to school and was a mum! She also had to walk twelve kilometres every day to and from school. And yet she was always top of the class - she was very inspiring. I then left that school to finish my education in Nairobi. When I came back home, I realised that so many female classmates had dropped out of school. Some were married, some were pregnant, but they all really wanted to go back to school. I learned then what a big problem teenage pregnancy is in Kericho County. That’s how I decided I wanted to help girls like these finish high school, before going about the rest of their lives. So I started the Linda Msichana Organisation in 2015.

How does it work? There are seven of us – all volunteers with different skills – and we currently mentor eleven girls. We sponsor their high school education, we connect girls with other young mothers to share their stories and support one another, we help them see opportunities and find ways back into education, and we provide counselling. We also have an arts program, where we teach the girls to make crafts like bracelets, decorative boxes and wall hangings. We make them from recycled fabrics – the waste products from local tailors. We're funded by families, friends and government bursaries.

What are the challenges in your work? Many girls don’t feel they’re deserving of help - it’s a part of the trauma that’s gone on in their lives. And there’s a lot of stigmatisation of them too. But as they open up, you learn that they are amazing young women with big dreams like any other person.

How did you join Kericho Cluster? I was added to their Whatsapp group by a friend, and to my surprise I realised I knew almost everyone in it. They're all young people doing amazing things in our community - instantly I knew this was where I belonged!

What do you value about it? There’s so much energy here. There’s so much love. It’s a very strong team. It’s a support system for everyone. We all have the same goals for Kericho County. Sometimes, people who do similar community work are in competition with one another, but we work together, because it makes us stronger.

One Cluster member, Sarah, does similar work to you with the Sparkle Again Foundation. Tell us about your relationship. Sarah and I share so many similar experiences. Sometimes the stories of the girls I work with really affect me, and I break down. When I do, Sarah supports me so much. I can share things with her, in confidence, and she’ll always listen to me and support me. And I can do the same for her. We work in partnership too: when Sarah runs events in schools, we go with her and run our craft sessions.

What are your plans for the future? Eventually we want to set up a community centre with a school for the girls, and also a kindergarten for their children. Slowly we’ll get there. We have such an amazing group - we’ll definitely get there.

Learn more about Linda's Cluster here.

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