Graduate Spotlight: Hilda Pepeno – What do spicy chilli & law have in common?


While you may argue that things get ” heated” in both chilli and law, the intensity depends on how you look at it. This is the story of one Hilda Pepeno, who gained a Certificate in International Computer Driving License (the high-quality, internationally-recognized certification designed, validated and approved by international experts from around the world) at the Strathmore Institute and is now graduating with a Law degree. While spicing up our palates on one end, Lang’ata Women’s Prison experiences were introducing her to new flavours of realities lived by those pushed to commit crimes that led to some getting lifetime imprisonment.

“Tuende jela tukaone Auntie”

Was a very common phrase in our home while we were growing up. I bet what your first thought is: “Auntie alikuwa amefungwa jela” but, no. She (my mum’s sister) was not imprisoned but has worked and lived there for over two decades.  It is one of those childhood memories where high walls bubbled a young mind to wonder hmmm! – what could be happening on the other side?  I never got to see behind the walls then but that changed when I was doing the 200 hours of service based learning (SBL) in my second year at the University.

Tell us more about your time at Lang’ata Women’s Prison

During the SBL, I was a teacher of English and Kiswahili but today I have become a friend and a confidant to some. No matter what they did, they are human beings like all of us and they need us. Listening to their stories allows me to reflect on my own. Each lady has a story, but their message is the same.  “Anger is not bad but what you do with it is what matters.  Always follow your instinct the first time you get a hunch,” I have heard them say repeatedly. You can never go back and undo the crime; however, you can at least walk away or run when you feel it is not going to end well because freedom behind bars, cannot compare to loneliness in a free society.

Any highlights from your time there?

There are a few but the most memorable was when I was part of a team that raised KES 250,000. The funds were used to buy milk, diapers for babies and some set books to facilitate literature and fasihi lessons for the ladies.

Heating it up a notch at home

During the peak of Covid 19, I set out a startup – Gathoni’s home chilies. The homemade chilli sauce is a family recipe passed down from my grandmother. For years, we just enjoyed it as a family but now many are igniting their taste buds with this savoury. Support from my family and Instagram has enabled me to continue with the business even as I pursued my law degree. The next time your tongue is on FIRE, drink milk or place a spoonful of yoghurt in your mouth to relieve the burning sensation of chilies. Sipping on water just spreads the chilli oils (capsaicin) hence increasing the heat intensity.

In closing, what takeaway do you have for our reader today?

If at any point one is ever arrested, it is their right to know and understand why they are being arrested by the police. This helps in creating a foundation for yourself in case you are ever sentenced. In addition, having a written report is recommended as verbal consents are not viable because our memory recalls different things over time hence diluting the depth of recollection of incidents.

Remember, some of your basic rights as a citizen is that you are entitled to a pro bono lawyer if you cannot afford one and are entitled to make one free call when arrested.

This article was written by Annete Karanja.

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