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Graduate Spotlight: Kristy Obuya

My name is Kristy Obuya, and don’t you know a lady never says her age? I was born in Mombasa but moved to Nairobi when I was 7, so I’ve lived most of my life in Nairobi.

What is the official name of your degree and what originally interested you in the field and to pursue it at Strathmore University?

I was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies and Philosophy (BDP). It’s actually a funny story, I was originally coming to Strathmore to pursue Law but, on my way to the Admissions Office to pick brochures I saw a banner right outside advertising a new degree the University was rolling out: A BA in Development Studies and Philosophy. After reading the course description and thematic areas, I knew it was the perfect course for me as it aligned with my interests in humanitarian assistance.

My career goal is to work in the field of humanitarian assistance but from a different angle that I feel is lacking: Development. Though most people in the humanitarian field take on a disaster response angle, I wish to take on a sustainable livelihood angle. The World Bank reports that the average exile lifespan of a refugee is 17 years which can be translated into three generations. Meaning that children and grandchildren born in the camp may most likely never know a life outside the camp. We need to move from only providing sustenance to this social group and shifting focus. It is important to see how their livelihood can be improved within their current situation, providing them with skills that they can use to rebuild their lives back in their home country or begin afresh in a new country.

What activities have you undertaken while being here and how has your University experience been like so far?

I have had an amazing university experience both in and out of the classroom. My fondest memories are more from my extra-curricular life:

  1. Kenya Model of the United Nations (KMUN)

 I joined the Kenya Model of the United Nations (KMUN) in my first year which was a continuation from my East Africa Model of United Nations (EAMUN) experience in High School. I loved KMUN as it’s an entryway into a sort of virtual world where we as young people are leaders of countries, states, or islands and can make decisions that impact the global economy or policy tackling issues from the refugee crisis to international peace and security.

2.  Mental Health Club 

My most notable and proudest achievement is co-founding the Strathmore University Mental Health Club, the 2nd (at the time) in the country.

The inspiration behind the move was due to the increase, in late 2018, of Kenyan university student’s skipping classes, dropping out or dying by suicide. A group of friends and I approached the 9th Student Council to do an event that raised awareness on mental health as well as create safe spaces where university students, both male, and female could have honest conversations about the challenges they were facing. As opposed to doing a singular event, we held a mental health awareness week, which has since become an annual event. The annual weekly event tackles different dynamics surrounding mental health from mental illnesses to other life aspects that can impact your mental health, such as social media, relationships, or parental pressure.

The event was so successful that the Student Council approached us to start a Mental Health Club that would institutionalize the idea such that it wouldn’t die once we graduated. Furthermore, in collaboration with the Student Council and the Strathmore University Medical Centre (SUMC) we created a mental health hotline number (0724255169) where students can call and talk to a psychologist and, if need be, book a session at a low service charge of Ksh. 200. The hotline was an important milestone due to the high stigma surrounding mental health; many students were afraid to physically walk to SUMC and book a therapy appointment. The hotline receives approximately 10-35 calls a week depending on the time in the semester.

Mental health awareness week has provided us with an amazing platform through which we have been able to collaborate with other clubs, both internal and external, invited to radio stations to speak on mental health, and most recently gained the attention of the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Unit who offered us a seat to speak on the Youth and Mental Health Advocacy panel in the first-ever Kenya Mental Health Conference held in November 2019. It was also through this connection that the Ministry of Health, under the Mental Health Taskforce, called us early this year to speak at a youth group meeting that would highlight challenges, opportunities, and recommendations for promoting mental health among the youth.

The mental health club has provided us with an amazing platform to collaborate with other Mental Health advocates not only in Kenya but across the globe. The club has been a launching pad to join global mental health networks such as citiesRISE, and work with other clubs such as DRAMSOC and currently, SUMG as well as forming partnerships with other organizations such as Mental 360, Basic Needs Kenya, Paint the Run, and the Centre for Gender-Based Violence.

My experience with the Mental Health Club has been heart-warming and impactful both to me and the people we have reached. It will always hold a special place in my heart as I consider it my first child (laughs).

3. Student Council 

I worked under the Senate of the 10th Student Council’s President leading the committee in charge of Student Wellness. Through the committee, we were able to conduct focus groups to periodically check-in and find out what challenges students were facing and how we could help solve them with the help of the administration. My proud achievement working for the Student Council was the installation of the Sanitary Pads Vending Machine that can be found in the women’s washroom on ground floor of the Student’s Centre.

As you can see, I had a very busy student life. However, this did not come without sacrifice because to maintain excellent academic achievement and run a club meant I was in the library every morning by 7 am to catch up on core readings, coursework, and assignments or prepare for CATS. Sacrificing sleep was not in vain as I sat on the Dean’s list the entire four years.

Recall any awkward or memorable moments?

Yes! I was stage coordinator of 2019’s Culture Week and I was “incited” to walk on stage during the fashion show to showcase my Zulu outfit. It is at that moment I really wished the ground would open up and swallow me. It was so awkward!

You are part of the pioneer graduating class, just how much of a big deal is this for you?

The BDP degree, if I must brag, is the best degree offered due to the quality experience one receives from the plethora of knowledge it exposes you to. The intricate merge of the two fields is outstanding and has been quite extraordinary in my intellectual and personal development. Through case studies, this course has made me have a deeper appreciation, understanding, and love for the promise our country holds with all its beautiful laws, policies, and potential. Philosophy on the other hand has challenged me to always ask “Why?” and understand the root of a problem. Philosophy also creates a mind-frame that makes you poke holes at your development projects before others get the chance.

This double-edged sword of a degree provides you with both the theoretical and practical wisdom to live a good life. In the words of Aristotle, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

The world over has been forced into virtual graduations due to COVID19. Does this stop your celebrations for achieving this outstanding milestone?

To be honest, I think the topic of graduation has been one of the most painful subjects to any #GraduatingClassof2020 but for us, the Strathmore July intake, there was salt added to our injury. The lockdown happened during our final examination’s week which had to be postponed indefinitely and when the graduating season came along it was hard watching our friends post pictures online with their degrees and graduation caps and gowns when we didn’t even know when we were going to finish our last two papers yet, alone graduate!

The COVID-19 pandemic has held our dreams and ambitions captive as many of us have been unable to start a master’s degree or apply for a job as a degree is a primary requirement and so we have been left feeling helpless. Hopefully, once we graduate our lives can resume.

What next for you upon graduation and how do you think Strathmore is preparing you with the skills necessary to exceed post-graduation?

I will be pursuing a Master’s degree in Global Mental Health from the University of Glasgow. I was also called back for a job post where I did my internship.

Last word to prospective students?

Trust your gut! Take time to decide what is right for you and what mostly aligns with your career goals; Don’t be afraid to get in touch with the faculty of the degree you wish to pursue, they will be more than happy to answer your queries; Talk to trusted colleagues and mentors who can help you outweigh the pros and cons and, most importantly, ensure you have a balance once you join University. Don’t be too knee-deep in books, join a club!

This article was written by Francis Kabutu.

Would you like to share your experience of living through the circumstances brought by the Covid-19 pandemic? Kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu