Sandra Nyanchama: Lean on Strong Support
The first few pages of her thesis outlines her gratitude to Schatz – which is German for sweetheart – for the support and encouragement he gave her throughout her Master of Laws (LLM) programme. Sugar and Spice, her children, make an appearance too, for ‘always having the warmest smiles that gave me the strength to work even harder.’
The later pages of the thesis build up to a critical assessment of public participation in Environmental Impact Assessment process in the upstream petroleum sector in Kenya. She summarizes it as: “Effective public participation is incredibly important because it acts as a preventive measure in ensuring the safety of the environment at all stages of a project. We, the citizens of the country, are the key stakeholders and our opinion in these matters should therefore be heard and considered.”
So, how did she get to where she is? Sandra Sophy Nyanchama points out that she attended public schools all the way to her undergraduate studies and being in Strathmore was a unique experience. “I have never been to a private school in my life so you can imagine my experience of settling into the Strathmore way. The simple things enlivened the experience: we had courteous lecturers who kept time and were easily available for consultation; we received text books! The exquisite classroom set up; …it made me put in all the effort I could.”
Sticking to timelines
Recently, she graduated with an LLM in Oil and Gas Law in the class of 2021 graduation ceremony. Within the two-year period that it took her to get here, she juggled several roles: wife, mother, daughter, big sister, employee, student, and chama member. How did she do it? She says it boils down to ‘knowing your end goal and running with it’. “I work within set timelines, as long as they are within my control. If I plan to do something in two years, by God’s grace, it will be done in two.”
When the pandemic took root in the country, she and her classmates, like everyone else, were forced to migrate to the virtual world, just two months into the programme. This change, however, came with added advantages for her.
“Working from home helped me plan my work better. Any extra time, for instance, what would have gone into commute time, was dedicated to the thesis. It also made it easier for me to attend the classes while I was on maternity leave, something that would have been impossible had the classes required physical attendance.”
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Meta Platforms, dedicates a chapter of her book, Lean In, to – making your partner a real partner. Sandra’s journey echoes the importance of this and having a strong support system, not only at home, but at work too.
“I walked down the aisle in my early twenties years. My mother thought I was too young – you know how mothers are, in their eyes we never stop being their little children. But I take my opportunities as they come. I met a good person and settled down. Otherwise, we would have dated for 20 years as we waited for me to accomplish my professional goals. Now one goal is done and dusted. My boss, Yvonne Kinini, who graduated at the same time I did, is a wife and mother; she has done it too and countless other women in history have already done it.
“During one of the modules, she went through the classes as she nurtured her one-month old baby. “The most important thing is a strong support system. I don’t think this would have worked if I didn’t have a supportive husband and nanny. Do you know how much a nanny does? I think we all rediscover it when she goes away during the Christmas break! My nanny would keep an eye on the children while I was in class, thus giving me time to concentrate.” For her support, Sandra gives a mention on the dedication page: “I am grateful to my nanny for helping out with my little ones while I spent a lot of time away from them.”
More support came in from the University, which, as part of growing its people, offers staff training programmes so as to develop all cadres of staff. “When I was on study leave, my colleagues would step in for the two weeks I was away. I acknowledge that it’s not easy on them. Some days I would leave work late – people thought I loved work – I do – but I was working on my thesis too! A graduate course demands a large amount of your time and it feels as though you are constantly running a marathon. So make sure your mental health is in check. And by the time you start the programme, you had better be sure it’s what you want to do. Be ready to disappear from your social circles as your life will revolve around school, work, and family.”
Sandra sits in the corporate and legal affairs office based at the Sangale Campus, where she has been for the last five years. Before joining Strathmore, she worked at various law firms, with Evans Mochama Advocates being the most recent.
This article was written by Wambui Gachari.
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