She is like the famed magical fairy godmother who rides in to rescue Cinderella. In this modern tale disadvantaged girls are the poor Cinderellas. Sitawa is like a fairy godmother coming in to grant many girls their wish to stay in school.
For many disadvantaged girls staying in school throughout the term is an issue. Because of menstrual periods many girls may end up missing school from between three to seven days because they can’t afford comfortable sanitary towels. These girls usually use old bed sheets, towels, old clothes or even re-use sanitary towels. These usually expose the girls to infections as a result of poor hygiene. This has led to many girls not being able to cope with their studies due to cumulative effects of their absence from class. This causes the girls to have low morale and poor grades.
So in comes the fairy godmother. Sitawa “Sweetawa” Wafula is a well known poet, performer, maths tutor, life coach, and motivational speaker among other hats that she dons. She is currently volunteering with a project called the Sanibank Consortium which consists of NGOs, artists, students and individuals with a common goal of enhancing the education of girls from disadvantaged background.
Sanibank does resource mobilization through awareness creation so as to persuade the general public and companies to buy sanitary towels for the girls. Sitawa says, “Sanibank don’t have a stable donor but have gotten Hearts, Lions and Rotary who are making a 5 duo pack of pads available which can last a girl for one school year. The idea is to have people buy the pads for the girls and then these are distributed to the girls who need them.”
Sitawa says that Sanibank have been able to supply to at least different schools in 5 provinces. This has helped girls to concentrate on performing at their level best in school. Sanibank are still looking forward to reach more girls to help them harness their dream.
Wangari Maathai has her trees and environment as her cause. Sitawa has girl empowerment as her passion and cause. She too has had a Cinderella story, rising from situations that would have crushed the spirit of a less determined person.
While studying Actuarial Science, 2nd year at the University of Nairobi, Sitawa started to experience severe seizures that would cause her to miss class for weeks. Spells in and out of hospital became a regular feature in her life. Because of rising hospital bills that wiped out the family savings for school fees, Sitawa had to drop out of university to concentrate on recuperation.
“This was hard on me and I eventually slipped into a depression. Watching and listening to colleagues making plans for their graduation pushed me deeper into the psychological abyss,” she recalls. It was during that time that Sitawa discovered the therapeutic benefits of creative writing, using poetry to deal with her inner pain.
Even before the seizures started affecting Sitawa she had a very traumatic, painful experience. “Before Sun 15th June 2003, I was a very lively jovial girl then I had to visit my boyfriend. His best friend spiked my tea and raped me. I wrote about that experience in a poem called ‘ Sunday 15th’ after the events that took place on Sunday 15th June 2003. The piece was for therapy and it has helped me for the last 6 years. Now I talk about it, praying it does the same for someone.” The piece can be found on her blog at http://sitawa.blogspot.com/2010/01/sunday-15th.html.
After a while things started looking up. Sitawa got jobs but couldn’t keep a job for long because of her seizures. Sitawa says “I was still having seizures which would sometimes put me into hospital for up to two weeks so I couldn’t hold down a job for long. On one occasion, I blacked out as I was serving a client,” she explains. She laments the discrimination of employers against staff with chronic conditions.
Sitawa has started an events company called Events Sitawave where she is able to control her own schedule and be able to do things at her own pace. She has organized several events like Poetry at Discovery which is a monthly event that brings together aspiring and accomplished poets to share their work. She also organized SWAN Day Kenya 2009 which is an event that brings women artists from all genres together. She co-organized the first World Peace Day Poetry Festival 2009 that bought together poets and poetry lovers to celebrate peace. She also organized logistics for a Christmas visit to the Industrial Area Remand Prison in 2009 for renowned photojournalist, Boniface Mwangi.
Sitawa also carries out poetry workshops for aspiring poets with most of them being round table where she has a group of three to five people and she takes them through the basics of poetry and performance. She has been honored by Slam Africa for her work and she says, “I am pleased to have been honored by the Slam Africa crew for my work. That’s all a teacher wants, to know they set aside some time to nurture someone and get to see the results.”
Currently, Sitawa is also a Mental Health Goodwill Ambassador for Basic Needs UK. Sitawa says she was appointed to that position because she had been suffering from seizures for the last 8 years and was willing to talk about it. She creates awareness about issues to do with seizures, also doing a lot of writing about it on her blog.
Sitawa says that the things that inspire her are where she has been and the things that she has been through. Also the people who have walked in and out of her life coupled with where she is going and where she really wants to go.
Sitawa has been recognized and mentioned as one of the key poetry people at Slam Africa where she was called in as a special guest to award the winner in September. She is on the on the nomination list of Feather Awards Kenya 2010 which the first edition to happen in Kenya.
Sitawa says that lately she has been working at a mall awareness stand for Sanibank and also doing poetry night performances in aid of the project. “At one event I was able to raise Ksh. 11,000 with which I have made an order and I am awaiting shipment of the pads.” The pads are shipped from outside the country. Every pack of 5 duo packs costs Ksh. 200 to ship to Kenya and that is an affordable donation that any one individual can make. Donations can be made to MPESA line 0724377900 or deposited in the Co-operative Bank, Nation Business Centre, account number 01134126195700.
Sitawa has no major plans to do any projects with any artists at the moment. “I had a major seizure attack mid this year and it took a whole lot of time to get back on my feet. My main concerns now are my poetry workshops, pad-raising and mental health campaigns plus my events company. I was to do something in Botswana and Tanzania but I got really sick mid this year so all that went to the dogs, especially when the organizers could not trace me when I was really really down.”
Sitawa’s thoughts on the future of poetry and spoken word, “like music, it is a wave to some and a way of life to others. Those who have it as a wave are cashing in now but with time something else will blow them away and the real poets will stand up. There enough gigs going on now but someone has to teach the performers so I am taking the back seat and doing that as I prepare for Season two of Poetry at Discovery.” That is one of her passions, teaching people how to write and perform poetry.
As a woman of many talents, Sitawa also tutors students in maths. She tries to encourage girls to love maths. “Basically I let them see the importance of maths in life, give them the pros and cons then I let them make conscious discussions after weighing the pros and cons. I don’t do it just for Maths but for most of the things in life. I teach them to make conscious decisions and let them know the importance of being responsible of one’s decisions irregardless if they are what the majority subscribe to or not.”
Sitawa is an excellent performance artist. When she takes to the mike at a poetry event she sweeps you away with her rhythmic, savvy, lyrical lines. She has a presence on stage. Someone listening to her for the first time will be shocked when they hear her mentioning in passing about her experience of being raped and her battle with depression. Living in a society where most people don’t talk about rape in the open and where it is a taboo subject Sitawa is trying to get people to open up about the subject. Sitawa tries to encourage girls who have gone through the ordeal that they are still beautiful, worthy of love and that they have somewhere to go if they need support or someone to talk to.
“I have a project called Project Sun 15th where I meet up with victims and survivors. We have intimate discussions about our ordeals and learn from each other as we help each other heal. Some people prefer one on one sessions and I walk with them until they don’t need me anymore. I talk to them about insecurities, self worth, and redemption, I talk about investing in tomorrow because they need not cry the tears they have cried today and yesterday, tomorrow,” says Sitawa.
Sitawa’s advise to girls about protecting themselves from rape or sexual predators? “Prevention is better than cure they say, but one can never be too careful. So I encourage the girls to be themselves but conscious of their surrounding, that their dressing could be what provokes a predator, their attitude and so many other “minor” things. So one must be conscious at all times. I was raped on a humble Sunday morning over a cup of tea while others get raped by their fathers so there is so much ‘carefulness’ one can have. So besides taking care of the dos and don’t, I also take care of what to do and not to do after an ordeal. I encourage the girls to have a contact person’s information on them, that they should always let someone know where they are at all times. Beyond that God will take care.”
Sitawa’s take on God’s role in her life? “I didn’t know quarter the things I know now about rape or seizures or any other of the many things that have happened to me. Beside my pen and paper, God has been a faithful companion and as much as I am not a role model Christian, I know that without Him I would be half the person I am today. I am still a work in progress but I am tangible and definite and it is all because of Him. They is serenity I feel in His presence that makes me know all will be well. That I am alright.”
Sitawa lives by the words of Nelson Mandela who once said, “the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”
Sitawa may have taken a tumble in her dream to be an actuarial scientist but she has risen, dusted herself off, and continued on. She is still hoping to get a scholarship to finish her studies and she is not planning on giving up on her dream.
Sitawa continues to inspire many, women and men alike to never give up. She has shown a good example through the virtues of love, kindness, and unselfishness. She continues to bring hope to many girls through the Sanibank project and through her life coaching for rape victims. She continues to be a fairy godmother to many girls who would have otherwise thought that no one cares. She is an advocate of her own words that she quotes in so many different ways. “Circumstances and people can only put you down if you allow them to.”
Sitawa truly lives the words of Marianne Williamson who she quotes as says “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”
Sitawa’s parting shot is, “today is a building block for tomorrow. The joys and sorrows of this hour and the place we are in are our breakers or makers. So do your best with whatever you have, wherever you are, for no one knows what tomorrow brings.”
PS. I did this for a feature article for class. I realise though that Sitawa’s story is an important one. Of women making a difference in this country. As a magazine has described her she is a Phenomenon woman.