Meet ALA’s Class of 2018: Chemutai Wanjiru Ruto (Kenya)

Welcome to our series of introductions to African Leadership Academy’s 2018 cohort – and meet ALA’s feisty young changemaker Chemutai Wanjiru Ruto, who is determined to make this holiday a rewarding one in every way…

Meet ALA’s Class of 2018: Chemutai Wanjiru Ruto (Kenya)

I’m a privileged girl; I can speak out without fearing for my life – so I want to use the power that I have to empower others.’

Chemutai admits to having many passions – music and performance being prevalent – but is unstoppable when revealing her driving ambition. “I’m most passionate about humanitarian work, about empowering women and educating them, allowing women to be economically independent,” she enthuses.

This holiday season, Chemutai will be spending two weeks in a Masai community researching empowerment opportunities for Kenyan women as part of her OID. Her focus will be on homes for victims of Female Genital Mutilation, arranged marriages, and combatting the prevalence of school dropouts among young girls.

“I’m a privileged girl; I can speak out without fearing for my life – so I want to use the power that I have to empower others. I’m passionate about that – it’s quite a difficult issue to tackle as it changes people’s cultures and mindsets. But first on my list is to empower women because they are dependent on men – and there’s not much they can do if their husbands are providing for them. So economic independence is a focus,” adds this feisty young changemaker.

As the only child to a single mum, Chemutai’s chosen vocation is hardly surprising. “My dad is still around; he’s a politician – but my mum and I are really close. I tell her almost everything, and she understands me best. Even getting to ALA; when I touched down, it hit me, I hadn’t talked to her for two weeks because ALA life got very hectic, but my mum was there for me. She really calmed me down. There’s a sense of home when I talked to my mum; I’ll cry and she’ll be blunt, and say: ‘The world won’t stop for you.’ Yes, my friends are there for me, but we tend to linger in our sadness….”

Upon arrival at ALA Chemutai immersed herself in campus activities, joining four clubs (Political Academy; African Dance, ALApella and Girl Up) and serving as House Captain for Volta House. This, on top of academics, left her drained, and she soon realised she had to make choices.

“ALA is no joke. If you don’t manage your time properly, if you fill your plate, it will come back to bite you in the bum; especially as House Captain – in this school, they hold you accountable: ‘You said this in your manifesto’ – so you have to follow through. I like that, because most of our African leaders are not accountable for most of the things they do – they sweep things under the rug,” she posits.

Fateful Interactions

Nairobi born and bred, Chemutai attended boarding school at age 13, but only lasted two terms. “The environment wasn’t the best; a lot of the students were ‘abandoned’ at school by their parents and had problems,” she recalls. The experience did, though, lead to enlightening encounters that sparked her mission. “I got to interact with Masai girls, and realised that there were customary practices that were still prevalent,” she recalls. “Many local girls had scholarships to attend the school many dropped out because their fathers didn’t believe in educating girls past a certain age. I also heard from a 13-year-old girl impregnated by a man 20 years older than her – it’s a norm.”

Moving schools not only lifted her spirits but also gave her the opportunity to express myself, join various clubs – and tap into hidden talents.

At Braeside High, Chemutai discovered she had a gift for singing – and was encouraged to take it further. “My voice teacher had performed at a Christmas event called Engage Talk Ke. It’s a bit like TedTalk in Kenya, and happens 3 to 4 times a year, highlighting any form of expression from spoken word and anecdotes and more. Chemutai was 13 when she first performed, and has been back ever since. “That platform become a home for me; I’ve had three consecutive Christmas performances there, and now participate in every musical activity I can.”

Music, she reveals, helps her hold it all together. “I am only ever myself when I get on stage and sing, there is something about the vulnerability that comes with it that breaks down all the barriers and showcases the real me. Music has been one of the only constants in my life; it is an expressive, beautiful and meaningful art that makes me who I am. Through music, I’m able to bring different people together and communicate important messages.”

WATCH Chemutai’s rendition of Have yourself a Merry Christmas at Engage Talk Ke in December 2016.

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