Nana’s Dedicated Service to Ostracised Widows

PowerWoman International distributing food in Siaya

Nana Wanjau is clearly not your kind of ordinary lady. A woman who wears many hats, Nana has perfected the art of excellence in all that she does. From a stay at home mother for 10 years, to a former President of the Rotary Club (Nairobi East to be precise), to a founder of three powerful companies, Nana is definitely a force to reckon with.

Born to a Kenyan father who was based in Ivory Coast and a Tanzanian mother based in Lusaka, Zambia, Nana was raised by her grandmother in a small village called Bukoba, at the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania. “I grew up a global child,” she laughs as she remembers shuttling around the three countries. After her high school years, Nana went to stay with her mum in Lusaka. Her mother, a medical doctor, urged her to enroll to medical college and study medicine. This was definitely not her cup of tea, and two semesters later, she rebelled and dropped out of college. Knowing that her chances of survival were slim after the stunt she pulled, she moved to Ivory Coast where her father was based. Years later her father’s work brought him back home and at 21 years of age, Nana came to Kenya and settled. Little did she know, destiny was around the corner. She met her husband as she was celebrating her 21st birthday that a friend had made him attend, and as they say the rest is history.President Nana Wanjau lead a team of 39 climbers to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. She climbed the Kilimanjaro twice in one year (2015) to raise funds for charity projects.Nana, with sons Vante and Vidray, “They keep me fit”.

What Happened Next

Nana enrolled in college at the then Kenya School of Professional Studies (KSPS) where she studied ICT, and dived into her first job as an IT enthusiast. Her work was demanding and called on her to travel on many occasions. Married and with plans to have children underway, Nana made her best decision ever. One evening, as she was serving her husband food, she casually mentioned she wanted to be a stay at home mother. This came as a surprise to him, as his first worry was that with her bubbly personality, Nana would eventually get bored of staying at home. Nonetheless he was supportive.  They needed a second income though, to pay their bills and to support their lifestyle. Thus Saltaway Investments, a real estate company, was born.

Like any other Kenyan, they had acquired land in various parts of the country, and real estate became a natural inclination for a business venture. It was easy to set up, Nana admits. Forming the company with her husband, an architect who brought in his expertise and networks, she swiftly ended her employment journey and begun developing property. It so happened that by the time her first child was born, she was already a landlord. 15 years later, Nana rejoices in her decision to follow her heart and stay at home with her children; and venture into the real estate business.

“We began small,” she says. Putting together their savings and their personal incomes, in addition with a loan from a Sacco, the capital of the company was raised. Their first project was a block of four apartments. After completion, this gave them the confidence boost they needed knowing that they could actually accomplish their goal. Years later, they have commercial property, apartment blocks for sale and rental property.

“The journey has its ups and downs”, she says. Two words that she lives by and would like to share with anyone interested in real estate: due diligence. Always do your due diligence before purchasing a property. Use real lawyers too to accomplish this. She tells of a story where she had bought land along Ngong Road only to discover much to her detriment, that somebody else also had a legal title deed just like hers. “This can be very frustrating,” she tells, “and lead to long court processes that almost lead nowhere. Another thing, before you invest in a property, ensure the developer has enough money to complete the project. Again how do you do this? Due diligence. Usually most people invest in developing property and once the project has gone for only a year, they discover that the developer has no money and the project stalls. If you have invested most of your money in a project the strain becomes too heavy.”

On Two Companies and a CSR

Nana Wanjau is the CEO of Branding Beyond Borders (B3). Branding Beyond Borders is about connecting great minds globally. It is a global network of speakers, coaches, mentors and trainers.

Nana Wanjau is passionate about women empowerment. She believes an empowered woman leaves no one behind, be it a girl-child, boy-child, orphan, widow or prostitute. Nana is the Founder of PowerWoman International, a vehicle she uses to accomplish this mission.

Taleo the widow from Kajiado at her original house.
Taleo’s complete brick house.

PowerWoman International builds houses for the ostracised widows and the forgotten widows in the country. No woman should loose her dignity nor rights because she lost her husband. So far they have had impact in the Coastal region, Central, Narok and Kajiado as well at the Western parts of Kenya. Her work with widows has attracted extensive local and international media. November 2016, this initiative was show cased at the Estonian Parliament as an example of what Kenya is doing to uplift the plight of the ostracized widows. This case study is now being used in their schools as part of their global education topics.

PowerWoman International supports the ostracised and forgotten widow on four pillars; Shelter, Counseling, Economic Empowerment and Education (children). PWI works with various widows foundations already on the ground to identify the correct profile of the widow in need. Nana says it’s about restoring dignity to the widow and her children. Raised by a widow herself, her grandma, Nana has a first hand experience of the plight of widows.

The forgotten widow ceased to exist in the eyes of the community immediately her husband dies. As for the ostracised widow; at the demise of her husband, she is culturally required to be sexually cleansed before she can be inherited. Due to the high prevalence of HIV, some widows are beginning to reject this cultural practice. The widow who rejects this practice is believed to be carrying a ‘death omen’ and therefore must be banished from the community. This means she is driven from the community and must live far away where she will not engage with ‘normal’ people. As a result the ostracised women end up living in bushes and forests, away from normalcy and civilization and with no formal establishment. “That is where PowerWoman International comes in,” Nana explains. “We look for those widows who have been shunned by the community and are living in the wilderness as a result and build houses for them. We don't build houses for just any widow,” she insists. It is important for her that the message is set across.

PowerWoman International is partly sponsored by Branding Beyond Borders (B3). However, PWI has also partnered with Nestle Kenya and Chandaria Industries to implement the Economic Empowerment arm. PWI is still looking for partners in education and shelter.

Nana recalls her first project which was for a lady called Grace. “I travelled to Nyanza, and located her whereabouts. She was on the outskirts of Nyanza in her little small hut. My heart bled for her. I saw her huddled on the corner with her two daughters who had been banished from the community with her. Building started immediately, and I can never forget the words she said to me once the project was finished: ‘You are medicine to my soul’.” Seeing the woman smiling and laughing was enough for Nana to continue with her project. She had succeeded in restoring her dignity by giving her a home and that is all the fuel she needed to keep going. When Nana began this venture, she admits it was totally out on a limb. On her completion of the first project which she financed fully on her own, she was approached by an individual who was willing to finance the next house, and so she built a second one. As we speak she has two more partners who have joined in, and they are in the process of building a third and fourth house for the widows. “My target is to build 100 houses in a year,” she says. “It’s not hard. I only begun the other day and I am already at my fourth house. Imagine what I can do in a year!” She admits that even though this is a noble gesture for the widows, sometimes good things become bad. For a widow who has been living in the bush and now with a house, inevitably the status changes. She begins to have friends, even boyfriends, and that eventually may lead to more children. To try and curb this, Nana admits that there is a need for counselling sessions for the widows on how to face life with the advantages and necessities that have come their way, before and after the house is handed over to them. They also do annual visits to the widows, with a Christmas care package and they use this time to talk to them, encourage them and mentor them. A practice they intend to carry on throughout the year and not just as a one off.PowerWoman International works with communities to reintegrate the forgotten widows and ostracised widows into society.Branding Beyond Borders in partnership with KNCCI hosting renown American speaker and author Joseph Pine at a CEO Breakfast in Nairobi.

On being President of the Rotary Club of Nairobi East 2015 - 2016

When she was living with her mother, who was Rotarian, in Lusaka, Zambia, every weekend they would be visiting the slum communities and doing some sort of service. Her mother was widely known for her heart of giving and service; and she served her community to the best. As a medical doctor, everyone would come to see her and she never tired of their presence. “Our home was always full of people who needed one form of help or the other,” she muses. To date, Nana has held on fast to this practice as she carries her sons to every community and service engagement she is doing, be it in Mathari for mentorship or Korogocho. Much to her delight they enjoy it and have integrated a way of service in their lives. Earlier in life the Rotary Club had approached her twice for the presidency position and both times she had declined as she considered it a full time job, and she wanted to be with her kids. It was when her boys were all grown that she accepted the call and took up the position. Some of her greatest achievements during her tenure include water harvesting for 20 schools in Kajiado County, establishing an education scholarship to needy children in the slums of Korogocho, digging nine boreholes in Siaya County and her attempt to break the world record in climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, leading 39 climbers on the journey. Documenting her journey and experience gave her traction which eventually led her to Addis Ababa at the African Union to talk about service and leadership. Nana is an alumni of Strathmore Business School and a certified member of The Women on Boards Network amongst many other associations.

As we conclude her story, Nana looks at me and says, “When all is said and done, let this be said of me, not of my accomplishments and achievements, but that I was a good mother.” All her success and victory means nothing to her if her family is falling apart. Because despite her busy schedule, Nana considers motherhood to be her number one calling and her children, the loves of her life. She has endeavoured to pass on Godly values and service to humanity. Her boys Vante and Vidray are involved in various activities including music and sports, and she also likes to do the mom thing by signing them up on amazing programs. Vante had a chance to go to the US and tour NASA while Vidray went to the UN in Geneva, through various leadership programmes. Not surprising that they both are in leadership positions in their schools.

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Nana Wanjau
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Diana Ashley

 

Diana Ashley is "A Fearless influencer of society.
Book lover. Coffee lover. 


You can check me out on 
https://thebookswag.wordpress.com"

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