Margery’s Tribute to Friendship among Women

Margery Kabuya with Dorothy Nyong’o, Managing Director of the Africa Cancer Foundation.

From the onset Margery, a mother of two adult daughters and a grandmother to one little girl, life was your kind of ordinary. Born in Ngong Town, her early childhood revolved around Kajiado, where she spent her years schooling. Later she went to Butere Girls in Western Kenya, completed her form 5 and 6, and thereafter enrolled at the University of Nairobi where she did a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and political science. Upon completion she then enrolled for a Master's program in the USA. This she did through the Rockefeller Foundation (RF). During her university years, she applied for a scholarship from RF which had a staff training program, where the foundation paid for your masters and PhD education, with the hopes that upon completion one would become a lecturer. This greatly suited Margery and so she chose the University of California and Los Angeles (UCLA) where she spent a year doing her masters in sociology. Later she changed to social work, therefore doing an extra two years studying social work. Upon completion, Margery graduated with a Masters in social work. When she came back home, she got a job with an American NGO, Christian Child Fund, where she worked for the next 24 year. She went in as a program officer and her second year into the organization she was made the sponsor's Relationship Manager. In the third year she became the Program Manager and by her fourth year, she had been made the Director of the organization. She served as the Director for 15 years, and later they began a regional office that would oversee Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. She was made the Regional Director. Three years into her new role, she retired.

Margery Kabuya

During her time at Christian Child Fund, her job together with her colleagues entailed initiating child development programs. They initiated education projects, water projects, income generation projects for mothers, just to mention but a few. During this time, she developed a particular interest for girls especially in Maasai land. During her primary schooling, she had witnessed first hand how her classmates would not show up term after term, as they would be married off. She remembers fondly as her headmistress then would spend the first week of school tracking down the girls and bringing them back to class. This definitely left an indelible mark in her heart.

Years later, she went back to carry on her former teacher’s torch, thus developing the program dubbed “Booking Girls for Education.” In Kenya, girls in traditional Maasai culture are often promised to a husband before they are born, with little chance of receiving an education. Working with the Christian Children's Fund, Margery Kabuya set up a boarding school and persuaded tribe elders to permit young girls to receive at least eight years of schooling before marriage. Her efforts did not go unnoticed, as the program became such a widely acclaimed international success that she was nominated for the prestigious CNN Hero Awards in 2006. It so happened that her nomination was in tandem with her resignation after 23 years of service, with 19 years of directorship. Having being a CNN Hero Award nominee was the perfect send off for her and she couldn't have asked for anything more!

Four years later after her resignation, on September 30th 2010, Margery got a call that her husband had passed away. Suddenly, without any warning, the love of her life was gone. They had been together for 27 years, and she was looking forward to many more years with him. Bouncing back from this was the most difficult thing she ever had to do. The journey was nothing short of torturous and painful. Her girlfriends came in droves to support her during this time. She recalls seeing all the friends she had made as early as class one coming to visit her and sitting by her side, ready to offer her the much needed comfort. Over the longest period of time, her house was never short of people who came to her aid.

Margery Kabuya promoting 'Celebrating Friendship among Women'

One year later, having gone through the grieving process, Margery begun to reflect. How was it that women had surrounded her during this tough time, and yet there is so much negativity surrounding women and friendships in our world today? She began to recall stages in her life when she had needed help, her first go to was a woman. When she needed a loan, it was a woman friend she talked to. When she had her first child, who was there for her? Again a woman. And when she was grieving, who again helped her? The support went back to her girlfriends, some of whom she had known for 50 years. It was then that Margery started to look for books that talked about women and friendships especially African women, and much to her amazement, she found none. She decided then that she was going to write a book on the same, and promote the positive story of women and friendship.

Friendship among Women

Writing a book has never been easy. Even the greats in the industry will tell you a thing or two about the difficulty. It was no different with Margery. As a first timer the process was daunting to say the least. Her decision to write a book accomplished two purposes. For starters, it was a childhood dream of hers to write a book, and she had participated in writing an article or two in the high school magazine. Secondly and more importantly, it was a way to grieve the loss of her husband, as she poured all her thoughts and emotions into the book. However like any other entrepreneur the world over, fear of stepping out stopped her in her tracks. Her turnaround came when she came across this statement in a book that changed her perspective: “You need to get to a point in your life when you are ok with what happens to you. If people like you, you need to be ok, and if people do not like you, it should be ok too.” Just like that, Margery got the encouragement she needed to write the book that was long overdue. She walked with the motto in her head, telling herself over and over that if people like and buy her book, she would be ok, and if they don’t like the book and don’t buy it, she would be ok too. And so she started the book writing process.

She had already decided that her book was going to emphasize the positive aspects of women and friendship. She had no format when she begun, but as she went through the process of interviewing various women and understood the relationships they had with each other, the book started to take shape. The research process took two years as she interviewed over 50 women located in various parts of the country. From there she took another year writing, editing and rewriting. She did not use a ghostwriter or editor for her work; she did it solo, and upon completion, she gave the manuscripts to a few professionals to go through it and give their honest opinion. This was a critical process in completing the book.

As a new author, her challenges came while deciding whether to self-publish or have a publishing house do it for her. She decided on self-publishing as she had heard that publishing houses take time before they publish a first time author. Having friends in the industry helped her too, as she got referrals of experts for the layout and design of the book, including the cover, and a referral to a printing company in India. She did a print of 1000 copies which she launched on the anniversary of her husband’s passing. She had intended it so, in honour of his memory. The ceremony was graced by many of the ladies who had been interviewed including the oldest couple interview who had been friends for 66 years and many friends, colleagues and the media.

Celebrating Friendship among Women is a book about the power of women connections. A close look at the subject in Kenya reveals that genuine friendship cuts across ethnic, age, class and religion divides. This book, which is also an autobiography, a cultural account, a historical and a do-it-yourself didactic material, is a must-read. In it, you find yourself looking in a mirror while getting surprised about a topic that is so simple, so taken for granted, so under-explored. At a time when Kenya is being ripped apart by negative sentiments based on ethnicity, religion and class, Margery Kabuya’s book goes against the grain. You encounter a deep friendship between Njeri and Gathoni, Metian and Sinet, Sau and Chemtai, Khadijah and Asha, Winfred and Mwikali, Joan and Amina, Wangu and Akoth, Margery and Mrs. Were; and a host of others. The book has 11 chapters and only one is on toxic friendships because, yes these exist. However she chose not to focus on them because there is too much good in women friendships to always focus on the negative.Margery Kabuya with Anyang' Nyong'o (Left) and Gitobu Imanyara.

Some of the lessons she learnt in the process of writing the book, which are discussed in the last chapter of the book include; friendship is an investment in time, forgiveness is a value in friendship, the ability to listen is key, there is a need to be authentic and honest in friendship, rituals are important in friendship, true friends are few and we all need to do a friendship audit periodically in our lives.

Lessons to live by - for those interested in future writing

Writing is one thing and selling books is another thing altogether

Kenyans sort of prefer international authors and textbooks as opposed to African books. She has discovered that Kenyans would rather read about women friendships among American women, or even Chinese women, as opposed to Kenyan women.

Keeping your head up all the time is a crucial part of the game. Margery has learnt not to be discouraged despite the challenges that writing a book comes with, because knowledge needs to be shared and for that reason she has gone ahead and written another book titled Our Values, Our Destiny -  A Conversation on Values in Kenya which was published in 2016.

In her spare time, Margery enjoys travelling, especially by train. She also enjoys talking to her friends and reading. Her parting shot to all entrepreneurs, “Don’t be discouraged. Keep on doing what you must do, and never give up.” 

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Margery Kabuya

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Diana Ashley


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