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(From L-R) Miriam Jerotich (Dr. Linah Kilimo's daughter) , Dr. Linah Kilimo; Chairperson, Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Board and Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg; AWARD's Director.

I have always championed for mentorship and placed emphasis on the important role it plays in bridging the knowledge gap between a mentor and a mentee. When I received a call from my long-time friend and mentor, Dr. Linah Chebii Kilimo, recently, asking me to mentor her daughter who was leaving for her doctoral studies in the United States, I jumped at the opportunity.

Dr. Kilimo, is a former Kenyan parliamentarian, served in various capacities in the Kenya government and she is also a professional counselor, peace builder, and a renowned women’s and human rights advocate. Through the years, I have had a series of mentors but it is my experience as Dr. Kilimo’s mentee that I want to share.

When I first met Dr. Kilimo, I was working on my undergraduate thesis in political science and she was in active politics. She has since held a number of ministerial positions and served in various public positions. I walked timidly into her office, introduced myself and stated the purpose of my visit. I was on a ‘quest’ for a mentor and I wanted that mentor to be her. She willingly agreed!!  From then on, I tagged along when she attended meetings and it is at these meetings I learnt a lot of what I know today about.

Despite having a lot on her plate when I met her, Dr. Kilimo took the time to invest knowledge in me, a young graduate student. My initial impression was that she was a very down to earth person and for the first time, I connected with the idea that one can be a powerful leader and still be humble.  

Madam Kilimo has always advocated passionately against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). She cares about this cause deeply and this was apparent as she mentored me.  Being her mentee, not only gave me a vision for women’s leadership, but it also contributed to my development as a leader and refined my perspective on what it really means to be passionate about an ideal or a cause. From her, I learnt that identifying a cause, committing to one’s belief - steadfastly sticking to it and being honest about it - is really important. My desire to be a champion for girls and women came together around this time. This gender sensitive advocacy is a common thread that runs through my and Ms. Kilimo’s life.

Although many know I’m [still] a political scientist by ‘trade’ I am now fully planted in the agricultural sector. I have been asked many times why I didn’t follow my mentor’s political path.  My answer always is, you don’t have to be who your mentor is. Do not copy paste somebody else’s life! Live your life and learn from those around you.  Grasp the things others do well and incorporate them in your life. There is an old saying that goes, “a veterinarian is not a cow”, the same way a political scientist studies political systems, but they don’t need to be an actual player within that system!    

Therefore, although, being mentored by Dr. Kilimo was a really powerful experience, I did not need to follow Dr. Kilimo’s career path. I just needed to pick the elements that worked in hers such as leadership skills, humility, passion and determination and apply them.

Madam Kilimo, ‘Asante, your mentorship unlocked something that is really powerful in me. ‘