Inspiring Conversations: Inspiring Girls to Achieve
Raised on a sugarcane farm in rural Western Kenya, Dr. Juliana Otieno was an exceptionally bright child and at age 14 was called to a top national school. Her family could not afford to send her, but her village took up a collection so she could go. It was a kindness she would never forget and has paid back several times over. Dr. Otieno would return to her community as a pediatrician and ultimately serve as CEO of Western Kenya’s largest teaching and referral public hospital. After retiring from public health, she entered the Inspired Leadership Initiative and has since established the Rusalia Resource Foundation, designed to identify, financially support, and mentor high potential girls. Hear from Dr. Otieno and learn about her foundation in her talk: “Inspiring Girls to Achieve.”
Read the event recap, watch the video, or listen to the podcast below.
- Support people in training. Without training for people in education or job-training, they will not be able to further their skills. Through mentorship programs as well as providing support and encouragement, they will be able to succeed. (20:56)
- Do more. When Dr. Otieno joined the Inspired Leadership Initiative, her way of thinking was transformed. Expecting to “relax” more during her time in the US, she did the exact opposite. She was given the foundation, skills, and support to make Rusalia a reality. (21:52)
- “You don’t just retire and resign. You continue thinking and doing things, and I think that was what was awakening to me.” (Dr. Juliana Otieno, 23:30)
- “Our vision [at] Rusalia is not just to take the girls to school, but also to mentor them, to walk with them, to make them strong.” (Dr. Juliana Otieno, 25:27)
- “We walk together. In Africa, in my community, you don’t do things alone. You need somebody to walk with you, so that is what Rusalia has brought.” (Dr. Juliana Otieno, 33:25)
- Being a woman in leadership is incredibly difficult, but needed. Specifically, in Kenya, there is no fair playing field. Since the men have the money, they have the advantage. However, females are powerful. In her leadership role at Western Kenya’s largest teaching and referral hospital, Dr. Otieno was able to conduct meaningful research and transform her community. (39:17)
- Growth, not only in terms of money, is incredibly important. Dr. Otieno’s vision for Rusalia is to allow the girls to truly be transformed, inspired to become better people, and to be instilled with faith in God. (41:41)
- “[At Rusalia], we are also instilling that faith…that feeling of ‘I need to serve other people if I get blessed.’” (Dr. Juliana Otieno, 42:22)
- “Even though officially we are saying, ‘In the next five years, we’ll be having 25 girls who are fully sponsored and supported and mentored,’ but the number could be more. We will be reaching out to other girls, so that the number may be…why not 50? Why not 100, if God is willing?” (Dr. Juliana Otieno, 43:37)
- Education can bring so much change in people’s lives; it is a chain reaction. As a result of support and mentorships, there will be less teenage pregnancies in Kenya. There will be less abortions. There’ll be less illiteracy. There will be more of an opportunity to go to the hospital when needed. (44:00)
The Inspiring Conversations Series featured a discussion about the issues and changes in Western Kenya and the power of women’s education with guest speaker Dr. Juliana Otieno, founder of the Rusalia Resource Foundation. This virtual event was led by Chris Stevens, the Co-Founding Director of the Inspired Leadership Initiative. Through this discussion, Dr. Otieno touched on topics about female leadership, struggles with education and medical issues in Kenya, and the importance of giving back to the community.
In the beginning of the conversation, Dr. Otieno spoke about her home country, Kenya. She described it as a lovely country in Eastern Africa, filled with beautiful scenery and wildlife. She also touched on the culture of Kenya: There are about forty- two tribes in Kenya, many of which speak different languages and dialects. After illustrating her country to viewers, Dr. Otieno gave a brief background into her history. She was the eldest child in a large family of sixteen children; her family was taught the value of faith, love, hard work, and discipline. As a family, they worked hard in order for Dr. Otieno to receive an education and succeed. Before attending medical school, Dr. Otieno got married. In fact, she had two children during her schooling period. She stated that, with faith in God and hard work instilled in her blood, she was able to manage her livelihood and grow.
In the next topic of conversation, Dr. Otieno touched on the number of struggles Kenya faces as a country. First, she spoke about the number of medical-related issues, from high infant and maternal mortality rates to an undying presence of diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. Then, she described a multitude of other problems, from human trafficking to the lack of belief in female education. However, Dr. Otieno also described the movement in a positive direction for some of these issues, such as the creation of the Sexual Offences Act to the rise of advocacy groups.
Next, Dr. Otieno spoke about her experience as a woman in a leadership position, for she was the former CEO of Western Kenya’s largest teaching and referral hospital (JOOTRH). Although female leadership was difficult, Dr. Otieno accomplished a great deal concerning medical research and mentorship. She was able to participate in the Malaria Vaccine Initiative as well as the opening of a new children’s hospital in Kenya, the Obama Children’s Hospital. During her time as CEO, she prioritized the improvement of care for sick children as well as placing continual focus on the mentoring of young doctors and nurses.
In the next topic of conversation, Dr. Otieno spoke about her time as a part of the Inspired Leadership Initiative. Although she was expecting the experience to be eye-opening, she did not initially realize the magnitude of change the program would instill in her. Her cohort, as well as her classes (specifically International Development Class), changed her way of thinking, which allowed her to make the Rusalia Resource Foundation a reality. Otieno explained the business and meaning behind this foundation, where she works to allow young women in disadvantaged families to go to school. Additionally, they mentor them, walk with them, and make them strong. Cari Shein, in charge of the US team for Rusalia, shortly joined Dr. Otieno to describe her work raising funds and awareness for the organization in Kenya. Through the power of the dollar, we have the capacity of making a significant difference.
In the Q&A portion of the virtual event, Dr. Otieno answered a wide range of questions, touching on topics such as the intersection between medicine and education as well as her vision for the growth of Rusalia. Dr. Otieno stated that you cannot just treat people without educating them on prevention, for communication bridges medicine and education. As for Rusalia, Dr. Otieno described her hopes and dreams, that they will be able to walk hand-in-hand with even more girls as they further their education. At the end of the discussion, Dr. Otieno echoed all of her previous thoughts, focusing specifically on the visible change we can bring to the world if we work collectively.
View the discussion recorded on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, with Chris Stevens and special guest Dr. Juliana Otieno.
Listen to the discussion wherever, whenever, on The ThinkND Podcast:
Part 1: The Art of Creating Renaissance
Register to participate in future discussions.