Margery belongs to the generation “that were going to change the world”. Back in the 60’s, as the first students of an independent Kenya they felt that they had a responsibility to those that followed. “We were not having political leaders coming to tell us who to elect… we were looking at what the government needed to be told.” As the first of 10 girls from her district to attend university Margery led the way for women, and she has dedicated her career to ensure that girls after her have received a quality education.
Two of a handful of markers that defined Margery from her childhood were her mixed background (her father was Kikuyu and her mother was part Masai ) and her father’s influence. Margery attributes both her schooling and her self confidence to her father. She describes him as “very democratic and liberated for his time. He was a great believer in education and a believer in girls”.
After her undergraduate degree at the University of Nairobi Margery won a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation to attend UCLA, she was the only woman in Kenya selected. However it was once she returned to Kenya that she found her life’s work.
As a child in Masai land Margery had watched as her “fantastic” headmistress battled for the first two weeks every term as she gathered up girl students from around the district. These were girls who had been given to husbands or who had undergone circumcision ceremonies during the holidays. Margery says “I didn’t really understand it at the time…all I understood was that I had classmates who had a hard time coming to school.” This situation continued to bother her and when she returned to Kenya she saw that the same problems remained. “I decided, now I am old enough I am going to do something about this…I can’t just complain”.
Margery began by looking at the existing cultural practices of the Masai, for traditions that could support their project. This was because “for a long time …we were in that mode of criticising…. At some point I figured…this isn’t working.” The result was a system which enabled her organisation Christian Children’s Fund to “book” girls for Primary school at a young age, some even at birth. This system bound the parents to their agreement and guaranteed that their daughters would not be married until they received their education. The school has now graduated 1000 girls and no father has withdrawn a single daughter from the institution.
As her work attests, Margery believes fundamentally in the power of educating girls. “It’s not a cliche” she says “if you educate a mother you educate three generations” and jokes that now, with one generation through school “our work is done”. Despite her words and now retired, Margery clearly is not done. She has just published a book Celebrating Friendship Among Women focusing on true connections between women. The sudden death of her husband drew so much support from the women around her that she wanted to explore the issue. She is also planning to embark on a new education project with a former teacher of hers.
A positive supporter of women of all ages, Margery has boldly shaped Nairobi and Kenya for far more than 3 generations to come.