Shatter that glass ceiling; nothing is impossible; nothing should stop you.
Against the odds, Dr. Purity Ngina made history by becoming Kenya’s youngest PhD holder in Biomathematics at 28 years of age. The warm and bubbly academic has had a remarkable second act which on the surface appeared to be an opportunity to pass a previously failed exam but on a deeper level came down to a shot at becoming who she was born to be. Armed with a vision and a can do spirit, Purity has navigated her way in the world of academia to become a lecturer of Calculus to students pursuing Actuarial Science, Financial Engineering and Financial Economics at Strathmore University. Before joining Strathmore Dr. Ngina was a part time lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at Egerton University and at Jomo Kenyatta University. The 29 year old talks to Damaris Agweyu about her journey and how she is using her story to help others rewrite theirs.
Purity, tell me your story
I was born in a village called Mbiriri in Nyeri county. I am the last born in a family of 2 and was raised by a single mother who worked as a casual labourer. As a child, I remember fetching water from River Sagana, which was at least 3 kilometers from our home. Sometimes, we did not know where our next meal would come from. Despite passing his KCPE exams with 366 out of 500 marks, my brother didn’t go to high school; my mother couldn’t afford the fees. By the time I was completing primary school, there was nothing to motivate me in life. Why put in the work at school after having seen what had happened with my brother? And given the fact that I was a girl, what chance did I even have? When I finished class 8, I got 235 out of 500 marks. I saw myself getting married to someone in my village or, at best, going to work in people’s shambas (farms) and getting some food in exchange for work- because that was what people living around me did.
But my mum knew and believed in the importance of education, she just lacked the resources to make it happen. In 2002 the Kibaki Government introduced free primary education and this gave us hope. Mum insisted that I go back to school and repeat my final year. She promised me that if I passed, she would find a way to pay for my high school education. There is something about having a parent make a promise like that. She had taken care of me for this long so surely she was going to do this. I could see the love she had for my brother and I, I could see how she was struggling for us and how it pained her not be able to provide for us financially.
In 2003, despite thinking I was a failure who no good could come out of, I re-sat my KCPE exams and passed with 369 marks out of 500. I got a letter to join Tumu Tumu Girls High School and sure enough, there was no money to cater for the fees. I stayed home for the first month as we looked at our options. Mum had no money but she had made a promise-and she had a cow, our only source of income; we called her Wanja. Mum had to sell Wanja. She got enough money for school fees and nothing else. We went to my late aunt’s place to borrow some shoes because up until then, I had never owned a pair of shoes. I ended up using my cousin Grace’s shoes and the other day we were reminiscing our past and she was asked me, ‘How did you manage to walk in those shoes? They didn’t even fit you!’. Miraculously I managed to use her shoes for the next 3 years.
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