Reigning Miss Kakamega County Valentine Nekesa, 20, had just been crowned the winner when she added another feather to her cap: Safaricom’s Blaze – Be Your Own Boss champion, walking away with not just Sh5,000,000 but also life and business mentors to set her off on her dream of owning her own company.
Ironically, the business plan she put before the judges was from a trade she learned from her auntie, something that she probably wouldn’t have been doing had her life not taken a tragic turn when she was 12.
Valentine was born and bred in Ukunda by her mum. Although she’s always known her father, they are not close. Her mother had bought the house they were living in that was also fenced in, making them very tight-knit. She says this was a very fun period of her life. Her mother used this fun to motivate her school performance by threatening not to take her to certain festivities or places if her school reports weren’t up to par.
“If she wasn’t satisfied with what I brought she’d tell me, ‘No, have a good night’, and she was gone,” remembers Valentine.
This usually meant that her mother would not take her for music concerts or other fun events.
This ate her up, and she worked harder to ensure she achieved that satisfactory threshold that would allow her to accompany her mother to these fun events. Other students didn’t understand her urge to excel.
“I was obsessed with improving even when I was already performing well. I wasn’t as playful as most kids my age.”
In 2009, Valentine’s life as she knew it, would crumble. Her mother had always been asthmatic, but one day she got an extreme attack while in the house and was unfortunately not able to reach her inhaler.
She was rushed to the hospital where she spent a few days while her health stabilised. An aunt stayed with Valentine that weekend.
“We went to visit her that weekend and she even carried me on her back; she was strong and she could stand. She said she would be coming back home on Monday and I was excited. She said:
“I’m proud of you because you know how to live with people.”
I told her I didn’t understand what she meant and she simply responded, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ ” says Valentine.
That Monday, a day before sitting her end term exams, a friend of her mum’s came to pick her up from school
“She was standing near the administration’s office and I ran to her excitedly.”
“Where is mum?” she looked like someone who was worn out from crying. I yelled at her sternly and repeatedly, “Don’t tell me.”
“She came forward to hold me and that’s when it hit me that it had happened.”
She was devastated. Worse was when people were telling her death is a part of life thinking it would comfort her.
“I was only in Class Six and this was the only person I knew to lean and count on, and then you’re trying to tell me these things happen. I was trying to imagine where that was normal and who even let such things happen. How was I supposed to move on from that? I was really trying to understand why people were so okay, they had no clue about what I was going through that time. She knew she was going yet she fed me with hope that she was still going to be there at the hospital; then left me all alone.”
She cried so hard, feeling there was nothing left for her. She sat for exams without studying and still passed.
Her aunt sold the house to get funds to take the body to Kakamega while Valentine moved in with her as well as transferring to a school in Kakamega. Valentine asked her aunt to get her into Class Eight with her daughter in another school the following year instead of Class Seven.
She just wanted life to move on, but didn’t care much on the how. When the school asked for her previous reports, they claimed she had lost them with the move and sat for the interview, passing it.
Being an avid reader, Valentine had been reading the Class Seven syllabus while still in Class Six. She scored 382 in her KCPE examinations and joined Moi Girls School, Eldoret.
A TURNING POINT
Her aunt, seeing her determination, ensured she would get into the school and study without lack of fees and strived hard to get the finances required. This is where she found herself again.
“The Moi Girls fraternity is a family; everyone cared about everyone. They do birthdays for every student on Sundays at the school chapel, with a cake and card. I was dazzled. Random people, not necessarily from my form would come to me when I wanted to sit alone depressed to ask if I was okay and whether I needed someone to talk to. That woke me to the realisation that I still have to fulfil the dreams. That woke me to the realisation that I still have to fulfil the dreams I shared with mum and make her proud.” Her telling me at the hospital that I had made her proud as a daughter was a big deal to me because she was so hard to please.”
Her mother had always pushed her to improve and not just do the minimum best. She is now pursuing a Bachelor’s of Information and Technology at Mount Kenya University. She started creating fashion designs while in high school and this is what she presented during the Safaricom Blaze competition, becoming the competition’s first winner.
Her aunt, who’s a tailor, helped her perfect her skill, and her creativity saw her making outfits for many female customers who were looking for elegant evening wear for curvy women.
Her outfits have rocked the runways of different campus pageants as her name kept coming up from different participants who had their outfits made by her before.
Her dalliance with fashion also saw her crowned as Miss Kakamega County in December 2016.
From her aunt’s generosity she wants to be financially stable enough to give back to others. She still has moments where she sits somewhere and cries for her mother’s memory, but then picks herself right back up.
She plans to take VN Designs, her brand, to the world by showcasing in the national fashion shows and making more ready-for-market designs catering to plus size women. She’s also creating an online store for clients who cannot physically reach her from the knowledge she learned during the entrepreneurial competition.
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