When she stepped off the plane in September 2018, Esther Wainaina had never been to Canada.
She travelled more than 12,000 km from Kenya to enrol in Brock University’s Masters Preparation Certificate in Education (MPCE) program in pursuit of a new career developing labour and education policy. On Wednesday, June 12, she graduated from the program during the Faculty of Education Convocation ceremony.
Like many of her classmates, Wainaina has had to adjust to a foreign culture and a new academic program, not to mention the Canadian winter.
But unlike many of her peers, she also has had to balance being a full-time MPCE student with the day-to-day care of her three children while her husband remained in Kenya to work.
“To be honest, I underestimated the challenge,” Wainaina said of the family’s transition to Canada, which she chose because of the quality of education it offered her and the quality of life it offered her family.
Ranging in age from four to 14, the children joined her in Canada in November 2018 once her eldest daughter had completed Kenya’s exit exam for elementary school students.
Since then, Wainaina has juggled childcare issues, classes, assignments, homesickness and ensuring her children adapt to a different education system while keeping up their fluency in Swahili at home.
In the midst of her parental responsibilities, Wainaina successfully completed the MPCE program, even receiving the Emerging Entrants Award.
While being recognized for her potential has been meaningful and encouraging, she says her biggest motivation is her children.
“Being a mother, I really want to set an example for them. I feel if I fail, my kids will fail here, and that’s not what we came here for. I want them to see that you can do it. You can take on the challenges,” she said.
Wainaina has always been driven to overcome obstacles and further her education. Her parents, who were unable to attend college or university, instilled the value of post-secondary education in their children.
After studying administration and secretarial science at a trades college, Wainaina began working for a company in the aviation industry, moving on to new roles with her employer as her skills grew.
While working full time and raising her children, Wainaina completed a BA in International Relations and an MBA with a concentration in human resources at the United States International University – Africa.
Her career includes more than a decade in human resources and she has most recently worked as a human resources consultant.
During her time in HR, Wainaina came to realize there was a gap between the needs of businesses and the skills of students graduating from secondary and post-secondary education.
“For me to be of service, I would also need to go back and address the education processes,” said Wainaina of her interest in labour supply and demand. “In developing countries like Kenya, students come out unprepared.”
She will continue to explore these issues through Brock’s Master of Education (MEd) program offered by the Faculty of Education, where she will specialize in the social and cultural contexts of education.
“I want my research to help me link education and business and now bring in the social aspects,” she said.
She believes it’s important to consider the social and cultural contexts of workers and organizations when looking at ways to help both groups succeed.
For Wainaina, education is a platform that can be leveraged to improve the lives of her fellow Kenyans. After a few years gaining experience in Canada, she plans to return to her homeland. Her dream job would be to work in government, where she could contribute to education and workforce policies that build up communities.
“There’s a saying in our mother tongue that you’d rather strive to be the head of a chicken than the tail of an elephant. Here, I’d be the tail of an elephant and wouldn’t make much impact. Back home, I’m the head of the chicken, regardless of the size, and contributing to our own destiny,” said Wainaina of her plans for the future.
“I feel in life, you’re lifted in order to lift others.”