By Jane Okoth
If you happen to pass by Wildlife Works’ organic greenhouses, chances are that you will notice Janet Elina Wanjala. The shy petite woman is always busy; if she is not taking care of the tree seedlings, or harvesting jojoba seeds, she is packing the soil into the potting bags.
Janet’s day begins with a 2-hour walk from her home to Wildlife Works, ready to commence her usual duties. On this particular day, she is helping out peeling the mango seeds for drying and replantation. “I take my work seriously, with much dedication and hard work because I find morale and stimulation in it,” she says. According to Willy Kanyeki, the Greenhouse Supervisor, she is among the most hardworking greenhouse employees. “She is one of the most dependent employees who can perfectly fit in all aspects of the greenhouse’s areas of work,” he says.
It is this kind of commitment and hard work that has ensured Janet has kept working for Wildlife Works since 2011. But more than that, the 41-year-old single mother of 3 and grandmother of a 3-year-old has come a long way. The first born in a family of five, Janet grew up in a humble household in Marungu, an area in Taita Taveta County with a population of approximately 10,000 people. Her parents were both unemployed and were not able to provide for her and her siblings’ basic needs such as food and education. “I would stay out of school for up to a month at a time because we couldn’t pay the fees,” she recalls. This forced Janet to drop out of school when she reached the fourth grade. Janet was only 12 years old when the family suddenly lost her father, and life became even tougher. “My mother struggled for many years to put food on the table for me and my siblings. In order to escape our hardships, I somehow convinced myself that getting married was the only option,” she says. Getting married and having a child at a very young age of fifteen became a costly mistake, because her husband was unemployed and the young family struggled to survive. The worst was yet to come when she lost her husband when she was 16 years old, making her the family’s sole breadwinner. As a tradition in some Kenyan societies, Janet was married off to her late husband’s brother with whom she had two more children. Her second marriage did not work prompting Janet to part ways with her husband. As a single mother to now 3 children this was a difficult time, and Janet was forced to move her young family back to her mother’s home in 2000. “During that time, I had to do odd jobs like washing clothes and even working in small basic roadside cafes in order to provide for my children and get them to school,” she says.
She had reached a breaking point in 2011 when a friend informed her that there was a major recruitment at Wildlife Works. With her determination to succeed, she presented herself to the Wildlife Works offices seeking employment. “By that time I was desperate and ready to do any job. I had a conversation with the Human Resource Manager at Wildlife Works and explained my situation to him. After a week, I got a call and was immediately recruited to the organic greenhouse as a casual laborer,” she says. She was then introduced to Willy Kanyeki, the Greenhouse Supervisor who assigned her some duties at the greenhouse. Through determination and hard work, after 3 weeks of supervision from her superiors Janet was employed on a 3-month contract. “In 2012, my supervisors were impressed by my work and decided to hire me on permanent basis,” she states. “I was overjoyed” she adds.
From that day henceforth, her life has never been the same. Thanks to her job at Wildlife Works, Janet has been able to build a house and send her children to school. Janet is extremely grateful for the skills she has earned while working at Wildlife Works. “I love all aspects of my job. Thanks to my experience at the greenhouse, I have gained insightful skills like grafting and budding different plants, as well as planting tree seedlings. I have also learnt to appreciate Mother Nature and know the importance of taking care of trees,” she says.
Together with the team at Wildlife Works’ organic greenhouse, Janet helps to grow indigenous tree seedlings that are donated to the community to curb deforestation as well as test agricultural techniques for local growing conditions. She is able to earn enough money to support her 3 children and her mother who depend on her.
“My life has changed a lot since I joined Wildlife Works. Thanks to my job, I can now access necessary benefits like healthcare,” she says. After a hard day’s work, she will embark on a 2-hour walk in the company of her colleagues back to her home where household chores await her. At the moment, her goal is to ensure her youngest daughter, now aged 18 completes secondary education. “I want my children to have a better life. I wouldn’t want them to go through the same hardships as their mother,” she says.
Janet is thankful for the opportunity to work at Wildlife Works, but more so, we are grateful to have such hardworking employees like Janet and hope she continues to inspire others.