I will do my best to pay it forward: Diana’s story
By Diana Wangechi
Before joining the Aiducation program in Kenya I didn't know much about Switzerland. Neither did it ever crossed my mind that one day I would be visiting this beautiful country. However, as a result of attending several Swiss Re academies, I met with a lot of interesting people and got to learn more about different cultures, which ignited my desire to see the world, their world.
On the 25th of November, my plane landed at Zurich airport, which felt like a dream come true. A small-town girl from Kenya was for the very first time outside her country and continent. It was a thrilling and exciting experience, which felt like magic! Despite the long flight, I did not feel jet-lagged, which was the clear indication of excitement to what was going to happen.
Upon arrival in Zurich, I visited the Aiducation Office, where I met with some of the amazing team members, such as Mauro, Amelia, Andrea, and Nicki. They were all equally eager to make sure that I had full opportunity to experience Switzerland by the end of my trip. Later that day I left Zurich for Basel where I spent my first weekend together with Florian, the CEO of Aiducation and his family. Over the weekend we prepared together for the upcoming Basel and Zurich Impact Dinners.
At this point, the weather started to change significantly. I felt ice cold, even though it was only Autumn and as my hosts explain the temperature was expected to get much lower during the winter. This was not the usual tropical weather to which I was accustomed in Kenya. Gladly my hosts provided me as much warm cloth as needed to keep me warm.
During my stay in Basel, I visited the Kiwanis Club where I did my first presentation. I also went to explore a southwest German town called Lörrach near the Swiss-German border. However, the highlight of my stay in Basel was the Impact Dinner where I had my first opportunity to meet with some of the generous people who had provided financial support for youth in Kenya and thus, made a significant contribution to our lives.
By the time I went back to Zurich, I was already well adjusted to the transport system in Switzerland and could comfortably commute on my own. I took walks along the calm Limmat river and explored the serene old town of Zurich, where the smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the cold air. Given the amount of cheese and Rivella, I was consuming one could say that I was becoming more and more Swiss.
Another interesting meeting I had in Zurich was with Richard Diethelm who is a very dedicated supporter of Aiducation particularly through mentoring and the academy programs. He asked me very important questions, which made me realize that he was as much interested in Aiducation as he was curious. It was a trait I would easily associate with his long-standing career as a successful journalist. He's currently part of Christa foundation who similar to Aiducation, supports financially needy children and orphan or half-orphan children in African.
Yet another monumental part of my visit to Zurich was attending the Swiss Re Townhall. In front of familiar faces of mentors and Swiss Re employees in Zurich, as well as those joining us through Skype, I made a presentation on the extent of the impact of the Swiss Re academies on me and on fellow participants. Nerve racking as holding the presentation was, my speech came out easily. Perhaps because I was speaking from my heart, sharing the experience that shifted the very core of my being. Swiss Re mentorship programs could not be compared to anything else due to its professional and personal touch. It is the simple things like one on one conversations between people from opposite world's and cultures that cause the ripple effect towards nation building. I'm glad I had a chance to let the Swiss Re mentors know the impact they bring to the young talents in Kenya.
I also had the privilege to meet with school pupils between the age of 13 and 14 in Zurich. It brought me close to tears to hear them talk so passionately about how they would mow lawns and wash their neighbors’ cars, play instruments by the lake side, or participate in bake sales all in an effort to raise money to educate someone like me. They could choose to be normal kids and spend their holidays doing what kids do, but instead, they chose to help us. Now that I am over three thousand miles away from them, I still think about these children. I remain grateful and humble and will do my best to pay it forward whenever I can.
The culmination of my visit was the Zurich Impact Dinner. It was a culmination of the joyful faces of the guests, inspiring presentation of Ms Mueller Mohl, or perhaps the fact that the event was held in ETH, in one of the best universities in the region that made the event unforgettable for me.
Most importantly by the end of the dinner, a number of young lives have been significantly changed thanks to the amazing guests who decided to become our scholarship sponsors. Last but not least - the tombola! The tombola was also a lot of fun especially since I managed to pick out a number of winning tickets and was able to return home full of Swiss made presents.
To cap it all off, it’s been a week now that I am back in Kenya and I can't help but pause and reminisce as I write this blog. Switzerland is beautiful. I have learned a lot during my stay and have developed some good habits which made me a better person. I also met with the most amazing people, Alice and Michel, my hosts, who received me wholeheartedly in their home. The team members from the Aiducation who were always ready to take me around the city and answer my curious questions. Andri Silberschmidt, the young politician who is now our ambassador. Sunny Groeneveld, a nice young lady whose life story is a lot like mine, is a depiction of how dreams do come true if you keep working hard. Kristin and Florian Kapitze together with their kids, who made me fall in love with Swiss culture and cuisine. I hope these new friendships will last forever and sometime soon I will get another opportunity to visit the home of the beautiful Alps.
Diana Wangechi is AiduAlumna from Kenya.