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Kisumu. One of the oldest settlements in Kenya. The port city is the country’s third largest metropolis with a population of about 450,000 people. The buzzing city is a major commercial centre and tourist destination, famed for its enchanting sunset and Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake after Lake Superior in North America.

The narrative goes that Nakuru, known for its dashing flamingos and once reputed to be East Africa’s cleanest town, is Kenya’s fourth largest city with a population of over 300,000 people.

But no. There’s another larger city in northeastern Kenya. Daadab.

Daadab refugee camp is statistically Kenya’s fourth largest “city” with over 350,000 inhabitants. And it has been in existence for just 14 years.

Unlike the older cities of Kisumu and Nakuru, Daadab is an open baking hot prison made of mud and sticks and tents in which people barely survive. It was initially meant to be a short-term haven for about 90,000 displaced persons at the height of the Somali civil war. Daadab has however morphed into a major town in which there’s a generation that knows no other place to call home.

Like Fatuma Omar.

Fatuma grew up in a one-room shack. She went to a makeshift school with bare classrooms and few books. She depended on monthly rations of maize, beans and cooking oil supplied by the World Food Program. Her father scraped and saved to buy Fatuma books, encouraging her to keep reading. In 2009, she sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and performed brilliantly, earning herself a scholarship to Kenya High School, one of the country’s most prestigious girls schools.

Fatuma scored an A- in the 2012 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education and in 2014 she took a flight to Canada to start her chemical engineering studies at the prestigious University of Toronto.

Fatuma would be expected to have limited her horizons, given her circumstances. Unfazed by the conditions around her, Fatuma has continued to set her eyes on the high peak of achievement. How does she do it?

I find at least five lessons from Fatuma’s life that can set us on the path of success in the midst of adversity:


  1. Stop making excuses. It’s true that we may sometimes find ourselves boxed in circumstances beyond our control. However, remaining there is a choice we make. And giving excuses only detains longer in the limited spaces.


  1. Listen to your voice. There will always be whispers that say, “Look at your circumstances,” “You don’t qualify,” “You’re not good enough,” “You’re not smart enough.” Shut out any negative chatter and practice positive self-talk. It sets in motion actions that bring greater rewards. Believe you can.


  1. Nurture supportive relationships. Family, friends, mentors, and accountability groups can serve as voices of reason and sources of emotional and social support. In life, you should never have to be alone.


  1. Just do it. Small but growing is better than big and stuck. Your ideas (even the small ones) put into action are far better than great deeds planned. Don’t ever wait for perfection. Instead, take action now… it is the only path to success.


  1. Never stop. Focus on worthy goals. Nothing concentrates the mind more than bold, purposeful goals. Find strength and endurance to pursue them. And keep pressing on.

Copyright ©2015 David Waweru. Photo credit: Copyright ©

David Waweru

Author David Waweru

Writer, entrepreneur, trainer and consultant. Founder of Booktalk Africa and Will to Win Global. Member of the UNESCO Expert Facility on the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Director at the Sports, Arts and Culture Sector Board, Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

More posts by David Waweru

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