Dubai: World's best nurse from Kenya is only woman in her village to graduate college

After escaping forced marriage at 14, Anna Qabale Duba beat 24,000 nominees to become the first recipient of Aster Guardians Global Nursing Award



KT photo/ Rahul Gajjar
KT photo/ Rahul Gajjar
by

Dhanusha Gokulan

Published: Wed 18 May 2022, 6:06 PM

Kenyan nurse, gender justice champion and educationist Anna Qabale Duba wears several hats. After being crowned the first-ever world’s best nurse at the maiden edition of the Aster Guardians Global Nursing Award, Anna revealed she was the first girl among 19 children in her family to attend school.

Moreover, the mother of two is the first female college graduate in her community. Duba has won beauty pageants, was crowned Miss Kenya Peace and Investment and is the founder of the Qabale Duba Foundation in Keyna.

The foundation employs 12 women, and since Duba is a keen believer in the power of education, her foundation imparts knowledge to 160 children and 70 adult learners. Adding to her list of achievements, her foundation also has championed cultural evils such as female genital mutilation and early marriage. She was also recognised as one of the Top 100 most influential young Africans in 2020.

Anna herself escaped forced marriage at the age of 14. Despite the illustrious list of achievements, when Anna was crowned the world’s best nurse, she fought back the tears of joy.

She said, “Growing up in a rural village in Kenya, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be celebrated on a global platform such as the Aster Guardians Global Nursing Award.”

She called her win - ‘a win for Africa and a win for all the women and girls across rural Africa.

She told Khaleej Times, “Women go through many hardships, especially in countries where the female empowerment movement does not exist or is in its nascent stages. I come from a village where I am the first graduate girl, and I am who I am today because I am educated.”

Commenting on why she decided to launch a foundation for women and children, Anna said she decided to go back home and empower the girls in her village after realising only education can truly empower women.

“I am running a school not just for kids, it’s for mothers and other women. We often give children homework to do, and they come back with blank notebooks because they do not have anyone to help them at home. Most mothers in rural areas could not read or write,” Duba explained.

The social activist possesses an intense desire to change the status of women in her community. “If I hadn’t received an education, I would be just like these mothers – married off at a young age, unable to read, write and comprehend. Since mothers are always with their kids, I decided to incorporate adult learning sessions at the school,” she added.

At age 14, Duba’s father insisted that she get married. “I was engaged to an unknown man without my knowledge. However, it was my mother who saved me. I cannot thank her enough for insisting that I continue my education instead of marrying young.”

Dubai, a native of Marsabit County in Kenya that borders Ethiopia, was born to parents belonging to a pastoralist community. “Members of our community would travel from one place to another searching for pasture and water for their livestock,” she explained.

“I am the youngest among 19 children. We had boys in the family who received an education; however, I am the only girl in my family who went to school. I was not special compared to my other sisters. My parents began recognising the importance of sending girls to school around the time I was born,” she added.

Although her family was living in a settlement, Duba found opportunities that helped her cause. The journey was not easy. “Girls in our community do not stay unmarried for long. They are married off maximum by the age of 18. Even 18 is considered too late,” explained Duba, who married at 26, which is very uncommon in her community.

“In our system, we have elementary and secondary school till Grade 8, followed by high school. I completed nursing studies at an undergraduate level, and now, I’m finalising my Master’s degree in field epidemiology,” she stated.

"I won the Miss Tourism title with my fame – wanted to give back to the community – sanitary pads, underwear for women, champion against cultural evils like FGM."

Why nursing? For Anna, this was a choice that came most naturally to her. “From my childhood, I have wanted to help people in need. I confined myself to doing charity work and helping people. It describes my passion for helping people in the best way,” she added.

Commenting on why she chose to compete in beauty pageants, she said, “That’s something which happened when I was at university. I was a student leader and the general secretary of the Kenya Middle East University from 2011-2012, this allowed me to understand what leadership was.”

She added, “Around that time, there was a nationwide competition where women were invited from every county in Kenya to compete. There are 47 counties in the country, and I gave it a try. I won from my county, and we were competing for four national awards. I won two out of 4 and made it to second place. I won the Miss Tourism title.”

After winning the competition, she began going to community work by giving sanitary pads and underwear to women. “I was part of the group that launched campaigns against female genital mutilation and early marriage. After handing over the crown, I realised I wanted to continue doing the work. That is how I established my foundation,” she added.

The Qabale Duba Foundation (QDF) is a community organisation that champions the right of girls and women in northern Kenya. The foundation aims to promote the development of pastoralist communities by facilitating their access to education, health, social services, and economic empowerment.

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The foundation has five major programmes, including the Pads and Pants (PAPA) project, which helps girls in rural villages have access to sanitary pads and panties to prevent them from missing classes or dropping out of school due to the lack of these necessities. The second one is a Mentorship Programme – where motivational speakers talk to girls and help empower them.

The foundation also has maternal health and safe motherhood programmes, a division that fights against early marriage and female genital mutilation, and several peace initiatives. “Now that I have won this money thanks to the Aster Guardian's Award, I want to set up a maternity shelter for pregnant women and expand the scope of our foundation,” she stated. Anna added, "My husband has been incredibly supportive, and I want to give my children - Hirkena and Helena - the very best in terms of education."


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