Catherine Cherop does not allow the social construction of society’s life to intimidate her. Instead, she has defied these societal odds to become what she always desired to be — a people’s servant.
She bravely sought and took over the role of village elder in the volatile Burnt Forest area, a seat traditionally reserved for old men in the community.
Cherop, 41, had a choice to claim her place of honour in the kitchen, ensuring the family’s meals are tasty and worrying about other stereotyped domestic duties that are designated for women in her community.
However, her determination and resilience has seen her assume duties meant for men and competes with them equally.
When the Provincial Administration advertised a vacant position within its ranks, Cherop took a step least expected of women and applied for the job despite the advert sounding masculine — Village Elder.
She beat several other applicants after she was interviewed and was picked as village elder for Kipkaren in Tarakwa location of Wareng District, Uasin Gishu County.
Unlike in the past when a woman who dared apply for such a duty would be dismissed for a joke, Cherop competed.
"It was last May when I saw an advertised post of a village elder pasted on a notice board in a government office. I immediately decided to apply for it because for long, women have been left out in such public opportunities," recalls Cherop.
As a village elder she doesn’t get paid. The work is voluntary but she wanted to give it a shot, probably as a stepping stone to other more lucrative roles.
So when she was called to be told her application was successful, she received the good news with happiness and awe.
"I feared that the responsibilities before me would be tough. But I have since found the job both challenging and really exciting," she says.
Those first days in the elder’s office were tough, explains Cherop, as many villagers, both men and women, were not receptive to having a woman elder.
"Some residents were unsure about my ability to administer their issues as a woman. But they are now supportive."
The Standard recently met Cherop addressing a public baraza near Kondoo police station in Kipkaren village, her area of jurisdiction.
Her voice was firm as she articulated her expectations of her people. She stressed the importance of having peace and why it was necessary for them to live in harmony.
As an elder, her responsibilities range from conflict resolution, peace building and talking to residents about development issues to being the Government’s agent at the village level.
At the baraza, she gave out certificates to residents who had taken a course on modern techniques of dairy farming to boost their livelihoods.
The course, facilitated by Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Anglican Church of Kenya held in Naivasha, was aimed at fostering reconciliation among communities in the area that suffered after the 2007 General Election.
Members from the warring communities were trained to cement their relationship and also bolster food security.
The new village elder speaks fluent Kalenjin, Kikuyu and Kiswahili, languages that enable her dispense her work with ease as the Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities are the majority in the cosmopolitan Kondoo area.
These two communities were also the main rivals during the post-election violence in Burnt Forest.
During public forums, Cherop effectively passes messages to the two communities by switching languages easily to suit a specific group.
At any of her public barazas, which are held regularly, Cherop allows residents to air their grievances freely. These are then resolved communally.
"In my administrative work, we do not favour anyone or group but follow the law and give a fair solution," she says.
Cherop says whenever parties are dissatisfied, interventions are sought from the assistant chief or the chief.
Unlike chiefs and assistant chiefs, village elders have no offices and their meetings are held in an open area and those in attendance sit on stones or stumps of trees.
"Sometimes when there are cases that require privacy, the arbitration meetings are held at the homes of aggrieved parties."
During the public forums, Cherop ensures villagers learn about benefits of education, security issues and best agriculture practices.
The elder works with zeal, balancing her time well between work and private matters.
"I wake up early, do my domestic duties before taking care of community work," says the single mother of five children who also lives with her grandmother.
They rely on her for food, clothing and education, among other needs. So far, she has successfully managed to carry out her voluntary work to end family feuds, improve security and influence development.
Cherop is among 42 other village elders in the expanded Tarakwa location in Burnt Forest Division.
Fast and effective
Limo Cheruiyot, a resident of Kipkaren village, says Cherop set a good precedence for women by applying for the post of village elder.
"Our Constitution has now opened more opportunities for women and we urge them to take up public positions," says Cheruiyot.
Mzee Njuguna Kaginya says despite being a woman, Cherop deals with issues in the village fast and effectively.
"Even when she is called at night, she ensures the matter is addressed early enough and in a fair manner. She does not take any sides," says Kaginya.
He adds: "Although a police station is at our doorstep, we solve many of our grievances amicably at village level without going to the police."
Florah Owino says all communities are coexisting peacefully in the area because of Cherop’s good leadership in collaboration with other leaders.