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A Beautiful Thing Happened When I Set Foot in Africa: My Story From the Netherlands to Kenya

Marianne Verrijt. Photo credits: Sherie Ngigi

My name is Marianne Verrijt. I’m Dutch. During the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya, I was in the country. I was working for an NGO called Relief Foundation. My colleagues and I received death threats. I wouldn’t do so well if I attempted to begin telling you how scared we were. And how ugly that was. When someone, an unseen person, threatens to kill you, even the soughing of wind against your window jars you. You keep looking over your shoulder. You’re alert, all the time, scared that harm may come your way, from any direction, at any time. Now, that’s not a great way to live. The headlines of violence sliding across the chyron on the television during news broadcasts didn’t make it any easier. Neighbour turned on neighbour and hacked them to death. Friend set ablaze friend’s house.

Oh, how the line between peace and violence is thin. Like a toss of the coin, everything was suddenly uncertain.

But the threats, the violence, the cruelty all served to strengthen my bond with the country. Now, I run Kuunganisha Training and Coaching Ltd, a coaching company that helps people transform to their absolute best. Kuunganisha, a name chipped out from Swahili, won my heart because it translates to bringing together, or fostering connection. I am all about connection.

I am the founding chair of the Kenyan Association of NLP. I am married to a great Kenyan man, Onyango, a talented visual artist who has taught me a lot about life.

But first, pull a chair into my world and get ensconced in it. Let’s band together, for my story. Everyone has a story, and every story has a place where it starts. This is my story. And I hope to airlift your mind, to where it all began.

A farmer’s daughter who was different from other kids

I’m a farmer’s daughter who grew up on a farm, somewhere in the Netherlands. The farm sat on a piece of land far away from the town. As if someone hurled it there. The location ensured that I was separated from the kind of life other kids led. That made me different— in the way I carried myself around at school, and how I perceived things. I’ll get to that in a few.

From the farm— my parent’s farm— I could see a vast landscape, as far as my line of sight could stretch to. That instilled into me a sense of freedom. If I was free to see as far as my eyes could, then that was how I wanted to grow up and live: free to be me.

When I started school, I became the kid who stood out for being different. The purple bird in a sky of red ones. I dressed however I wanted, something the rest of the kids interpreted as a drab, unhealthy sense of fashion. While every other kid wanted to play the piano, or guitar, or flute; I chose the harp. This made other kids unload tons of bullying on me. Conformity is celebrated, you see. But when you decide to go against the grain and be you, some people take offense. And with bullying, that’s how they responded to my uniqueness.

But all this trained me into becoming who I am today, a woman who can and does stand up for herself. If you forget everything I say, please remember this: Everybody should be who they are, unapologetically, with or without judgment. Go on and be yourself. Life isn’t a movie scene where your performance must impress the director. Your life is your story. And you must own it, and live it, your way.

Everybody should be who they are, unapologetically, with or without judgment. Go on and be yourself. Click To Tweet

Since the age of 4, I had developed a desire to play the harp. My parents had noticed this unique interest and had responded by encouraging me, showing me that yes, I could.

Working for a Dutch NGO, and my first visit to Africa

I would later on in life play as a concert harpist. An amateur. I played the harp and entertained audiences, but then something was still missing. A community worker by profession, I felt that this didn’t cut it for me. My heart desired something more, in a space where I could serve humanity.

I started working for a Dutch NGO, with the youth and the gypsy community. And then in 1999, the bells of change tolled, ushering me into my first visit to Africa. I took a flight to South Africa, still working with the Dutch NGO. My ex-husband was working in S.A. then.

Something beautiful happened when I set foot in Africa

I’ve been to many places, but none like Africa. Like a mantel fire pit warming up a house in winter, Africa warmed my heart. Something beautiful happened from within when I set foot in Africa. I don’t know what, but there’s something about Africa that lets me be.

Something that gives me the power to be myself. I could hazard a guess and say that it’s because Africans are good at being themselves, but I’d be lying if I said that I know what this something is. Africa teaches me a lot. I acknowledge the beauty and wisdom of Africa. The media has done an impeccable job at painting the ugly stories about this continent, and now more than ever, someone needs to tell the beautiful story of Africa. The continent has brought so much beauty to whom I am.

Also read: Volunteering Never Changed Me, Kenya Did

Discovering Kenya and starting Kuunganisha Training and Coaching Ltd

In the year 2003, I made my first trip to Kenya. Oh, Kenya, how you stole my heart. I kept moving back and forth between Kenya and the Netherlands. Currently, my friends from the Netherlands tell me that I have been assimilated and I am now more Kenyan. And all the times they tell me this, we chortle in joy. Deep down I know that they are right. I have become one with Kenyans.

And then came the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya. Oh, that shook me. Why would people who were friends one night wake up the next dawn and wage war on each other? I moved back to the Netherlands for a while, emotionally troubled. This, however, couldn’t extinguish my love for Kenya.

In 2012 I quit my job and also divorced after my marriage didn’t work. I packed two suitcases and set off for Kenya. With two suitcases dragging behind me and two kids in my heart, I left for Kenya. My two kids remained with their dad. I would later meet and fall in love with my husband Onyango, famously known as Onyis Martin, with whom I have one kid. The following year, in 2013, I started Kuunganisha Training and Coaching Ltd in Kenya. Kuunganisha had been running in the Netherlands since 2009. I coach systemic work and family constellations. I also do NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) coaching, predominantly training NLP life coaches and family constellation facilitators. I’m proud to be a woman who runs two businesses on two continents.

Why I chose a Swahili word for my company’s name

The name Kuunganisha inspired laughter in some people. What the hell? Why would you call your company that? But I didn’t care. That couldn’t stop me. You see, as long as you are deeply convicted and you know what you are going for, you must shut out all other noises. I was starting a business in Kenya, with my main goal being to inspire connection, and therefore I went for a Swahili name. To get more local. Neuro-linguistic Programming is common in western countries, and I asked myself; why not Kenya? Africa must believe that her redemption isn’t out there, it’s right in her, with her.

My life’s work and what we do at Kuunganisha

We help people connect with themselves, through NLP. Our passion stems from the ingrained belief that if you can connect with yourself, you can connect with others. People need to start finding answers from within. We also train facilitators to train others and that way we expand our reach.

At Kuunganisha, we also do coaching for communities, and I am happy that our arm called Kuunganisha Love stepped in to offer therapy sessions to some victims of the Dusit attack that happened in Kenya, 2019, perpetrated by dastard terrorists. Serving the community is at the heart of our mission, and we are open to partnerships with organizations. We have previously partnered with organizations in the areas of teenage pregnancies, mentorship through talents in dancing, and we have worked with teachers in slums.

Also read: Cooper Rust on Using Your Gifts to Empower Others

Have I been criticized for my decision to work in Africa? Yes. I’m that wolf that soldiers on despite the arrows shot at me, tearing into my skin. One major arrow that hit me, was negative criticism after my story was featured in a Dutch magazine. In just a few hours of publishing, I was trending for all the wrong reasons, scathing remarks pasted on me.

But life has taught me to develop a thick skin. I know my mission. I know what makes my heart sing. I know what drives me. And I won’t let anything, or anyone, kneecap my resolve.
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As narrated to Lesalon Kasaine

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Marianne is the only IANLP (International Association for Neuro-linguistic Programming) certified NLP trainer, in Africa. Find out more about her company Kuunganisha, and her work, by clicking here.

 

Lesalon Kasaine
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Everybody should be who they are, unapologetically, with or without judgment. Go on and be yourself. Life isn't a movie scene where your performance must impress the director. Your life is your story. And you must own it, and live it, your way. 

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