Williter Chesang, ME to WE Seasonal Facilitator in Kenya
At 14, Williter Chesang ran away from her home in rural Kenya to escape being circumcised. Her father wanted her to be married, but she’d just finished her Grade 8 exams and hoped her results were good enough to be accepted to high school.
On the day of Williter’s circumcision she was asked to get water. She walked to the river with the jerrycan, but instead of fetching water she swam across the river. She didn’t look back.
She lived in the forest for two months, surviving off fruits and plants. Eventually, a woman gathering firewood found Williter and gave her food and shelter. But the woman’s husband drank, and Williter left.
Another kind woman took her in and gave her 500 Kenyan shillings ($5 USD) to go to town and buy some new clothes.
Instead, Williter spent all her money at a tiny cyber café. Her exam results were online. Even though she didn’t have any way of going to high school, she wanted to know her marks.
She had done well. Outstanding, in fact
“I went crazy in that cyber café,” Williter recounts. “You can imagine what my hair and clothes looked like. And people were like, ‘Are you serious with your results?’”
Williter’s triumphant shouts soon turned to tears when reality came crashing down — she had no way to apply to high school. And then a third stranger intervened. “He said, ‘Why are you crying? I think you can get help.’ He told me about Kisaruni—that a new all-girls’ high school was going to open—and gave me the fare to get there.”
Williter never saw any of those kind strangers again. But, as the man suggested, she traveled 1.5 hours by motorbike to Kisaruni and asked to speak to the principal.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Williter became part of Kisaruni’s inaugural class.
Today, the 21-year-old is a part-time facilitator with ME to WE in Kenya and a full-time student working toward a bachelor of science in tourism management at the University of Mombasa.
Her journey is nothing short of extraordinary. And her dad is now a strong supporter of girls’ education—he came around as he saw her excelling during her four years at Kisaruni.
WE sat down with Williter to talk to her about those early days, and why she wanted to work with WE as a facilitator after graduating from Kisaruni.
Question and Answer
Why did you run away from home when you were 14?
What happened is that I finished my Kenya National Examination [Grade 8] and after the examination, before we found out our marks, there is a holiday. During this time of holiday there are many ceremonies happening. My dad really wanted me to get circumcised, but I didn’t want myself to undergo that because then I wouldn’t be able to keep going to school. The only option was for me to run away from home. My dad was not supportive of me going to high school. He wanted me to get circumcised and married. But that’s not what I wanted. I told my mummy, and my mummy was so supportive of me. I still remember the day, everyone came to our compound to witness [the circumcision ceremony]. But I still did not want to get circumcised, and my mom said you have to go away, you have to get away then.
You really took your education into your own hands. Tell us what happened when you decided to just show up at Kisaruni’s gate. What happened at that meeting?
I went to the principal’s office and when I opened the office door I saw this wonderful lady, Madam Carol. To be honest, I always imagined myself looking the way she does. And I had just come from living in the jungle so you can imagine how I looked. I looked at her and I started crying, because she was what I wanted to be. She stood up from her chair and she hugged me, and it was like, warmth, and I felt the warmth of a mama. I didn’t know how to speak Swahili or English, at the time. I was speaking Kipsigis. So I brought out my results and showed them to her, and when she looked at my results she smiled, and I thought, yes.
Why did you want to become a ME to WE facilitator?
There are a couple of reasons. I have always been passionate about doing stuff dealing with tourism, because after I finished my Grade 12 I realized I was really good with public speaking and I can really interact well with people. Working with WE is awesome, because it’s one way for me to give back to my community and appreciate the WE organization for what they have done for me—going through high school with their support. I really feel honored and really want to appreciate what they’ve done for me.
What do you want to do after graduating from university?
I would really like to still work closely with WE. My heart is in the organization, because it is the organization that deals with helping people across the world, and my heart and desire is to help people. Working with WE helps me to achieve my dream to touch people’s hearts and give back.
This interview has been condensed and edited.