There’s only one thing you must be if you want to succeed in any area of life; a hard worker. Hard work is the key to success – and Janet Mwelu has that in spades.
A native of Machakos Kenya, she came to the United States seventeen years ago. This Eddie Robinson quote describes her to a tee – “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential? These are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”
With her steadfast determination, she has unlocked many doors and hasn’t stopped yet. One door that she believes that you must open is the one to higher education. “Get your education if you can! No one can take your education away!” insisted Mwelu. She understands that there are no guarantees in life, but when competing for a particular job, a degree is a huge asset. One aspect of American culture that Janet appreciates is that no one is ever too old to attend school.
For Janet, leaving her son, Carlton, was the hardest decision she has ever had to make, however she wanted a better life for both of them. When she was offered that opportunity in America, she knew she had to take it. Leaving Kenya after graduating from Mombasa Polytechnic, her first experience in an American school was Saginaw State University in Michigan. Although she had financial hardships, she continued her education by transferring to Delta College, also in Michigan, and completed her degree as an LPN.
Janet realized that getting an education in America is very costly. She said that one has to pay almost three times as much for an education in the U.S. compared to Kenya. “In Kenya, one has to study four years of material to be able to sit for final exams, while in the states once you are done with a semester, you will never have to worry about its content again for future exams,” Janet explained. She likes the fact that anyone can work hard to get an online degree in America and that the hours in American schools are 8 a.m to 2 p.m. instead of the long Kenyan hours of 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.
When it comes to using your education to land a good job, Janet believes in having a passion for your work, being able to pay your bills, saving for retirement, and not being overworked with two or three jobs just to survive. She tells a compelling story about her niece, Diane, whose mother died when she was 6 years old after giving birth to her little brother, Isaac. Mwelu said, “She is fourteen now and although I am not there physically to see her grow, I have told her that education is the key to success.
It doesn’t matter how wealthy your parents are. I always tell her respect, hard work, and being obedient are virtues that are a must.” Even though Janet has left Kenya, she yearns for her countrymen to have better healthcare. With the skills she has acquired in school, she would teach them CPR. Mwelu explains that many in Kenya do not know this basic life saving technique, and it could help to save the lives that are lying in wait for transportation to a medical facility. Unfortunately, the ambulances have a hard time getting to the patients for lack of fuel.
Although Janet was laser focused on her education, she didn’t want to stay single forever. While attending school in Michigan, she met a West African who had been deployed to Iraq. Janet said, “I had expressed to him that I was looking for a boyfriend. He promised to introduce me to a military man when he went back to Iraq; little did I know he was serious. He hooked me up with Mr. Shaw in 2006. He visited me in Michigan on and off, and we finally married in September 2009; then we moved to FL.” She has been married to her loving Army veteran for 9 years, and they are currently living in a small countryside in Big Sandy, Texas. Her husband likes the country, but Janet is a city girl at heart. Having a strong marriage is important to her, and the divorce rate in America has been nothing short of a culture shock to her.
Not only did she marry an Army man, but she is also a Navy mom! Carlton her beloved son was able to join Janet in the states at age 16. He joined the Navy, completed his 4 years of service, and is now studying Nursing in San Mateo, CA. In talking about her son Janet says, “I wouldn’t say I raised a child, but I had a share in raising a 16 year old.” Her husband has been a role model not only to her son, but she says to her as well. “He put in 21 years in the Army working so hard across the globe, and even after his honorable discharge, he still wants to work. I want to be like him, I want to have that fulfillment that comes with knowing that “I gave it my all.”
One might wonder if people from other countries lose many aspects of their culture after being in America for many years. Janet believes that change is inevitable and has noticed that her biggest adaptation has been in becoming more accommodating to the cultural amalgamation in the U.S. Although Janet enjoys many things in America, there are days that she misses only working for 8 hours a day in Kenya and going for Choma every evening.
She misses having her weekends to herself, but she doesn’t miss the power rationing when there would be a blackout while she was watching her favorite show. She was also glad to leave behind the traffic and the feeling of fear when wearing her “bling bling” out in public. Becoming a responsible person with her finances and learning how to balance work, school and family life is the next area of growth and change that she has seen in her life. There is one aspect of her personality that hasn’t changed: her stubbornness. She has never been a quitter and has used that to her advantage in becoming one of the founders and board members of the fastest growing Sacco in the United States – The Kenya North American Diaspora Sacco (KNAD-S).
The Kenya North American Diaspora is different in each state. Some are more united while others are more independent. Janet explained, “I live in TX around DFW and Kenyans there are united and host many Kenyan functions: the Deer awards, Memorial Day events, Jamhuri Day, Mashujaa and many others. Unfortunately, we still have the mentality of uniting based on tribal lines, with the Kisii leading with the highest unity that I have observed, regardless of the state they live in. I have seen thousands of dollars being raised for weddings and funerals more than other tribes.”
When Janet was asked if she thought Kenyans in America would have a sense of entitlement and pride when they went back to Kenya she answered, “Yes and no.” She believes it depends on how successful you have been in the States. She said, “If one has nothing to show off he wouldn’t want to brag about it back home when he knows that he has not “made it” or “achieved the American dream.” Her opinion is to allow people the right to feel a sense of entitlement or pride in their accomplishments. Mwelu said, “Personally I wouldn’t be hurt if someone told me I was being proud.”
She is continuing her education in the Masters Program for Registered Nursing at the University of Texas Arlington. The list of her many achievements is long, but she humbly gives God all the glory:
- Board member and Co-founder of Kenya North America Diaspora SACCO (KNAD-S), a for-profit Women’s Sacco, and serves as Chair of the Vetting Committee, a member of the Loan/Credit Committee, and also a member of the Kenya USA Diaspora SACCO based in Atlanta Georgia.
- Member, and a DFW State Representative of the Kenya Women in the United States, (KWITU) Chapter, an NGO that connects, supports, and empowers Kenyan women living in US, by providing community support services to help those in need.