When Jean Ayacko left Kenya at the age of 18, she was positive that she wanted to begin her adult life in America. She had attended Sony Primary School and had concluded her secondary education by graduating from The Kenya High School. After arriving in America, Ayacko was surprised to find that not all American cities resembled the bright lights and bustle of New York City. She found it refreshing and nostalgic to see acres of land, trees, and vegetation.
Relocating to a new country was exciting, but in retrospect she realized that she was restless and deluded by thinking she was a “grownup” when she was actually just a kid. However, her courage was evident in her determination to make a good life for herself and to stay the course even when the going was tough.
Because of financial help and encouragement from her parents, Jean graduated debt-free from college and is currently working as a charge nurse in a neurology unit. “I am a woman. I am an immigrant. I am black, and I have a foreign accent. Nevertheless, I got this position which means someone saw a promise in me and rewarded that,” Jean proudly explained.
Not only does she have a full-time job, but also she is an administrator for Kwitu, a group founded by her friend, Lilly Richards, in 2015. Lilly realized that many diaspora groups were run by men who were unable to address the vastly different issues that women face in diaspora. Kwitu was born out of her Lilly’s desire to fill the void that she was witnessing among Kenyan immigrant women. “When she asked me to be an administrator of the group, I was both honored and humbled,” Jean said.
Ayacko has found that life is what you make it, and many immigrants wouldn’t have achieved success without assistance or a mentor. Besides her parents, Ayacko named Oprah Winfrey as being one of the greatest influences in her life. She understands that in a capitalistic society, black women are as capable of becoming as successful as men. Jean had heard about Oprah’s background of poverty and how she started her career during a time when racism was a great barrier in America.
She could relate to Oprah’s appearance and was encouraged by it. “She is black. She has the black features that I have like a wide nose and a big behind,” she said. She understood that there was no room for insecurity about her appearance because God made her in His image which is perfect. Jean knew that Oprah had lost her job as a primetime newscaster, but that didn’t slow her down. Because Oprah was resilient and continued to chase her dreams, Ayacko believed that nothing was impossible for her as well.
Although Jean Ayacko was driven to succeed in America, she had a few setbacks along the way. She explained that her lowest moment was in 2011 when she was admitted to the hospital for a week with a serious illness. Due to her inability to work during a three-month recovery period, she lost her job, her car-which was repossessed-and was facing eviction from her dwelling. But her faith in God pulled her through, and she was able to witness about His loving care for her. “He replaced everything I had lost. I got a bigger, better apartment, a better job, a better car, and more importantly I got my health back. I will never take my health for granted again,” she said.
When it comes to politics in America, Jean sees herself as a conservative Democrat. Because Africans in Kenya are conservatives, she is able to relate to many of the Republican principles. Nevertheless, she is concerned about the anti-illegal immigrant image that she believes the Republicans have built. Jean reckons that doesn’t sit well with the majority of immigrants. She is also concerned that the Republicans reward the rich by giving them the majority of the tax breaks. She feels that President Trump should not overtax the working class or overturn Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
All of her experiences to this point have culminated in her desire to help other female diasporans. Through Kwitu, she has also become the Director of Charity. She is proud of their many departments which range from assistance for domestic violence to working on affairs of the state. One of the goals of Kwitu is to have state representatives in all 50 states. So far they have 25 state representatives which means the organization is able to reach more women at the state level. Jean explained that it is like a devolved government which provides an easier way for them to delegate issues and for the leadership to be felt locally. “If we had a Kenyan woman with a problem in California, we would have to sit down and figure out what to do. Now we collaborate with the state representatives by calling them and asking them to handle that particular crisis,” she explained.
Kwitu continues to grow and has yearly reunions in various states across the country. This past year their reunion was held in Atlanta. They voted to determine which state will host the next reunion, and California won the vote. At these reunions, they are able to discuss projects like their current one regarding four adopted Maasai children. They are putting them through school and providing all of their needs. Kwitu is closely connected to Apuoyo Biggy to whom they have previously collaborated with in a number of projects. Besides the aforementioned projects, Jean explained that there are so many needs she wouldn’t have time to list them all.
Ayacko has made a good life for herself in America, but when asked if she misses Kenya she said, “East or West, home is best. The authentic food, the fresh air in the village, the easy life without any worries and having my family around me is what I miss.” She explained that in Kenya one can survive without having to work, and that somehow, she would still be okay. Comparatively speaking, she mentioned that there was always a thriving social life with so much to do every day, while in the US it is mainly about going to work and paying bills.
Although that may be true, Jean is proud of her many accomplishments for herself and for her ability to assist her fellow female diasporans.