Iladho Galgalo has a hard time whenever she organizes a trip to Marsabit with her colleagues from Safaricom.
There will be 15 of them looking to make the 12-hour journey but there are only three vehicles available yet for them to be comfortable, it is most practical to have three per car.
Ultimately, she has to make the tough decision on who to cull from the list.
Iladho has made the journey several times since she began working at Safaricom and joined Women in Tech, a platform created by women working in the technology-led division at the telecommunication company to encourage more women into careers in technology.
The journeys to Marsabit, where she comes from, are that popular because of Iladho’s own story.
Growing up in North Horr, which she describes as a dusty village on the edge of Chalbi Desert 400 kilometres from Marsabit, she was made aware of the fact that she was far from modernity by two things. First was the distance between her home and Marsabit – 400 kilometres – and then Marsabit to Nairobi – more than 700 kilometres. Second was the fact that communication with the outside world was difficult. The most efficient form of communication that she encountered was a radio call – a walkie talkie – that her uncle, who worked at a health centre in the village, wielded.
“I would see him on a radio call trying to guide someone on the other side how to help another patient,” she says.
She had a first-born’s vision of a way to empower her family and community and saw technology as one of the solutions at hand.
It also helped that she enjoyed studying Physics and when it came to choosing two sciences to concentrate on in Form Three and Four, she was one of four girls in a class of 60 at Moi Girls Marsabit who selected Physics. She also selected Chemistry.
“I chose Physics because I loved Maths and I wanted to be an engineer,” she recalls.
But she did not do well enough to make it to university despite the fact that she was among the best at that school.
With her grade, she sought a place at the then Kenya Polytechnic University College, at the time a college of the University of Nairobi.
That was in 2008, before the Isiolo-Marsabit Road was tarmacked, which meant that her journeys to Isiolo to catch a bus to Nairobi were filled with fun, and fur from the goats and sheep she would ride with in the trucks that plied the route.
“I would smell like a goat for the next couple of days,” she says. Sometimes, she would get stranded in Isiolo for days waiting for a generous driver to offer her a lift to Marsabit.
After she obtained her Diploma in Telecommunications Engineering, Iladho was set against going back to North Horr.
She had her eyes set on making it in the city, and making it to Safaricom, which had spurred her vision further when it set up the masts in Marsabit that had eased communication as she grew up.
She would embark on that journey via an internship at the Postal Corporation of Kenya, move on to Timetrax Systems as a technician and then IT manager, to Masba Services as a Network Support Engineer and then to Atlantic Technology as a Service Delivery Engineer. She started out at Safaricom as an engineer in Network and Service Operation and is now a Senior Security Architect in Enterprise Managed Security Services.
In the telecommunications sector, an engineer is not necessarily someone who has studied the subject, but Iladho was set on attaining the qualifications and pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering at her alma mater, which had by 2016 attained full status as Technical University of Kenya.
Soon after she joined Safaricom in 2016, she was tapped to join Women in Tech and immediately set about giving back to her community.
The first time she did this, she organized for girls from 11 schools in Marsabit to attend a session. There is a method to getting the girls together, and she insists on having not just the brightest attend the sessions but to have a cross-section from the class.
“What motivated me to become a mentor was first my background,” she says. She doesn’t want the girls to pursue their dreams like she did, without someone to hold her hand, and she also wants to give back to her community.
It also goes beyond making the arduous journey back home with her colleagues.
“Every time I go home on holiday; I always have to bring girls together using my own expenses. It’s mostly 15 or 20 girls in a hall where I talk to them, hear how they are doing. I usually target those who have just finished school,” she says.
She discourages them from taking the most predictable route for those whose performance might prevent them from making further progress in their studies – early marriage.
Iladho recently brought two along to Nairobi, wangled jobs for them from her former employers and set them up for life and work in the city by paying their rent, buying the necessities and helping them settle in the big city.
One of her protégés eventually ended up linking with AkiraChix, an organization that works towards creating a community that supports, connects and inspires women in technology by enabling women to take up opportunities in technology.
She learnt coding and has now become a developer.
With a smile that rarely goes away, Iladho is enthusiastic about her job, which involves identifying customers’ needs, designing a solution and following up on complaints and areas of improvement on the Managed Security Services.
She plans to grow into a leadership role and become a bigger role model for girls from her community.
“I want to go into leadership fully, moving from being a technical engineer to become a technical manager to someone who can make decisions in a boardroom,” she says.
She has already overcome many challenges and defied stereotypes about women in Science, Technical, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses, and she is certain she can accomplish her goals.
If the awards she has picked up along the way can be used as a measure of progress, then she is certainly well on her way. They are: the Heko Sport Award in 2017/2018, the Safaricom Way Hero (in Transforming Lives) 2017/2018, the Vodafone Customer Experience Annual Heroes 2017/2018 and the Zuri Award in 2018 for outstanding Contribution and Commitment to the empowerment of women.