Woman with two PhDs against all odds to become a leader

In her early 60s now, Dr Jane Wanjiru Mugai has used the lowest point of her life to go on a degree acquisition spree and is now a certified Psychotherapist/Counsellor, Special Needs Education Specialist and Consultant holding two PhDs from two different universities.

Dr Mugai recalls how she was depressed in 2008 when her husband died, and traumatized after her in-laws not only abandoned her but also asked her to leave without her children.

Her husband John Mugai had succumbed to injuries from a road accident and immediately after the burial, her in-laws told her that the link they had has now been cut off.

From Kawanjara village in Embu East Sub County, she said the biggest challenge was dealing with stigma, rejection and abandonment by even those she thought were her friends.

Some of them were members of her church she thought she could rely on.

Dr. Wanjiru Mugai (centre) being dressed by her supervisors for conferment of a second Doctorate degree at Chuka University where She graduated with the second doctorate degree in Education Counseling Psychology on December 18, 2020. [Muriithi Mugo, Standard]

This life challenge never killed her morale as she now takes pride in being a woman leader and having mentored many women who came across her in her career as a tutor.

She graduated in December 2020 at Chuka University with a second doctorate degree in Education Counseling Psychology.

Her first Doctorate was in Education – Special Needs Education that includes disabilities (Cognitive Developmental disabilities and Learning Difficulties) from the Mt Kenya University achieved in 2013, five years after her husband’s death.

She said attaining the two PhDs was driven by the urge for self-actualization, to fight loneliness and keep her busy from a stressful life.

She has since supervised 14 Master’s degree students and is currently supervising four others at Mt Kenya University.

“Women and leadership are intertwined in negative stereotypes within cultures, but I have tried hard to fight stereotypes, having leadership skills within me as I started leading in primary school where I was a class prefect in many of the grades,” said Dr. Mugai.

She was a dining hall and dormitory prefect while in high school before holding a women representative position elected by foreign students at Makerere University.

For 14 years, Dr Mugai was the Principal of St Monica School for the Mentally Challenged where she takes pride of being the pioneer of all the programs of children with special needs and disabilities in Embu County.

“Women leaders go through male chauvinism, sexual abuse, disrespectful comments, putdowns, and many psychological factors. In my leadership I have faced many challenges where I thought only married women can withstand since they have people to lean on,” Dr Mugai said.

She however never gave up“: l was able to balance as a community leader, a mother, wife, teacher, preacher and a chair of St. Paul’s Cathedral Mothers Union. Notwithstanding I was also a motivational speaker and a counselor,”

“I have done most of my education while being a married woman and a mother.”

Dr Mugai noted that management in women begins from home and advises women to put their houses together before getting engaged in managing the outside world.

She has also been involved in sports as she recalls being part of a Special Olympics team to the USA that was rewarded by President Moi back then after winning several gold medals.

Dr Mugai said she also belonged to many Community-Based Organizations, groups and currently was the chair of Peace Grace Psychosocial Support Organisation that helps persons/ children living in difficult circumstances.

Currently, she is the vice-chair of Embu County Counselors and Psychologists Association, a Senior Counselor at Chuka University and she added that holding different positions at different universities had sharpened her leadership skills.

Dr Wanjiru Mugai graduated with a second doctorate degree in Education Counselling Psychology. [Muriithi Mugo, Standard]

Mugai noted that being a leader of her household following the death of her husband has strengthened her leadership spirit, as she has been a widow for a long time.

“I did not remarry but concentrated on the welfare of my family, my education which has culminated to two doctorate degrees in Education and Counseling psychology,” she added.

She has also mentored her three children who are also pursuing their PhDs.

Mugai attributes her leadership skills to her father who was a headteacher during the colonial time before later becoming an assistant chief.

“Having learnt from him I can easily lead and administer others,” she added.

She observed that before nominating people to positions of leadership there is a need to check out their Morals and ethical values as many end up misleading their followers.

“I support women to positions of leadership as I have noted that even schools used to do well during our days were led by women. They were clean and very organized,” she noted

She maintains that stereotyping and cultural follow-ups, hold women back despite being generally good leaders adding there is a need for gender equity, equality, and total inclusiveness in leadership.

Wanjiru proposed that widows were a vulnerable constituency that should have representation in parliament adding that many legislators have never fully understood what widows undergo in society.

“Woman reps may visit widows and donate money to start projects but rarely venture into dealing with the stigma in the society,” she pointed out.

The widow tried several options before settling to be a scholar. She tried athletics and netball coaching, dancing and comedy before she found her strength was in Education and Research.

“I am also a chair of a CBO offering psychological support services and healing interventions to persons living under difficult circumstances such as neglected, abandoned and traumatized children. Am also an activist of domestic violence as well as offering therapeutic services,” Wanjiru also said

She values offering counseling and debriefing services to the widows, their children, families and their friends.

She revealed that her CBO also wants to have a halfway home for those leaving prison where they can be counseled, rehabilitated and integrated back into society.

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