Meet Lesarge Simpanoi
Mobile Developer, codeHive Class of 2020
Lesarge,25, hails from a village in Marsabit County nestled on the shores of the breathtaking Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya. But despite the beauty, the county didn’t offer much work opportunity for her Mother and Father.
At the age of four, Lesarge’s family moved south to the bustling Riftvalley town of Nakuru where her grandparents raised her while her mother worked in expansive flower farms to make a living.
“Mum worked most of the time, I only saw her once a week on Tuesday, which she spent cleaning and shopping for the house. My grandparents raised me,” Lesarge observes.
But it wasn’t easy, her grandparents also sought work on flower farms as casual labourers to support their daughters’ income to care for Lesarge and her four siblings.
As a student Lesarge was unbeatable, she topped all her classes, which raised her mother’s concern. She felt her daughter needed competition to grow. For the final two years of her primary school education, Lesarge was in a boarding school.
On her successful completion of primary education, she was admitted to AIC Morop Girls Secondary School, another boarding school. Her mother didn’t have the tuition fee but was determined to see her daughter get an education.
“On the admission day, we sat outside the principal’s office all day. Mum ensured she was last to talk to the principal to ensure she had ample time to explain her case. She didn’t have school fees but she was determined I would stay in school.”
Her mother’s strategy paid off, she did stay in school. But it was the beginning of a constant challenge to stay in school for lack of school fees. Eventually, Lesarge received a scholarship from a sponsor from the US who catered to her entire High School education graduating in 2013.
“I never got to meet them [sponsor], I don’t know where he went, but I am extremely grateful.” Lesarge enthuses.
In 2014, Lesarge was admitted to Chuka University to study a bachelors in environmental science, her mother had preferred to see her study medicine but soon realised Lesarge’s disinterest in the field of medicine.
Lesarge’s mother struggled and managed to raise her tuition fee for the first two years. By the end of her second year in University, it soon became extremely difficult for her mother to pay for her younger siblings’ education in private primary and high school and her university education.
For the next four years, Lesarge tried her hand at any job she could get her hands on, from data entry, to sales promotion to working as a casual labourer on large scale farms with her mother.
“It’s one of the worst things one can do. It is tiresome [working on a farm]. I could see my mum get tired, she would force herself but I could see she didn’t have energy, and for all that work you only get KES 200–300 (USD 2–3) per day.” Lesarge recalls.
In 2019, Lesarge was informed of AkiraChix from a childhood friend who was studying in the codeHive program. She was extremely apprehensive, but her friend’s constant coercion compelled her to apply.
To Lesarge’s surprise, she was admitted to the codeHive 2020 program.
“Once you get into this [AkiraChix] compound your mind is clear, it’s just you, your laptop, working, technology and code to think about,” she observes.
But even though the codeHive learning was destabilized with the pandemic, Lesarge thrived. She was invited by Linda, the AkiraChix co-founder, during a meeting with Amazon which opened her eyes to Amazon systems and operations.
During the virtual WhatsApp learning, Lesarge led her classmates in peer to peer learning for four months every evening as a catch-up session on the program. Through this Lesarge started to find out what she loved most, mobile development.
“People from remote communities such as mine in Samburu and Marsabit -young people don’t have this knowledge. I want to build a low tech application to provide them with access to educational material to open them up to a world of opportunities.”
Throughout her earlier years, many extended family members doubted her capabilities to get an education.
“There’s no hope, people believe I don’t have the brains to go to campus — no one wants to educate the girl child. But I stand as a testament that educating a girl is important.”
And people are beginning to take notice. A young tech expert contacted her on LinkedIn when he saw a girl from his community was a techie.
“Girls from our area don’t like to exert themselves, I have never heard of a woman techie from our area. You are the first.” He stated.
But Lesarge wants to change that perception.
“These girls need to see what women who look like them have gone through, what they are doing now and what impact they are making. A lot of these girls are very bright.”
Lesarge is determined to physically go back and motivate and encourage other girls in her community to aspire for more than just marriage for their lives.
“There is liberty in pushing yourself beyond your situation. When you think you have reached you need to push yourself harder because you can achieve more.” Lesarge concludes.