Champion of Local Democracy: Malin Atieno

“I am inspired by the success of women and children in our community. When I look back and see where I have come from, and then I see where I am now, I am motivated to work harder to help others just like I was helped”. We are honored to present Malin Atieno, in our series of personal portraits of people who are playing a significant role in the development of local democracy where they live.

Malin Atieno was the first female councilor for Kochieng Ward, the first woman member of County Assembly for Kobura Ward and later became the first female majority leader in Kisumu County Assembly and Kenya. Malin has taken part in ICLD’s training programme ‘Local Political Leaders – Capacitating Women in Politics’. The training programme has played a big role in Malin’s professional development and helped her to become a well-organized leader. 

This is her own story: 

I am disciplined, happy, energetic and have inspired many women and girls. My commitment to local democracy comes from my background, and the work I am doing in the community. I like listening to people and appreciating their efforts.

I was born in Nyakach Sub-county but grew up and went to school in Muhoroni Sub-county in the Western part of Kenya. I am one of two girls born to my parents. We were raised in a polygamous family which was quite normal at the time. My father married a second wife who gave birth to ten children. One of the issues I struggled with was how my mother was treated by others for not having a male child. She died at a very early age from stress related illnesses and my sister and I were left under the care of a step mother. 

Life was tough but Malin had a hope

We often had a shortage of food, clothing and school fees. My younger sister Lilian could not bear it and dropped out of school. Afterwards she joined a dressmaking school and is still a dressmaker to-date. Since I’ve seen that our father needed help and because I loved him so much, I did hard work to help him to support our big family. In this way I learned to do many things, even those that are considered a ‘man’s job’ such as charcoal burning, cutting grass for roofs, cutting trees for construction, and looking after domestic animals. Besides this I was also selling charcoal and firewood in order to have some money to buy the food. Having no alternative, I had to walk two kilometers to a market and carry all this heavy stuff. But at least there was something I could bring home after selling it. 

Life was tough, but I had a hope in school and church. I was determined to reach the highest level of education but due to a lack of funds at the time, I only managed to complete high school. Instead, I did voluntary work in a church, where I learned how to work with a typewriter and after, a computer. The church has later sponsored me to study theology.

The interests of Malin’s life

Since the time I learned how to work with computers, I had a great interest in this field, so I got employed as a church secretary for two years. Two years after I left this job and got employed in a private computer college. This was a significant period of my life. I had been working there for four years and during this period I got married to a teacher from this college, Jared. He helped me to start a very successful computer bureau that afterwards changed my life and my way of thinking.

However, if we talk about my biggest interest and passion in life, then it’s a community-based organization called Kidi-Luanda Community Programme, which I registered in order to help kids in our community. Having a tough childhood, I really wanted to help other kids to live a happy life. That’s where my inspiration comes from, and that’s why I decided to register the organization.

ICLD has opened Malin’s world

I learnt about ICLD when I was elected as a Member of County Assembly, so I decided to apply for the programme. I cannot even tell you how useful and important this programme turned out to be. ICLD opened my world and gave me a connection to many women leaders outside Kenya. That was a place where I learnt how to deal with my own issues, manage time and arrange my diary. I got to know how to handle technical issues using skills of the problem tree. In addition to all this, when I was elected as a Majority Leader after the programme and when Kisumu County Assembly was having wrangles, we managed to restore peace. I think that the skills and knowledge that I gained during the training contributed to this a lot.

As a community leader, I am still mentoring women who work to support children. I have assisted many youths in acquiring skills such as dressmaking, mechanics, welding etc. Besides this, I also initiated a lot of projects during my term e.g. construction of bore holes, classrooms, health facilities, bridges, markets, opening roads and waterways. However, it has not been without difficulties. As a woman leader, I have faced many issues with security and availability of resources in my work.

Success of women and children from the community encourages Malin to continue her work

I am inspired by the success of women and children in our community, this encourages me a lot and makes me continue working towards mentoring others. When I look back and see where I have come from and those who have supported me to be where I am today, I am motivated to work harder to help others just like I was helped. “Thank you Malin”, this phrase motivates me a lot. It makes me feel like I am making a difference in the lives of the people in our community. Being the first woman Member of County Assembly in Kobura Ward and being the first woman Majority Leader in Kenya are my very significant achievements.

Malin Atieno is no longer working as a politician but is still very much a part of empowering women. She wants to continue with mentoring women leaders because she sees a lot of potential in this. By doing this, Malin wants to inspire other women to be involved in politics so there will be more female politicians in the County Assembly.

To see all personal portraits of Champions of Local Democracy