Winnie knows everything

Text and photos: María Rodríguez / Nairobi (Kenya)


Winfred Nyambura Mathu works as administrative at the counselling department helping students who are in a special situation. However, we know her as Winnie, a closer and affectionate diminutive. She was the first person The South Face team dealt with about the fact of giving grants to girls studying at Kenya University. She was asked about the possibilities and the modus operandi so that the project would have a real meaning and impact.

Winnie is really important; a key element to The South Face. She is an essential link in the procedure which allows that the money from the partners and supportive products arrives to those girls so that they can pay their university studies. Since the day she met us, she does it selflessly, adding all this extra activity to her day-to-day work as administrative at the university. The seven years she has been working at the counselling department to special students have given her sensitivity toward the only and personal situation of each student who goes to the department. She attends to them, listens to them, and knows them. She learns the names and the needs of each one, their family situation, etc. Finally, she grows very fond of them and she has to face the embarrassing dilemma of who needs the economic helps the most, which are limited.

The South Face team got into the department office, which is open to any visitor, in November 2011. Winnie says she still remembers that moment. It was her first contact with them. The organization granted their first three students in September 2012: Dorcas, Agnes, and Irene. Since then, the grants have been multiplied until they have reached about thirty, and they continue to increase. There is a relationship of mutual trust between the organisation and her. That is the reason why there is neither a team nor an office of The South Face in Kenya.

Winnie is the first person the students speak with. She registers all the data, which are kept in huge file folders, and she is the only one who knows where every item of data is located.

She suggests the lists of the students she thinks are suitable for the profile that The South Face team look for. When she finishes the interviews, where only a part of the students has to be selected, she gives her opinion and arguments, which are taken into account due to her close relationship with the girls.

“The South Face girl” profile is mainly governed by four principles: the first principle is that the girl  is unable to continue her university studies due to any lack of resources; the second one is that she needs to score highly in the university entrance exam; the third one is that she has to start studying or she must be studying an Engineering, Education, Environmental Conservation, or Medicine degree; and the last one is that, in the selection interview, she has to prove she is interested in their country, in improving an aspect of the Kenyan society. The girls must have an attitude which shows that, one day, they could become leader women who can offer alternatives and changes to their communities and the country.

For her part, Winnie also provides information which sometimes is necessary to take into account. The organization thinks and acts like an enterprise, in the sense that it looks for developing the capacities of the best students so that they become productive agents of their country and community, and they bring about a social change which balances their country’s growth. Despite this, it cannot be swept to one side that The South Face team does what the government doesn’t. Other information which also resolves that a girl is selected by The South Face is the following: the girl comes from a household where there are alcoholism, drugs or abuse problems; her father is dead or has left home and her mother is who sustains all the children, with all the difficulties that this implies in countries like Kenya.


In addition, when the girls have already received the grant, if they have any problem, they can contact Winnie so that, as she says, “when there is a little problem it doesn’t become a big problem.” Regarding the organization, she acts also as a cultural intermediary. In this way, The South Face can understand things that sometimes, by context, may scape and cause to make wrong decisions. Furthermore, she has another extremely relevant task, but it doesn’t downplay the other: Winne is the person who has the power over the transfers sent from Spain to the Nairobi University. In short, Winnie knows everything.

Translated by: Isabel Rodríguez González