Whenever I write a story, the most challenging bit is how to find the position where the story will stand. It’s more difficult when you are dealing with a story that is sculptured around a person. It is worse when that person is Judi MiNage.
With Judi, there is first, the matter of whether you will tell her story or the story of her work. Surprisingly, you can tell both without being redundant. I like to tell the story of a person more, and that is how I pitched the idea of this article to her. She instantly agreed, but before long, I realized I was getting nowhere. It became apparent that I was dealing with a selfless individual who could not tell where her story stops and where the story of the many individuals whose lives she is shaping begins. To her, the two were intertwined, and from her viewpoint, there is the temptation to filter herself out of her own story. I could feel that, with a bit of the sympathy that comes with reflecting on people that have given everything to community service, as well as with admiration and awe.
I had met Judi towards the close of July 2019, at the hotel where she was staying in her brief sojourn in Kenya. She is the “rare type,” the walking therapist kind. Lots of laughter, a phone call coming in after the other, gunny bags of anecdotes and a complete schedule full of one-on-one meetings with people. You meet her on the clock, you stay on the clock and when your time is up, it is up.
“Jesse, I believe in people getting chances in life,” she says. It’s the same statement she kept mentioning back in July 2019 when we met in Nairobi, Kenya. Just this time, it was a phone interview miles away in California, USA.
Together with a team of professionals from the USA and isolated partners in Africa, Judi, a humanitarian soul, had gone the unchartered route setting up the African Trade Link and Expo (ATLE).
Based in California, Africa Trade Link and Expo, Inc. (ATLE) is a nonprofit public benefit corporation that is shaped around business/individual linking and mentorship. These includes exposing African companies to potential clients worldwide, exposing African people to job opportunities on the International Market Place, Assisting African Registered Nurses to pass the NCLEX exam so as to get jobs in America or Canada, organizing tours for people in America to visit Africa (motherland), organize tours for Africans to visit America so that they can see how the USA is organized (exchange ideas), trade shows, seminars, workshop, and conferences both locally and internationally. Lastly, Judi was instrumental in organization KGAWG Bereavement Fund that has assisted many families as well as working on recording some of the African Cultures that are on the verge of extinction.
Reflecting on the magnitude of her work as she speaks, it becomes difficult for me to contain how I feel about both her personality and her work.
“Has your mindset always been this global?” I ask her.
She stops for a second, laughs a little and tells me, “I was born and grew up in Western Kenya, Maragoli, went to Mukumu Girls Primary School. I attended high school at Kaimosi Girls High school and later pursued my university education at Kenyatta University.”
I want to interrupt her but she keeps talking. There is something about how she talks. She talks with glow. Radiance punctuates every bit of her wording. You can smell pride in the environment she creates within the conversation.
“…I grew up in the village Jesse, but I have seen the world. I want everyone to see the world,” she concludes.
There is a part of the conversation I missed in the process of digesting her tone. Her tone was more important; it carried the message. Clearly, African Trade Link and Expo (ATLE) is much more in her heart than in her mind.
After completing her university education in Kenya, Judi briefly worked with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and later with the United Nation before landing the opportunity to migrate to the USA. Judi attended California State University, San Bernardino, USA, where she undertook her Master’s degree in Social Works (MSW).
“A lot of my kind heart comes from my social works background,” she says. I like that she is self-aware of her own kindness. In my understanding of people, those that know who they are and are outspoken about it tend to be more genuine in their approach to life.
“In my job I see a lot of people suffer,” she adds then pauses for a moment. Her eyes role. It is as though she is looking into her own mind. This is good for me. The fact that she is thinking her next words gives me a cushion, the comfort of knowing that every word she says will come with her mind. There is something I like to call wind words, words that were unintended. You can’t get that from Judi.
“What’s your conclusion, where does your story end?” I broach.
“We can no longer ignore what is around us. We must do something about it. Africans must be represented in the international space.”
At this point, I know the interview has just begun. It is time to fish the notebook.
By Jesse Wamwayi