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TERRY ATIENO, 30, ruling the airwaves abroad

“The idea was born out of a desire to share my life experiences in Germany. I also wanted people back home to understand the struggles of immigrants,” she says.

A lone voice filters through a microphone with unbridled energy. Switching between Swahili, Dholuo, English, German and Sheng, Terry Atieno, the lone occupant of Proud Chocolate radio studio, shares snippets of her day, poses questions and occasionally grabs her phone to check the instantaneous comments of followers of her live broadcast.

She moves her medium sized dreadlocks rhythmically to the music playing in the studio in Hamburg, Germany to a pool of listeners from around the world.

Over 4,000 miles away from her home country, Kenya, Terry prides herself in being the first media personality to start a radio station broadcasting in Luo from Europe to the rest of the world. Her rise to commanding a share of the airwaves at the heart of Europe is no mean feat, for an African girl who had to overcome significant obstacles to get to that position.

The online radio, which she started in 2016, is aimed at connecting Africans in the diaspora with their motherlands. “The idea was born out of a desire to share my life experiences in Germany.

I also wanted people back home to understand the struggles of immigrants,” she says. Her choice of radio as the preferred platform to engage her audience draws a lot from her love for talking and good music. “I never run out of things to say,” she says. Terry, who has been in Germany since 2006, was actively involved in radio while in Kenya.

The trajectory of a girl from a humble family in Ng’iya village, Siaya county, to an immigrant struggling to make a mark in a foreign land and fend for her family, is what gave Terry the audacity to venture where no other had trended before.

Modest childhood

Bubbly Terry describes Ng’iya as a small village in Nyanza surrounded by many schools. Brought up by a single mother, Terry remembers having a modest but happy childhood.

Her mother, a primary school teacher, opted to take her three children to boarding school. “My mother figured out that we would be well taken care of in boarding school.

Remember the ‘Museveni Challenge’? Africans in Germany were not left out.

She depended on loans to put us through school,” says Terry. Terry joined Ng’iya Boarding School for her primary education in the 90s, and on school holidays, the family survived on meals from the school her mother taught at.

She later joined Ngiya High School, before proceeding to Maseno University to persue a degree in arts and communication at the age of 16 years.

At 16, and with no ID, her uncle who was a police officer had to intervene for her to be allowed to join university. While in third year, she landed an opportunity to intern at Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).

Her tenacity and hard work while at KBC afforded her a chance to work as an unpaid assistant producer for TV programmes such as Vioja Mahakamani, Vitimbi, Vituko and Reflections temporarily.

She also voiced the popular happy birthday wishes on KBC. She was used to spending long hours in the office, and when the position of an assistant producer fell vacant, her seniors gave her an opportunity to play the role albeit temporarily. “I was living with my uncle at the time.

His wife did not like me and I ended up spending a lot of time in the office to avoid being at home,” remembers Terry. She had hoped to get a job at KBC, but after a year as an intern, Terry landed a contract at KTN as a sports reporter. As fate would have it, all the interns at KBC got employed a week after she left.

Move to Germany

After completing her undergraduate in 2005, she got a chance to host a breakfast show on Ramogi FM. “My job was exciting, since I had always dreamt of working in radio,” she says. It’s while working at Ramogi that an opportunity to go to Germany as an au pair under a cultural exchange programme came her way.

Torn between leaving her dream job and venturing into a foreign land, Terry was hesitant to leave the country. Even before she could make up her mind on whether to go to Germany, her mother immediately organised a fundraising for her air ticket. She could not say no to her mother, who was optimistic that Terry’s move abroad would bring good fortunes to the family.

Reluctantly, she left her radio job and embarked on a journey to Germany. Under the exchange programme, she lived with a host family in Stuttgart, where she performed house chores and learnt German during her free time. Barely three months in Stuttgart, she moved to a new family in Hamburg, after getting mistreated by her initial hosts.

The new family embraced her and she was elated to take care of her hosts’ four children, one of whom was a child with special needs; a challenging but stimulating role, she reckons. It wasn’t long before her new family noticed how good she was at her job, and offered to educate her as a sign of appreciation.

In summer of 2006, she enrolled for a degree in Social Ethics and Economics at the University of Hamburg. “The university ranked my Second Class Honours bachelor’s from Maseno as being equivalent to a secondary school qualification.

I opted to do another undergraduate to increase my chances of landing a better job,” she reveals. Her host family took care of all her expenses until she completed her studies in 2009.

Unnerving reality

It was not long after completing her studies that an unnerving reality began setting in. Her visa period in Germany was quickly running out, and so were her options.

Kenyan singer Suzzana Owiyo is Terry’s best friend.

“The risk of getting deported was imminent. I could not afford to come home broke, so, I had to quickly figure out a way to stay in Germany. The poverty at home also conferred a sense of responsibility to ensure that her family was well taken care of.

“When I felt like giving up, I would remember my diabetic mum and how she needed me to send money for her treatment,” she says. This gave her reason to hang on. Homeless, jobless and with a looming possibility of returning home empty handed, Terry fought to survive in Germany.

Instead of floundering in self-pity, she sought help from some of her friends abroad with hopes of landing a job to support herself. Getting a job as a communication officer in 2010 at an engineering firm in Hamburg gave her a lifeline from deportation. Even after venturing into communication, her passion for radio never quite died.

Terry navigated her way into radio in Germany as a presenter on African Heritage Radio in 2015. Basing on her experiences as an immigrant, Terry introduced a weekly programme named Furahiday. “The programme featured Kenyan music and news and discussed issues affecting Kenyans abroad and back home,” she says.

It was her chance to bust misconceptions about immigrants and have honest discussions about her struggles, which few immigrants would be willing to share. What started as a Luo programme ended up becoming a multilingual show, as Africans from across the continent tuned in.

Launching her radio

As she juggled between the two jobs, Terry impressed her seniors at the engineering firm because of her grit and determination to achieve what she set her mind on. “My bosses marvelled at my determination.

They liked the fact that I did not settle for less while in Germany, instead, I went after my dreams,” she says. In 2016, they offered to fund her to start her own radio, which she has been running ever since.

The online radio, which she named Proud Chocolate, derives its name from Africans who are proud of their skin colour. Her audience has been growing, and Terry has turned it into a daily live stream broadcast, so as to interact with her followers. Now a German citizen, she prides herself in helping tackle issues affecting immigrants in the diaspora.

In hindsight, she is grateful that she did not give up, but instead spread her wings and exercised her talents, even though unsure of the outcome. She has become a role model to children in her small village in Ng’iya.

“Last time I visited the village most children said they wanted to become journalists like me,” she shares. In the near future, she plans to open a radio studio in her home county, where children can learn the basics of the profession, as she also mentors them.

Even though she is in a committed relationship with a German man, Terry, who is in her early 30s, feels that she will come back home and settle with a Kenyan man. “Marriage in Germany is mostly on contract basis, especially for Africans, and divorce is a complicated process. I would not like to get mixed up in all that,” she says.

In starting the radio station, Terry animates the resilience immigrants embody to make it in far off territories. She expresses distaste for demeaning jobs such as working in elderly homes, that a couple of other immigrants often opt for, noting that there are better opportunities for those who choose not to settle.

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