LORNA IRUNGU MACHARIA was responsible for the success of the first production of Eve Ensler’s powerful play The Vagina Monologues in Kenya in March 2003.

Lorna organised all our communications, which resulted in possibly one of the largest and most successful media campaigns in the history of Kenyan theatre at the time.

Lorna brought on devoted teams from the firm ScanAd, led by the tireless Caroline Kagendo Githinji (née Mbui), who created all our advertising copy, and The Daily Nation (Nation Media) who waived their fees to give us free publicity on their television, radio and newspaper platforms. She worked tirelessly with Philip “Pips” Oketch and I to make sure that I was interviewed by all the major television and radio channels.

She accompanied me to almost all of my meetings; with our beneficiaries (Women’s Rights Awareness Programme), Dolphin Anti-Rape Workshop, and Tasaru Ntomonok in Narok, and held my hand as I became a gender activist.

The success of the work we have done over the years to end violence against women and girls in Kenya owes a lot to the fierceness of one Ms. Lorna “Kuisan” Irungu-Macharia.

I was already a confident performance artist by the time I decided in 2002, to produce and direct the first of many annual events, but I had no idea about the force that the word “vagina” would have in a community where women had been silenced for so long about their rights, both human and reproductive.

To quote the journalist Toepista Nabusoba, “it’s a body part, like an elbow”, but many of us grew up knowing that “down there” was a secret place.

I knew how important the work was, but I was terrified, as, for all my life, I and many women I knew lived in fear of speaking our true thoughts, of articulating our feelings; we’d had so little practice.

In early 2003, Kenya had very recently come to a place that looked like freedom, but we couldn’t be sure. The National Elections in December 2002 had ushered in a new government and the phrase “Second Liberation” was on everyone’s lips.

These elections brought more women into Parliament than ever before, with female members of Cabinet in the Health, Water, Education, Local Government and Environment ministries.

These changes were galvanising. As I struggled to produce the show that would forever change so many Kenyan women, Lorna, who I’d not met before, approached me – the power of the “word of mouth” was beyond amazing – and in that no nonsense way of hers, she told me that trying to do all the work by myself was completely insane.

Lorna harnessed her communications skills and taught me how to “go big, or go home”. I was still terrified, but with Lorna by my side, I was fully armoured.

She organised all my publicity, television and radio interviews, press campaigns and ticket sales. She introduced me to Caroline Kagendo Githinji, who at the time worked at ScanAd, and I spent many late nights watching as these forces of nature created one of the most in-your-face press campaigns I’ve ever seen.

None of us allowed the use of the word vagina to be degraded or abused, because each one of us understood that as long as we were too afraid to say the word, it would continue to be a secret place where violence takes place.

In 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2013, 2017, 2018 and 2019, Lorna was at my side, helping me organise events and staging her own while encouraging and taking on the press and the public space, which needed to hear about the power of this show, and women’s need to be liberated of their fears, and men’s need to become sensitive to their own role in the violence and their job of making Kenya a safe place.

Over the years that I knew Lorna, she worked tirelessly to end violence against women, raising funds for many organisations such as the Hawa House Trust, an organisation that aims to provide space for sexually abused persons to renew their self-confidence and self-esteem and the Dolphin Anti-Rape Group, that teaches self-defence techniques to young girls and positivity and confidence in boys.

In her own words, Lorna was “a firm believer in everyone doing their part to live in the society we want.”

She did her part, and more.

Long live Lorna. Never forgotten.