Sunday, June 26, 2011

DR. OLGA MARLIN | D. Litt, Strathmore Univ., 2011 (Updated May 1, 2016)

Prof. John Odhiambo, Vice
Chancellor of Strathmore (L) and
Dr. Olga E. Marlin (R).
Nairobi, Kenya, June 26, 2011–I was proud to be by my sister's side the day before yesterday, as Olga Emily Marlin received her Doctor of Letters (D. Litt., honoris causa) degree from Strathmore University here in Nairobi.

This is the 50th year of Strathmore's existence, first as a college and then as a university. Olga has been a Kenyan resident for more than 50 years and became a Kenyan citizen in 1969, six years after independence.

Olga accepting the honorary doctorate.
Photo by JT Marlin.
Kenya Television Network (KTN, Channel 12) interviewed Olga on her 50 years of work in Kenya. The interview is scheduled to be aired this evening as part of KTN's weekend news show, right before House, Law and Order, and Mad Men.

Olga's memoir, To Africa with a Dream, was first published in 2002 by Sceptre Publishers in New York. A second edition with six new pages of photographs and a new Preface has just been published by Boissevain Books.


Strathmore University posted the following to announce the award of Olga's honorary degree:
The University will during its 2011 graduation ceremony on Friday, 24th June award an honorary Doctor of Letters (D.LITT HONORIS CAUSA) to Miss Olga Emily Marlin, the first Principal of Kianda College; a member of the University Council, and the author of the autobiography 'To Africa With a Dream'. The title of the book now in its second edition captures the inspiring vision behind Miss Marlin's outstanding contributions to the multi-dimensional development of women since her arrival in Kenya 50 years ago. She arrived with a group of ladies with the aim of starting a school, one open to women of all races and beliefs. It was a challenging adventure.

Very few African women had access to a formal education. Many women rarely went beyond primary school as they were married at a very early age. They owned very little or nothing, had no voice in decision making and were mainly confined to the homestead, the 'shamba' and the raising of children. Miss Marlin's dream and commitment was to change this situation of women in the home, workplace and society.

Her Academic Background

The eldest of six children, Miss Marlin was born in New York, N.Y. USA on 12th November 1934. Her primary schooling was at the Blessed Sacrament School, Chevy Chase, Maryland while her secondary schooling was successfully completed at St. Paul's Academy, Montreal, Canada. In 1956 she graduated with an M.A. in Modern Languages from Trinity College, Dublin and obtained her Higher Diploma in Education from University College, Dublin in 1957.

Fully equipped with academic content and educational skills, she arrived in Kenya in 1960 as a young competent graduate - enthusiastic, spiritually and humanly committed to her dream. Her main area of specialisation was Education with a flair for languages. Miss Marlin is able to speak English, French and Spanish fluently with a basic knowledge of Kiswahili.

Her Contributions to the Multi-Dimensional Development of Women
The education of women is one of the most important aspects of the growth and development of a nation. Together with other enterprising women, Miss Marlin began the challenging task of the multi-dimensional development of women through carefully selected academic course units and practical training in a variety of learning institutions, initially in the Nairobi area and with time in the tea growing region of Limuru, the Coast Province of Kenya and later in Nigeria.

Leadership for such initiatives were taken and monitored by Miss Marlin through Kianda Foundation, of which she is the Chairperson and Founding Trustee since January 1961. Some of the significant and successful institutions where Miss Marlin played a pioneering role leading to the betterment of the status of women will now be highlighted.

Miss Marlin started her teaching career in two well established British schools: Kenya High School and then Delamere Girls (now known as State House Girls High School) where she served, in each, for a term. In this scenario the two schools had little to offer the indigenous woman as the opportunities were limited or non-existent. However, this experience did not deter Miss Marlin's vision for change. She managed to make friends with the staff and students who enjoyed her French and English classes. She then moved to the Royal Technical College (now University of Nairobi Main Campus) as a lecturer in English Literature for a brief period.
As Kenya's independence approached many British women left Kenya creating opportunities for well paid positions in the public and private sectors of development.

Kianda Secretarial College was opened in 1961 with Miss Marlin as Principal. Many African girls could now pursue a secretarial career while interacting for the first time with girls from other races on an equal footing. Their training helped the girls to become financially independent and provided the necessary means to help their families and communities.

Olga with Well-Wishers, June 2011.
This initiative was supported by well-known Kenyan women such as Mrs. Jemina Gecaga, Kenya's first degree holder and member of Legco; Miss Margaret Kenyatta, the first lady Mayor of Nairobi and Ms. Maria T. Temes, a keen historian and an able administrator. The integral training provided at the College helped to break the racial barrier and enriched the personalities of all. Eventually, Kianda Secretarial College became a part of Strathmore University.

In 1971 and 1972, Miss Marlin was instrumental in setting up a similar college known as Lagoon Executive Secretarial College in Lagos, Nigeria.

Eventually Kianda College became a 'launching pad' for past students who moved on to obtain university degrees or become owners of their own secretarial bureaus and businesses. At the same time, there were other women who qualified as teachers and remained to take an active part in running Kianda College and other institutions.

In 1967 Kibondeni College opened, offering a practical marketable training in the hospitality industry. The students learned to value their career and to give personalised attention to the people they serve.

Through Kimlea Girls Technical Training Centre, whose present Principal is a past student of Kianda College, less privileged girls and mothers from the Limuru tea estates are taught agriculture, knitting, sewing and how to run their own micro enterprises.

The latest development is that of the Tewa Training Centre at Kuruwitu in Kilifi District inaugurated in February 2010. It promotes the education of very poor women and girls in the area to meet the demands of the job market in the hospitality industry. The outreach programmes are designed to uplift the living standards of the women and help them earn a living. Already the beginning of a revolution can be seen among the girls, women and families in the production of food to the astonishment of the local community.

Since 2005, Miss Marlin is a member of the University Council of Strathmore University where her expertise, human warmth and contribution is valued as Chairperson of the Education Policy and Standards Committee of the Council.

Here are eleven congratulatory comments to Olga on the announcement of the Honorary Degree posted on the University website during the first two days, June 23-24, 2011 after the degree was awarded.

1. K. Muchemi: Well deserved. Enhorabuena Dr. Marlin. ¡Salud! Comment, 2011-06-23.

2. jacinta make: Very impressive Miss Marlin, through you our lives have really been transformed. Some of us wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. We are proud of you Miss Marlin, kudos... Comment, 2011-06-23.

3. gngugi: Wow! Ma'am, Thank you. I have read the book, 'To Africa With a Dream' We celebrate your life... Comment, 2011-06-23.

4. bathe: I am delighted that our university has taken the step of honouring Ms. Marlin in this way, as she has contributed so extensively to promoting education and development for women in our beloved country! She is an inspiration to us all! Comment, 2011-06-23.

5. moses w.: Congratulations! You have done a lot. Comment, 2011-06-23.

6. Lilian: Hongera Olga!!!! After reading your book,'To Africa With a Dream', I was moved by how hopeless the situation was in the beginning. Thanks for the priceless contribution to the Education sector in Kenya. Comment, 2011-06-23.

7. Lillian O.: As you climb to the top Olga, rest assured that grateful hands will be holding the ladder from the top and below. Many congratulations!!!! Comment, 2011-06-23.

8. David Ndola: Without a shadow of doubt, Ms Olga Marlin is one of the unspoken heroines of independent Kenya. You are an inspiration... HONGERA!!! Comment, 2011-06-23.

9. Joan G.: Congratulations, we appreciate the work you have done, because am not sure where some of us would be! Asante sana na hongera kwako!!! Comment, 2011-06-24 06:49:02

10. MJ: Wow!!!!Excellent Marlin. This is the shining star which has inspired many. Congratulations!!! Comment, 2011-06-24.

11. Tania VaporidisiI fully agree with the comment made by David Ndolo. It is amazing how much Olga (and her team of committed ladies) has done for Kenya and Africa. She is truly incredible but she is not alone. She couldn't have achieved all this without the Grace of Our Lord. Bravo dear Olga.We are so proud of you, our Principal at Kianda College and my friend, spiritual guide and guardian of my faith. Comment, 2011-06-24. (May 1, 2016: Olga tells me that Tania has since passed on to her eternal reward. May she rest in peace.)


The motto of Strathmore University is Ut omnes unum sint ("That all may be one"). In 2016 it will be 65 years old.  The Chancellor is Msg. Javier Echevarría. The Vice Chancellor is Prof. John Odhiambo.  It has 208 on the academic staff serving 422 undergraduates and 5,088 postgraduates. Its campus includes the Madaraka Estate (40 acres, 162,000 sm). Source: Website,


Olga's memoir, To Africa with a Dream, may be obtained online or at a bookstore.
Online. The second edition of To Africa with a Dream, with six pages of photographs and a new preface, is available online from CreateSpace or Amazon. Shipping charges are calculated during the ordering process. 
Bookstores or Direct from the Publisher. Other bookstores selling the book will be posted here upon notification.
  • AUSTRALIA: Sydney, Portico Books.
  • KENYA: Nairobi, Strathmore University bookstore
  • KENYA: Nairobi, Kianda School bookstore.
  • SPAIN: Pamplona, Navarre Clinic Bookstore.

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