By Ashley Lime | 

It was barely a week before I made my maiden trip to the United States when the unexpected phone call came.

“Ashley, would you come and see me in my office 8.30 a.m. tomorrow?,”  my boss said. “Yes,” I responded.

I knew the meeting would be about my preparations to attend the Alfred Friendly fellowship program in the state of Missouri.

I went about my business with excitement I have not felt in a long time. The last time I felt this elated, almost, was in 2015 when I won the Best Sub Editor Award, presented to me by my home media house, the Standard Group.

About three weeks earlier, my story on winning the fellowship, along with my mugshot, had been published in the papers.

Family, friends and colleagues expressed their delight at my feat. Villagers at my rural home wanted to travel all the way to Nairobi (a journey of more than eight hours) to celebrate the accomplishment of “their daughter” and bless her before she embarks on this long journey to a faraway land.

The fact that I was going to board a number of planes to get to my destination made them more determined to come to see me. This is because in Africa it really does takes a whole village to raise a child and, therefore, one’s achievements are always credited to the “communal upbringing.”

I was outside my boss’ office by 8.15 a.m.

He walked in at 8.30 a.m. and ushered me into his glass-walled work-station. We exchanged pleasantries and then he got serious. “Is there anything you have done that you can undo?” he asked. For a moment I was confused, not understanding what he said. He went on: “I’m sorry to tell you that we have had to cancel your trip.”

That statement slowly sank in my mind and by the time I understood what he meant, I felt the world spinning all around me. He explained how the government had withdrawn advertising from private media houses and was unapologetic about the move that was now hurting business. The company was going to lose a huge percentage of its revenue streams and was therefore acting fast to cut spending; that included cancelling my fellowship, subsidized by the company.

I went away feeling sick. I had planned a meeting with my best friend at 2 pm that day and was contemplating whether to go or give an excuse and head straight home. But I decided to go to see her and act like everything was fine.

After our meeting I started my journey back home since I was on leave. It was the longest ride home. I rang the doorbell and my mother opened the door. She looked into my eyes and immediately asked “Is everything alright?” That’s when I couldn’t hold it any longer and burst into tears. She immediately knew it was about the fellowship. My mother comforted me and asked me to take it easy. I barely slept that night.

I kept on tossing and turning until day break. All that while I was praying that this is a nightmare that would soon go away.

Program Director David Reed interviews Ashley Lime in the Futures Lab Studio

The temptation to cancel my scholarship came from am instruction to slash spending in all departments as a result of the government advertising withdrawal. But with my boss’ intervention the next day, the CEO ruled that life must not come a halt because of the government order and that some elements of the business must continue. This included training journalists to strengthen the business in the future. I also believe God heard my prayer that night.

The media in Kenya has been undergoing tremendous business challenges.

The state order also saw private sector advertising migrating to TV and radio. Declining audiences for print has resulted in falling circulation — all of which are forcing staff cuts on media houses. The recent retrenchments in the mainstream media, including cutbacks in my home newsroom about two years ago, is evidence of the rough patch journalism is going through.

Despite the close call, I made it to the U.S.

I was meant to be here!

Veengas, Smitha, Binita and Ashley share a laugh at David’s house