Veronicah Moraa Pickering made history in the United Kingdom (UK) army in 2021 after being appointed the Royal Air Force (RAF) Honorary Air Commodore by Queen Elizabeth II, becoming the first black woman and Kenyan to ever hold such a title.
“The Air commodore is a one-star rank and is an air officer rank being immediately senior to group captain and immediately subordinate to air vice-marshal,” Ms Moraa starts after we exchange pleasantries.
She terms wearing the RAF uniform an honour, noting that the ability to represent the people is a privilege.
Ms Moraa was born in Kenya, Kisii County, before her family moved to England during the 1960s. The 60-year old has over 25 years of experience working in the public sector.
She has held positions in social work, as a children's guardian, and as an international child protection adviser for the United Nations.
She is currently a partnership diversity and inclusion consultant and executive coach, advocating for the needs of various communities.
In May 2013, she was made the deputy lieutenant for Nottinghamshire.
“I was not accustomed to receiving recognition until recently. Before this, the only other award I got was in primary school where I emerged the best school-attendee.
But this is mostly due to the poverty I grew up in as a daughter of a single mother and Kenyan immigrant to the United Kingdom. My illiterate mother pushed my sister and I to attend school every day,” she reminisced of her late mother.
“When we moved to the UK, we were so poor and largely depended on the state for survival. We had free school dinners, and free uniforms. We even got some money from the state to help pay for our food. I vividly remember how happy the free school uniform made me feel. It remains the only uniform I've worn until I wore the RAF ones,” recounts the mother of two.
Moraa says being appointed the RAF Honorary Air Commodore was unbelievable! “When I was approached to accept the post, I was quite hesitant because I didn't think I matched the conventional image of somebody who would be in that rank - a black woman in the RAF- since I had not seen that image before. It was just surreal."
“Every time I go out and do something as a black woman in these big roles, I feel like I am representing Kenya and that makes me very proud. I'm a daughter of Kenya and even if I am not representing the country officially, I will always have my roots in Kenya. No matter how high I fly up the career ladder, whenever I go out in the streets of UK, I remain a black Kenyan woman. I have even proudly given my children and grandchildren Kisii names,” she says with a smile.
In July 2022, Moraa was awarded the title of Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear by President Uhuru Kenyatta, another historic milestone for her. “Though I am yet to collect the award, it was a great honour for me and I hope to collect it in February next year as I am scheduled to come to Kenya,” she says. She is the only person in the UK to have been given the title this year.
Growing up, Moraa knew something was wrong with her as she struggled with reading. It was not until later in life that she was formally diagnosed with dyslexia -a learning disorder characterised by difficulty. “I always struggled with reading and as a result, I adopted working with my other skills such as creativity and talking. And this is what happens with most dyslexic people, they adopt and use their other magnified skills,” she says.
It was not until when her sister was diagnosed with the condition (at the age of 40) that she also decided to seek medical intervention.
“I was not surprised by the results at all since dyslexia is genetic. My sister has it, her son has it, I have it and I think my late mother also suffered from it.”
But despite this, Moraa is not done making history yet! She is set to notch another first in 2023 when she takes up the role of High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire for a period of one year. “Nottinghamshire is one of the shrievalty counties of England and in this role, I will be representing and supporting the royal family as well as delivering for the King’s judiciary,” she explains. “Being the first Black African/Caribbean and Kenyan woman in the position is indeed an enormous honor,” she intimates.
She says her greatest achievement so far has been the ability to persevere in the face of adversity. “My spirit of not giving up and my ability to push through barriers has helped me get to where I am today. I am also very proud that through this spirit, I have proved to others that indeed, it can be done as long as the will is there. The choice of friends that I choose and keep has also been very instrumental.”
Moraa, who has lived in the UK for slightly over 50 years, is married to Roy Pickering, a Nottinghamshire born artist. She however visits Kenya quite often just to reconnect and keep in touch with her home country.
The trailblazer owes most of her success and passion for service to the people to her maternal grandmother who took care of her when she was a young girl before they moved to the UK. “Christine Boisabi, that is my grandmother’s name and she was a leader in her own right. I watched her serve people in her community diligently and effortlessly during my early years and she lived to 104 years of age,” she fondly notes.
For fun, she loves dancing, nature walks and socialising. “I am naturally a very social person. I love bringing people together and as such, you will find me hosting friends and the extended family for dinner most weekends,” she concludes.