Reflections on Kenya: Only the Beginning

I was carrying years of anticipation and excitement with me when I took my first steps into the small courtyard and buildings shared by the Children of Kibera offices and Red Rose’s upper primary school. As soon as I walked into the space I was overwhelmed by the sense of joy, curiosity and love emanating from the girls gathered to meet the LitWorld team. The Red Rose Girls LitClub was waiting to embrace us all and I only wish I could have held onto the whole group forever.

The impact of the Girls Club at Red Rose is in every girl’s smile, every hug between friends, every thoughtful, reflective answer the girls gave to the questions we asked. The tragedy of the daily lives of these girls is real and all encompassing, the poverty, the dangers to their health and safety as women, the disease and pollution, and yet they sparkle. They radiate intelligence, ambition and hope in spite of the winding passageways running with rivers of sewage that each one deftly navigates to get from home to school and back again each day.

They feel themselves as leaders, as important members of their learning community, as girls on the brink of being women with a bright, beautiful future ahead. Hearing their dreams to become doctors and lawyers, their imaginings of fairies and magical monkeys that turn into princes, their questions about the world and their ideas to make it better, I know that they are being strengthened and protected and connected by the clubs in a way that means health and hope and happiness.

In Kisumu, every moment was full and there were so many people looking for our time, our care, our ear. And yet the LitClub girls were in many ways the same, beautifully bright, curious, funny, warm and open to our friendship, our love and our stories. I fell in love with them instantly and wish I had so many more hours to learn about every moment of their lives and every dream they have for their future.

Our work in Kisumu was expansive. We met with not only the girls but their principals, their teachers, their mothers. The time we spent with their mothers broke my heart and put it back together again. The group of mothers in Kisumu came to hear about what their daughters have been doing and learn about how they could be involved in their daughters’ learning. Some had never held a pen before, and were gently guided by those who sat nearby, but all were eager to be together. Coming together is so important for all of us as human beings. Feeling like we are a part of a group and working toward a common purpose, a goal that is good.

These mothers shared their worries about whether or not their children would be fed tomorrow, and they shared their stories about what makes their daughters special, and together in that room as the afternoon stretched toward evening they shared a promise to be strong for their daughters, protect their daughters and show their daughters how they could grow up to become the dreams they hold for themselves in their hearts.

I came home and can’t seem to shake the feeling of being separated from my dearest friends. I know this is only the beginning because I know the stories of the women and girls in Kibera and Kisumu, I know their smiles and their laughter and their secret hopes. And I will not forget. I will find ways to keep sharing, keep learning and keep discovering new ways to bring peace and hope and love and learning to each one. Each of my dear friends.

- Jen