Savannah Johnson
Savannah Johnson
Kenya 2015
I am Savannah Johnson, a recent graduate of Belmont University where I studied psychology and education. I am incorporating both of these areas of interest in my project at the Women's Institute for Secondary Education and Research (WISER). WISER is an all-girls secondary school in Muhuru Bay, Kenya. Read More About Savannah →



In solitude we give passionate attention to our lives, to our memories, to details around us. – Virginia Woolf

First, let me be clear. My time in Kenya was not spent entirely in solitude. The purpose of the trip was not solitude. I spent much time in the presence of others. I spent many moments talking and listening, laughing and singing, and at times even cat walking for a classroom of thirty 14 year old girls. These moments are imprinted in my memory, and I hope I will be able to play them back in my mind for the rest of my life.

I would argue that the amount of time I spent with others could be equally matched with the time I spent alone. I had not prepared myself for so much alone time. For the first time in my life, I had a living space to myself—a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room, and a bedroom. I often made dinner alone, drank my morning coffee in complete silence, and spent expanses of time journaling and meditating on specific themes or developments of my trip. Solitude is not a passive state. You have to sit with yourself, reach inside, and claim that space in time as your own—to live, to breathe, to surrender yourself to your own thoughts (both pleasant and unpleasant). Virginia Woolf is right. I was able to give passionate attention to my life, to my memories, and to the details around me. This state is addictive. Once I got a taste of it, I wanted more and more of it. It became my sanctuary. I would light my citronella candles and I would sit—sometimes at dawn, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon, sometimes late at night—and I would will myself into a state of solitude.

I am home now.

Since I have been home, I have politely requested to have some more time alone and in solitude. I have deactivated my Facebook for now. I am letting some emails and text messages sit without responses. I want limited distractions as I peel away at the details of the past four months. I feel like my life here can wait—it has been waiting for four months already. I want to breathe in and sip on this precious time of transition.

To express the deep gratitude I feel toward WISER and toward the relationships I built while in Kenya, I want to write about hands.

Before reading further, pause, and look at your hands. Raise them up in front of you and look at both sides. Seriously. Do this.

Hands are beautiful. I love hands. Their movements are deliberate. Everyone’s are unique. There are different patterns of lines on palms and ridges on knuckles. Some are quite delicate while others are worn and strong. Through touch they connect us to the world and to each other.  When I remember the people I met in Kenya, I will remember their hands. Handshakes are important in Kenyan culture. They are partnered with every greeting—nice to meet you, hello, nice to see you again, good morning, good night, goodbye. I may have shaken more hands in the past four months than the rest of my life combined. But more than mastering a solid handshake, my memories are held in hands.

I feel close to the WISER girls when I remember how often one would grab my hand as we walked to the garden together at sunset. I remember the grace of Mama Vosta as her wide, worn hands helped me wash my clothes and my dishes. I feel joy when I remember the tiny hands that waved at me as I passed homes and schools on a piki (motorbike). I feel gratitude at the memory of William’s sturdy hands on the steering wheel of the WISER car has he managed the wild bumps and pot holes of Muhuru’s dirt roads and drove me to the doctor.


My memories of every Sunday church service are partnered with the sound of hands clapping. I will think of Judy and Mouryne’s maternal hands on my arm as they guided me across busy streets filled with honking cars. My host mother’s hands were strong and confident as she rolled out and kneaded dough to make chapattis for dinner.

I want to hold the small, soft hands of my students at Senye Primary School forever. I have beautiful mental images of them molding clay, sorting bottle caps, and learning the parts of leaves. I will think of Mishel’s hands, deeply affected by cerebral palsy, and her great effort to make them move the way she desired them to. I feel peace at the thought of my own hands dipping a cup into a bucket of warm water to bath myself and rinse my tangled hair.

I would argue hands are the most beautiful part of our bodies, and for me they had the power to capture the humble nature of the people I met. The hands that held me have left deep imprints on my mind and my perspective.

My last weeks in Kenya feel like a blur. A lot happened at once, and I was desperately trying to soak up and hold onto as much as possible. Now that I am back, I feel strange, at times disoriented, and incapable of communicating verbally about my trip. My intention is not to tie a bow on my experience with a sweet, simple final blog post. My experience didn’t end when I landed in Nashville. I will continue to nurture it as it continues to live and grow inside me.


Sustainable Development Goals

As the UN gathers to vote on the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this week, I took a close look at how WISER is already meeting these goals in its own little microcosm. After living here for over three months and experiencing the depth of WISER’s work, it appears that the school is doing well – clearly targeting 10 out the 17 goals. But, this is probably no surprise to the community of international development. The power of the girl child is central to the new development goals.

Some of the goals that WISER meets are obvious – quality education, gender equality, good health practices. Just take a look at WISER’s mission statement: “WISER  is a community development organization focusing on the social empowerment of underprivileged girls through education and health.” Let’s break this down within the frame of the SDGs.

Goal 4: Quality Education.  Despite their backgrounds, the WISER girls are highly academically competitive in the district. This is due in part to the low student to teacher ratio. While many schools in the area have overflowing classrooms with limited resources, WISER has a ten-to-one student to teacher ratio as well as spacious learning environments.

Quiality Education

Goal 5: Gender Equality. WISER has worked hard to create an enabling environment for empowerment by creating a gender-sensitive and gender-responsive atmosphere.  Many of our students are are the first females in their family to complete their secondary education. With each graduating class, WISER promotes gender equity in Muhuru Bay. Beyond promoting gender equality on WISER’s campus, WISER’s presence in the community is placing higher value on educating the girl child.


Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being. Every WISER girl has access to healthcare and basic health needs—such as sanitary pads, soap, and medications. Beyond that, WISER works to wholesomely care for its students by meeting not only their physical needs, but also their mental, social, and emotional needs. The school has created a unique system of psychosocial supports that gives the girls numerous avenues to seek the appropriate support they need.IMG_3060

By directly targeting Goals 3, 4, and 5, WISER inherently addresses other goals. For example, let’s look at Goal 8: Economic Growth.  According to the Global Campaign for Education, a 1% increase in the number of women with secondary education can increase annual per capita economic growth by 0.3%. Educated women are more likely to be economically secure, enabling them to feel more empowered and demand their rights. This naturally leads to Goal 10: Reduce Inequalities. When our WISER girls have access to quality education, they are more likely to be included in the political and social systems of the community and the country. Their social status and gender no longer leaves them out of the conversation.

Now let’s look at Goal 1: End Poverty.  We have already discussed how education can lead to better economic outcomes for women, but it does not stop there. An educated woman is more likely to have a healthier and more economically secure family. Her children are more likely to go to school, and the cycle continues to carry families and communities out of poverty.

Goal 2: Zero Hunger. Many students in this community arrive at school hungry each day, and many are malnourished. This prevents them from reaching their full potential. I recently asked a WISER student how life at WISER differs from her life at home. She responded by saying,  “Life at WISER is different from my life at home because at WISER our basic needs are met such as food… At home sometimes that is missing.” At WISER the students are provided with three well-balanced, nutritious meals every day. Additionally, WISER has a school garden that produces fruits and vegetables. The school’s Environmental Club maintains the gardens while learning about conservation and gaining agricultural skills. Taking us to Goal 15: Life on Land. Muhuru Bay is an agriculturebased society with many jobs and investments focused on sustainable production of crops.


It’s clear that WISER is doing sustainable, impactful work—but the WISER community has not tackled these projects alone. WISER meets Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals as it partners with the government of Kenya, Johnson & Johnson, Huru International, Duke University, TASIS, the Nike Foundation, GlobalGiving, Segal Family Foundation, and UNICEF.  To highlight a successful partnership outcome, in 2012 WISER partnered with the Muhuru Water Board and with UNICEF WASH to install a water purification system and four water kiosks. Now clean water is not only provided to WISER but also to 5,000 surrounding community members. So, we have arrived at our last stop: Goal 6: Clean Water.

WISER is one example of how beautifully these goals can be woven together if targets are implemented in a wholesome and sustainable way. International Day of the Girl is quickly approaching. This year the theme is: The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030. Why? The new Sustainable Development Goals will guide global efforts and funding to end poverty, to promote peace and justice, and to create sustainable development for the next 15 years. What is fundamental to meeting these new goals? Girls.


“I had to repeat Class 8 several times because there was not funding for secondary school. That is when WISER came to my rescue.” – Leah, a WISER alumni

I am learning that WISER has “come to the rescue” for many girls. By providing girls with a scholarship that funds their entire secondary education, WISER is quite literally rescuing girls and their families from the stress of coming up with school fees. Unlike in the United States, public school is Kenya is not free. There are still fees that have to be paid—both at the primary and secondary level. This is where families are in situations where they have to choose whose education they fund. Most of the time, if there is enough money to fund only one child’s education, a son will be chosen to go to school over a daughter.

However, a lack school fees is not the only barrier keeping girls in Kenya out of the classroom. There is a simple resource every adolescent girl needs—sanitary pads. When a girl does not have access to pads, she misses school or uses dangerous alternatives such as rags, leaves, cotton wool, or mattress stuffing. According to the ZanaAfrica Foundation, almost a million girls in Kenya miss up to six weeks of school every year—many even eventually drop out—all because their families cannot afford sanitary pads and proper underwear.

WISER has partnered with Huru International, an organization that provides girls with free kits that have reusubale sanitary pads, HIV / AIDs prevention information, and resources necessary to promote sexual and reproductive health. In Kiswahili, Huru means freedom. WISER and Huru International are giving our girls the freedom to stay in school. Even more than that, WISER is providing younger girls in Muhuru that are still in primary school with sanitary pads in hopes of them missing less days of school. There is empowerment and there is freedom in understanding our bodies and in having safe resources to meet our bodies’ needs.


Meet Melavin. “I am WISER because I want to be a light to all the underprivileged girls of Muhuru Bay.” She is one of our Form 4 students, and she is a just weeks away from completing her KCSE (Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education). Because WISER has enabled her to stay in school, she will hopefully now continue to obtain higher education. One day she wants to return to Muhuru to pull her family out of poverty and to inspire the girls who also come from this community. That’s the beauty in educating the girl child; she returns. Educated girls are more likely return to the community in which they were raised. That is how communities are transformed, empowerment is generated, and freedom lives.

You Are Welcome Here

“I made strong tea because I know that is your best.” Judith remembered. She remembered that I always take strong tea when I meet the girls for tea at 10 am during their school days. Strong tea is hot Kenyan black tea with only water and sugar. Milk tea is more commonly served here, but Judith remembered that I take strong tea, and that is what she prepared when I visited her at home.

 . . .

Home has a way of finding us where ever we end up – if we are willing to receive it, to be open to it, to allow it to take a new form – home will find us. Home certainly found me these past two weeks over the WISER holiday.

By home I mean the comfort of sharing tea and stories, the freedom to make mistakes around people who are incredibly forgiving, and the commonality one finds in late night talks about politics and a mutual distaste for Donald Trump. Home found me and gave me an innocent and refreshing embrace when loneliness could have crept up on me.

Being invited and hosted in someone’s home is incredibly intimate. It is a gift. You are being welcomed into a space that has been created by family. Over WISER’s holiday I have been hosted, prayed over, and fed again and again in other families’ sacred spaces. The phrase every time my bare feet enter a living space is, “Karibu.” Welcome.

For the entire week first week of this holiday Teacher Nipher’s family hosted me. Teacher Nipher is an incredible agriculture and biology teacher at WISER. She is also the guidance and counselor teacher, so she has been helping me with my project. When she found out that I did not have plans for the holiday, she insisted that I come and stay with her family in Kisii, Kenya. I cannot express enough gratitude for the time I shared with her family in their village. My two homes collided when my sister and my mom were able to meet my host family over Skype. With many smiles and laughter, I had never felt more deeply connected to two places at once.


My host family.


Possibly the most important selfie I have ever taken. As a group, we decided this is the “best picture ever.” My host siblings, cousins, and grandmother in Kisii.

For the second week of the holiday I have been back at WISER. Each day I have been visiting two girls from Mirror House (Mirror is one of the Houses of Wisdom, which are small groups of about 15 girls that WISER is divided into.) Being with the girls at their homes has only deepened that way in which we are able to connect with each other. Up to this week, I had only been with them in the context of WISER, which is a controlled environment and community. Being with them and their families in their homes has given me a window into an entirely different dimension of their lives.

Each WISER girl I have visited has openly introduced me to the sacred space she calls home. Along with sharing a meal and greeting family members, we usually take a walk to see either her favorite spot or the part of Lake Victoria that is closest. The best talks have been on these walks. It has proven to be a completely honest and open platform for us to ask each other questions about the worlds in which we have grown up. We always find that despite the stark differences in our cultures, there are things that we both hold as true – the importance of friendship, family, community, and having faith in what the future holds. Those are the moments when home finds me.

. . .

I let the girls who wanted to be in the blog pick their favorite photo from my visit.


Volca, Form 4 (Side note: The MOST beautiful view of Lake Victoria I have had so far.)


Sandra, Form 2


Linet, Form 1


Lavender, Form 3 (second from right) and Rehemma, Form 4 (far right) with Rehemma’s siblings.


Birel, Form 3

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Judith, Form 2


Joyvine, Form 1 (front) with her cousins.

. . .


Judy and Elvince. The moments when I have not been visiting families this holiday, I have been sitting and talking with Judy or on a piki with Elvince listening to Rihanna. This trip and my project would not be possible without them.


The End of a Chapter

I like analogies. They make many of the complexities of life simpler in my brain. (And aren’t we all trying to make those complexities easier to swallow?) Whenever I am trying to mentally unpack something important, I usually have to make an analogy so I am able to think though it in a concrete way.  At times the analogies I come up with are a stretch, but I have been told that sometimes my comparisons are quite on point. (Shout out to Madisson Clarry and the conversation that lead to infamous backpack to relationship analogy.)

Time. Time is complex, and society has great ways of organizing it into seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years. But, for me to make better sense of my time in Kenya, I am not too worried about the minutes, hours, and months. I am living this journey in chapters, and I believe the first chapter of my journey just ended. (Time viewed in chapters in an analogy that is easily followed, so here we go.)

I arrived in Kenya with eleven amazing people who are now all off to start their own next chapters. I cannot fully express how grateful I am to have shared this summer with such an open group. Every moment was not perfect, and there were times when we were all driven crazy by one another. Despite our lower points, each person grew to truly care for one another, for this place, and for the WISER girls. (Also, if singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and cat walking in front of 120 WISER girls screaming your name does not bond a group, I am not sure what does.) To my friends from Duke, thank you for being a profound part of my first chapter here. Cheers to group dynamics and to my upcoming visit to Durham. Oriti. 


My first chapter here was threaded together by being accepted and welcomed by two different groups—the group from Duke and also the WISER community . What a gift. As the Duke group left this morning, I was left surrounded by the students, staff, and faculty of WISER. I am not sure I have ever felt so safe, cared for, and looked after. I feel as though I have a family here, and that is where my new chapter begins. I am transitioning from feeling like a visitor to feeling like a part of this beautiful school. Today is an important page turn in my trip. I have spent these first two months building relationships and learning as much as I can about Muhuru Bay. I now feel better equipped to take on my projects and to fulfill my purpose here.

As I tie a bow on this chapter, I am watching the WISER girls play a football match out my window. (Important side note: I played in a match yesterday – Duke & WISER faculty vs. WISER girls.  I woke up this morning sore, with scuffed up hands, a bruised thigh, and a bruised shin. Simply put, the WISER girls are amazing and tough and strong and I tend to fall down a lot.)

Things are winding down at WISER as the girls are days away from completing their term, but the past few weeks have been busy. In the midst of exams, they have completed a 5K race, competed in “Crossfire” (an academic competition), and hosted a Cultural Night where they performed dances, songs, and dramas. There will be a two week holiday before the new term starts. It feels appropriate to take a quick breath of gratitude before my second chapter here begins.


Run Like a WISER Girl. WISER’s 2nd Annual 5K race.


The very supportive water team at the WISER 5K.


Crossfire. Brilliant and Birel (both in Form 3) preparing for the academic competition.


Lake Victoria. Big Lake, Little Sav.

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There is nothing quite like a long talk with Leah Catotti. If only our talks solved the world’s problems and our questions had answers. All I can say is, “Onward.” And thank goodness you opened your heart to the OC.


Natalie, Andrew, and Collean. Thank you for late nights, early mornings, popcorn, and enough laughter to last me the rest of my trip.


Mouryne, Leah, and Judy. My home away from home.


The Fields of Uncertaintiy

“My own voice continues to be found wherever I am being present and responding from my heart, moment by moment. My voice is born repeatedly in the fields of uncertainty.” –Terry Tempest Williams


My closest friends know that I have been carrying around and quoting from Terry Tempest Williams’ When Women Were Birds as though it were sacred scripture for the past six months. Of course, it was one of the books that I sacrificed the weight of packing with me to Kenya. It has 54 essay-length passages on womanhood, spirituality, love, nature, and voice. (Each of which I am experiencing in a brand new way here in Kenya.) I underlined this quote in my book about 3 or 4 months ago, but I read it again this week and actually understood much better in the context of my life here.

“My own voice continues to be found wherever I am being present …”

Present. I decided I am going to only connect to the internet on the weekends. (At least for now. This could certainly change once the Duke students leave in a few weeks). I was realizing how overwhelmed my mind was getting when I was trying to operate in my world at home and my world here. Simply put, it is too much for my busy mind to handle. I realize life is going on and moving forward with my friends and family at home, but my life is going on and moving forward here. The relationships I am devoting to here, especially with the girls of WISER, are important and I desire to give myself to them fully. I just finished my first week of cutting out the internet, and I can easily declare that I was happier this week than any other. I am present and focused and finding my voice here.

“…and responding from my heart, moment by moment.”

Response. This may be the only time in my life when I have an undeniable ability to respond, moment by moment. While much of my day is scheduled based on meals with the girls and interviews for my project, there is much unstructured time. Coming off my senior year of college, downtime feels like a foreign land I have never visited. So, I am trying to be intentional and purposeful with these stretches of moments that are totally and completely mine. The blank pages of my journal are disappearing, I am studying meditation, and I am trying to spend time cooking with the most organic ingredients I have ever had access to (See below. And yes mom and dad, I am careful with that large knife that is also pictured.)  Additionally, I am lucky to have the time and enough experience with special education to commit to a part-time project at the only special needs education classroom in Migori County. At some point I would like to devote an entire blog post to this important development. I am mentioning it now because I want to express gratitude for the ability and freedom to respond to this place and this community from my heart.


“My voice is born repeatedly in the fields of uncertainty.”

The fields of uncertainty. Those are the fields I am staring at. Let me tell you, I am the girl who loves a plan. Three years ago, I would have eagerly drawn a roadmap of my life and followed that map without detouring. Ah, but my hopes for clear answers and clear directions have disappeared. The things I am certain of: I will be in Kenya until the end of November, I have some exciting projects to complete between now and then. Done. Other than that, things are pretty uncertain. I am not sure what I will experience, learn, and see in these upcoming months. I am not sure how I will be changed and moved and displaced from whom I was when I arrived. I am not sure what my life will entail once I return to the United States. Never have I been so thrilled to be entering the unknown. And goodness, let my voice be born in the present. Let my voice be born moment by moment. Let it be born in the fields of uncertainty.


A Story That is Not My Own

“I have been in Kenya for over two weeks and tonight is the first night that I am lying awake and not able to drift to sleep. Every night up to this one, I have fallen into a deep sleep within seconds of closing my eyes (or have fallen asleep with my book open beside me). I think my jet lag lingered and my body has still been adjusting to the equatorial climate. But tonight is different. I have been tossing and turning for hours past my usual bedtime. (On top of being restless, a toad was removed from my bed about 10 minutes ago. I was lying under my mosquito net forcing my eyes closed, begging for sleep when I felt a thud to the left of my head. I jumped off my top bunk thinking it was a bat (a bat was removed from bed two nights ago, but alas, it was a toad. I am not mad at the toad. If he or she would have been anywhere other than my bed I am sure I would have befriended it quite easily.) All that to say, I am wide-awake tonight and I feel the weight of my writers’ block has finally lifted itself from my fingertips.

I am glad my obligatory first post in Kenya is out of the way. (There is a lot of pressure writing about the “the big arrival.” Somewhere between touristy, and grateful, and curious, and overwhelmed, and tired, and so happy to be here, but still feeling like an observer, you risk sounding like a lot of things in that first post. Through all of those feelings, I forced out that first post. Thankfully, Esther made it worth reading.

It is 1:30 am and I am typing this on my iPhone from my top-bunk. I am no longer concerned about my bed-invading friends. Tonight I am concerned about how difficult it is to share about my experience here.”

.  .  .

That was a few nights ago, and the same concern is lingering. I have so much in my head. Thoughts, ideas, and realizations that are all threading together day by day, but for some reason I cannot articulate it. It is difficult to write a story that is not my own.

I have always felt comfortable with the art of words. I love them. I am never more relieved than I am after I am able to create an convey meaning by gracefully, seamlessly threading together words. Since high school, I have worked to create art projects by only using words that I find beautiful and meaningful. I write incredibly small and in different fonts to shade and create replicates of portraits that have touched me. I can look at those pieces of art and remember what chapter of my life was unfolding during the months I spent meditating and praying over a work of art. These processes are very personal and meaningful to me and to my story. They also take time and practice and effort. Now that I am in a situation in which I am required to share about what I observe and experience, in the midst of other peoples’ stories, after being here for a short time, I am finding myself at a loss. I feel a great responsibility to be sensitive and highly aware of words I share of a story that is not my own.

My mind is in constant motion sorting through questions of value, equality, privilege, purpose, faith, and joy. In time, reflection will feel more organic and appropriate—I am just not quite there yet. To compensate, here are a few photos that represent the past few weeks better than my elusive explanation of why I can’t articulate a real blog post.


Volca. Volca is in Form 4. She wants to be a psychologist. After last weeks’ House Meeting I asked her where should we like to travel in the world. She quickly moved over and touched China.


Lake Victoria. This is the best view I have had yet. Our group climbed the small cliffs that extend beyond the caves of the lake.


Idda. Idda is in Form 1 and sits beside me during most meals. Today, I was explaining to a group of Form 1s that they would have to take care of me when the Duke students leave. Ida looked at me and said, “Savannah, I am already taking care of you.”




In Kenya, a sudden rainfall indicates a blessing. As the WISER students and faculty were welcoming us, rain suddenly fell around us. A blessing.

I am here in Muhuru Bay, Kenya. I am lying beneath a tree and looking at Lake Victoria as I write. It has been difficult for me to write this first post as my mind has been in constant motion since I boarded my plane in Nashville over a week ago. After a twenty-four-hour flight schedule and a short night of rest in Nairobi, our group headed west. Our first stop was at Kazuri Beads. “Kazuri,” which means small and beautiful in Swahili, is a social enterprise to empower single mothers in the villages surrounding Nairobi. The women create the beads, paint the beads, and assemble various pieces of jewelry—leaving each piece unique. This picture is of the entire group outside of the Kazuri shop.

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(Side note: the group from Duke is amazing and has been nothing but welcoming to me as the only non-Duke student. This is my shout-out of thanks and appreciation to all my new Duke friends.)

We made a short stop at an overlook of the Great Rift Valley before making it to Kisii, Kenya. In Kisii we learned about Kisii soapstone carving and were able to see the entire process—from the ground to, to the hands of carvers, to the shelves of shops.

Each of these stops were important, but nothing has been as important as entering the gates of WISER. It is impossible to express what I have felt and learned in a matter of days. To simplify my tangled web of thoughts, I will just introduce you to a new friend and sister. At WISER the girls are assigned to Houses of Wisdom—there are eight houses with fifteen girls in each house. Each house has girls from each grade. In Kenya grades are called “forms.” They live together, eat together, and compete in sports and academics together. The houses become their families here at WISER. I was assigned to the Mirror House. This house is called “Mirror” because the girls reflect their goodness in school and in character. During my first lunch with the Mirror House, I sat down beside Esther.

Meet Esther. Esther

Esther is in Form 2 (her second year of secondary school). We immediately shared with each other our interests and about our families. She is one of five sisters. (We empathized over wishing we had a brother, but both understood the love that can only be shared between sisters.) She explained that I am now a sister of the Mirror House. Her explanation of “Mirror” was this: “We do not keep things inside. We reflect them out. For example, we do not keep love in, we reflect it out to share.” Esther plays volleyball and her favorite subjects are math and languages. After secondary school she wants to go to university and become a lawyer. Luckily, I spent Monday shadowing the Form 2 students for an entire day. I was able to see Esther shine in her classes—she works hard, participates, and actively helped me in Kiswahili class. (Which I needed all the help I could get!)

Esther gave me permission to share her photo and share about our new friendship. I will continue to share stories about new friends as my time here continues. Please read more about WISER and contribute to their work by supporting their programs.


Oriti (“Goodbye” in Luo)



Balancing the Story

Think of the single worst story from your life—a moment, an event, a time period when you had a lapse of judgment. Think of a season of your life when you felt like a shadow of yourself. Think of a weakness, flaw, or insecurity. Now imagine being defined by that one single story. Imagine other people interacting with you, talking to you, and perceiving your completeness based on the nature of that single story.

I can think of my own moments of weakness, seasons of insecurity, and times when my actions were not based in my truth. While they are part my story, part of the completeness of me, they do not define the sum of my parts.

“The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story... It is impossible to properly engage with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of their dignity.” –Chimanda Ngozio Adichie

Pause now and re-read the quote, please.

What a gift and a lesson for all of us—a lesson of humility, of grace, of building relationships, and of understanding the completeness of people and of culture. This quote is pulled from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on the danger of a single story. In the talk, she explains how stereotypes and a “single story” prevent us from fully understanding other people and cultures.

My dear friend Selam Adugna sent me the link to this TED talk. Selam is a gender and education activist from Ethiopia. Belmont was graced by her presence and her story during the International Day of the Girl campaign last October. We have talked a few times since I received funding for my trip to Kenya. She has been helping me “balance the story” of Africa and of East Africa specifically. She is right in that the media shapes our view and perspective of life in other parts of the world. After checking CNN’s website’s Africa page and reading Kenya’s daily news everyday for the past six months, it is easy to be consumed in the terror of the world. However, the story unrest and poverty is not the single story of Kenya or of Africa.

As my life cannot be represented by a single story, as your life cannot be represented by a single story, Kenya certainly cannot be understood properly without exploring its many stories. I leave for Muhuru Bay exactly one week from today. My greatest hope is to share the many stories of Muhuru Bay, Kenya—in hopes of “balancing the story” of this community. My greatest hope is to properly engage with this country and with its culture. My greatest hope is to learn.



Why Kenya?

I graduated from college yesterday. In about one month I board a plane to Kenya. (I am also taking the GRE between now and then). I think about all these things and I have to laugh and cry and remind myself to breathe. Now that graduation is over, my real preparation begins.

On June 16th I leave for Muhuru Bay, Kenya, a small fishing village off the coast of Lake Victoria. I will live at an all-girls secondary school, WISER (the Women’s Institute for Secondary Education and Research.) My project is based on researching and documenting how the WISER model of education is creating an enabling environment for empowerment for young women (in hopes of the WISER model being replicated in other Kenyan communities).

Again and again, I have answered the question: “Why would you go to Kenya?” This question has has been asked in different forms and through different frames — sometimes out of genuine curiosity, sometimes out of deep concern,  and sometimes simply out of confusion.

I think I can better answer the “Why Kenya” question by answering this one: “Why are girls’ rights important to you?” This issue is important to me because it is important to our world. Girls having equal opportunities to choice, to education, and to resources provides better economic, social, and health outcomes for girls and boys, for men and women, for everyone. It is important because it is a human rights issue. Because every girl deserves to be seen, to be heard, and to be known. Because I am girl. Because I have been celebrated for being a girl from the moment I took my first breath.

I am privileged. My privilege is all over me. Irreversible, irremovable.  I wear it on my skin. I display it with my freedoms. I can hear it in my voice, my words. I carry it with the diploma I received yesterday. I live it with the choices I make for my life. Privilege is not the reality for most women and girls on this planet. Without change, without movement, and without support for education it never will be.

The best way to support me and to support this project is to tear down the political and geographic barriers that we often subconsciously put up when we think about global issues. Donate to WISER and educate yourself on girls’ rights around the world. Follow me, travel with me, and learn with me.