Tag Archives: Kenya


“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.


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.