These Girls are on Fire!
By Cameron D Terry
Life in Nairobi, Kenya is arduous. Nearly one third of the residents of this metropolis live in one of several slums which receive limited electricity, have no running water and other restrained services. Existence within one of these slums is even direr; disease is rampant and malnutrition is normal. For girls growing up in the Kibera slum, day to day life borders on hopeless because only about 8% of them ever get the chance to attend school.
It is hard to exhaustively list the problems in a place like Kibera. Life expectancy hovers around 30 years, a figure that would have been considered normal in the age of the Neanderthal. But it is also quite clear that there are a select few individuals who have committed themselves to changing life for the residents of this Kenyan slum. We’ve highlighted from time to time the successes of Shining Hope for Communities; a charity we are tremendously excited to have supported and thrilled to see succeed as they bring opportunities to young girls in Kibera.
Meet Eileen Flannigan, an enthusiastic and resourceful entrepreneur with a passion for creating success in the midst of difficult circumstances. She has worked for Kiva in microfinance to generate incomes for Indian and Kenyan women with little to no resources. When working with a group of orphan girls from SHOFCO last year, she found it astonishing how much the girls seemed cut off from the rest of the world. With limited resources and just two house mothers working at their safe home, Margaret’s Safe House, there is hardly a priority on field trips to leave the slum and experience Nairobi’s gems.
Early in her volunteer work, Eileen decided to have the girls over to her apartment for dinner. When they found out butterfly pasta was on the menu, they were instantly concerned. Looking in the pot, they queried how Eileen removed the color from the butterflies. “I asked ‘how many of you have seen a butterfly?’ None had seen a butterfly…They of course told me very impressive facts about butterflies. These girls are smart, and they can tell you everything about something, but they haven’t experienced it!” Eileen says.
The cogs in Eileen’s head gained steam as she wondered what it might take to show these girls the diversity and beauty of their country; to show them real butterflies for instance. Over the next few months she created immersive learning experiences for the girls. She took the girls on a hike to Butterfly Lake in Nairobi just 10 minutes from their slum. They went to a Nairobi art collective and took drawing lessons. They swam in a pool for the first time. All the while, Eileen wondered what it may take to actually equip these young ladies to be the next leaders of Kenya. She suggests “You don’t really learn things until you experience them.”
Flannigan says the girls fell in love with the Alicia Keys song, “Girl on Fire”, “… early on I had that song on my phone and I played it for them and it became our song. They know all the words, they have dance moves… It’s kind of associated with our adventures while I was there.” She promised the girls that she would come back to see them, and the vehicle she’s chosen to facilitate her return trip has the girls very excited.
The Girls on Fire Leadership Camp was born with the organic idea of simply getting these girls out of the slum this week of Christmas (when gender violence is at its highest) to experience Kenya’s rich tribal cultures, landscape and animals! Twenty girls from Margaret’s Safe House will take the trip of their young lives over their Christmas break. Eileen has been able to partner with several companies, schools and non-profits to put a fabulous itinerary together for the girls that will have an emphasis on cultural immersion and learning self-esteem by being of service to these communities. They’ll cover over 1000 km! They will learn about Kenyan farmers dealing with lions, participate in farm-to-table cooking, go on safari, and meet entrepreneurs and artisans throughout their country. Eileen suggests, “My biggest hope is that some sort of seed is being planted; that they could actually go back and affect change in their own communities. And that they really internalize that no matter where they fall on the economic ladder or their age, they always have something of value to offer and that the expression of who they are is what the world needs.”
But Eileen needs your help to make this trip happen. She chose to crowd-fund the project and she has been delighted with the response. Kenyan NGO’s, individuals, and small business owners along the path of their journey have been very willing to pony up to make this a special trip. “It’s provided access points for people that they didn’t have prior to this,” Eileen says. “There’s something about this process that they’ve connected to. Every day I wake up and I get really wonderful notes [and videos] from people who want to give but don’t know how.”
The goal for the first Girls on Fire Leadership camp is a modest $15,000; currently they’ve raised about $10,000. We’ve chosen to endorse this fabulous project because we believe in the results-based philosophy Eileen has chosen to employ for these girls. The trip is scheduled for December 18-30, so it’s coming up fast! Fundraising closes December 6th. In order to send these girls off properly, we need to help do our part here at home. If you would like to get more information or contribute to this amazing project, please click here .