Wednesday, December 10, 2008


December 9, 2008

A couple of stories came up, and observations, that I was not able to fit in along the way so I thought I would share them now.

At the WBF training, a lawyer who was giving information on the legalities of starting up a business, opened his talks with a story about his sister. He and his sister were in the same class in school. They were both good students but his sister always was a bit ahead of him. About the age of 12, both of them had to start doing a lot more work at home. His sister had to help with the other children, the dishes, the cleaning and the cooking. He had to help herd the cows.

When you herd the cows, you can take a book with you and read, and do some homework. You can not have a book in your hand and bathe a child, or cook the rice, or do the dishes. Consequently, when they completed school, he was at the A level and she was at C-. He said this was entirely because of the difference—and intensity—of their work at home. It was a very telling illustration of how girls are so often side-tracked by the “girl” duties at home.

Two years ago when I came to Kenya my friend Eva gave me a Kenyan name—Njoki, which means “one who comes back.” This has been a great source of pride and amusement for both the Kenyans and myself. I found the same reactions—pride and amusement—when I was in Kenya in August of 2007, and when I met officials at the Kenyan Embassy in Washington D.C. in May 2008.

However, this trip I found a somewhat different reaction. At least five times during the week after I introduced myself as Njoki, I had the person ask me, “Are you a Kikuyu?”

The post-election violence the end of last year and early this year was predominantly between the Kikuyus and Luos. Both were represented by a leader in the close election. Tensions were high and erupted into unspeakable acts of violence for 1-2 months in some areas.

It’s pretty obvious that I am not a Kikuyu. Yet some people were seemed so taken aback by my name. When I would laugh and say, “No,” they would ask if a Kikuyu gave me the name. I would just respond, “A friend that lives here gave me the name because she knows I love Kenya and I always come back!”

I questioned the last person who said it to me, a young gentleman who works for KLM at the airport. I said to him, “I was never asked this on my trips before the election, but now since the violence, I am have been asked at least five times on this trip. Isn’t that sad?” And he replied—talking about himself as much as the others, “This is why we as Kenyans do not move forward. We are stuck in the past instead of looking at the future. Yes, I should not have asked that.” He called me Njoki for the rest of our transaction—and did not charge me for my overweight luggage!

The first time it came up was from one of the girls we were training. When I said my Kenyan name is Njoki, she took a step back and asked if I was Kikuyu. When I said no, she asked if a Kikuyu person gave me that name. Then she went to the other side of the room and sat alone. She was clearly troubled. I alerted the other trainers about our interaction—her concern that I had a Kikuyu name.

The Kenyan adults in the training were surprised. Were the young people, who grew up side by side with people from different tribes, different villages, different backgrounds, starting to soak in some of the prejudices of the adults?

This young woman became one of the most engaged trainees and definitely one of the best communicators. The last day, as our three vans converged at a meeting point to go to the corporate launch, she jumped out of her van and came to sit in the van by me. I decided to light-heartedly tease her—that I knew she did not like me at first because of my Kikuyu name. She tried to shrug it off, but I wouldn’t let her. I said to her, “I knew it bothered you and I am so proud of you now for overcoming it.” She grinned and nodded her head.

Raychelle, who handled the logistics for our training, had seen that interaction during the informal introductions. She said she was pleasantly surprised that I picked up on the girl’s comment and body language so quickly. “I knew from that point that the training would go well and the girls were in good hands,” she said.

Yes, Njoki is appropriate. I was going back to Kenya in March for the KAWBO conference, which has now been moved back to May. I had already lined some other things up for March, so I’m thinking—maybe I need to go in both March and May….

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


The launch on December 5, 2008
It was the corporate launch of the Partnership for an HIV FREE GENERATION initiative in Kenya. ( The day started with the Roundtable—what we have been preparing for all week. The eight girls mentioned above, plus two more that joined us the last day, had 2-3 minutes to tell their story. Those in attendance were the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger, Buck Buckingham, head of PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), Ian Kirumba, head of the HIV Free Generation initiative in Kenya, and representatives of other corporate partners (such as Warner Bros. and Coca-Cola) and other NGOs.

The girls were so excited ahead of time and their energy was quite high. I could tell they were nervous, but also positively excited. We were there at least an hour before they had to speak, so we had time to kill. We kept them busy talking, laughing, taking pictures…anything but obsessing about their presentations.

They were amazing. Just amazing. The adrenaline of the day, the event, hit them and it was a positive influence. They talked loudly (on the first day of training you could barely hear half of them speak, they were so soft…), slowly, clearly, concisely and with conviction. Everything we could have hoped for and more. The question and answer period with the Ambassador was illuminating. His questions were targeted and so were the girls’ answers. And they were eager to respond to his questions—with multiple girls raising their hands to answer.

Then we went outside for the big ceremony with hundreds of people and dignitaries in attendance. The Ambassador spent the first part of his speech talking about the girls, how he was so impressed, how much he had learned, and how he could never pass on the message of the importance of an HIV Free Generation as well as the girls. They were sitting in the front row and deservedly beaming from the praise.

(We were told later by one of the NGO representatives that Ambassador Ranneberger does not get much opportunity for this type of one-on-one meetings with the Kenyan people and he does not easily give praise—so his remarks were especially sincere).

Our two 12-year-olds, Cynthia and Annie (who became super close friends during the training), spoke from the podium. They each added even more to their presentations. Instead of freezing in front of the big crowd, they responded to their task and WOW-ed everyone. Cynthia even said, “As a leader, if you take the elevator up, you have to send it back down so other people can take the elevator up, too.” That was a quote that Eva used during training which comes from the NBA star Dikembe Motumbo, who is originally from the DRC.

It shows that these girls were a sponge. Eager to be given a chance, the opportunity to not only lead—they were already leaders before they came to the training—but to learn how
to spread the word and affect more and more girls in their communities. It’s what “The Girl Effect” program from the Nike Foundation is all about—if you change a girl’s life, you change the family’s life, and the community’s life—and then the world. You make history.

The event was held at the AmericaShare/Micato Safaris youth center in Mukurukwa Njenga, one of Nairobi’s “informal residential settlements”. You had to drive through the entire slum to get to it. What a brilliant choice for location. This made much more sense than a hotel ballroom. The journey in made it very clear the work that needs to be done—and how important and vital it is.

Cecilia came up to me afterwards and asked if I knew where the Ambassador went because she wanted to give him one of her scarves. We found him just as he was getting into his vehicle to leave. He got back out and Cynthia presented him with a scarf and they took pictures. What a savvy businesswoman she is!

We then held a celebratory lunch at a Nairobi restaurant that is woman-owned. Dr. Auma Obama joined us, as well as one of Kenya’s most popular singers, Nyoto. The girls were honored and excited about the special guests. We presented them with Nike Foundation posters, certificates of completion for the training, and my PR Works book.

Nyoto has a great story to share. She was house help before she got her singing break. So she comes from the same place where the girls are now and shows them the positive results of having a vision and working towards that dream. She told the girls her story in Swahili. I asked the girls to tell her about The Girl Effect in Swahili. They had a great interchange.

Nyoto told me afterwards that she hopes we can keep in touch and I can help her bring her music to America.

It was difficult to say good-bye. I hope the girls keep in touch with me, but I know its not necessarily easy. They do not have easy access to computers. We had thought about getting each girl one of Nyoto’s CDs, and then realized they probably would not have a way to play it. Reality hits—so different from the world we know, in such a simple way.

The training definitely served its purpose. The leadership training offered by Phyllis and Eva gave them the confidence, self-esteem and knowledge that THEY ARE LEADERS. I helped them learn how to effectively assemble and communicate their stories. On the first day of training, Cynthia was too embarrassed that she was an orphan and did not want to talk about it. Now she talks about it as another piece of her background, not one that necessarily needs to define her.

Our motto was CHEERS NOT TEARS. These stories are so moving and touching that they do bring tears to people. But we hoped the end result would not be that people sat there and cried, but that people jumped up and applauded and cheered the girls on. Responded in appreciation and awe for who they are on the INSIDE and how they share themselves with others to make it a better community, a better world.

Mission accomplished. What a great day!

Monday, December 8, 2008


December 7, 2008

The training is over, the event is over, and I’m on my way home. What a rewarding trip this was. I was hired to impart my wisdom and experience to girls and young women and I feel like I am coming home with so much more than I could ever possibly give.

I would say the overall theme of this trip was “Pay It Forward.” That started with the slogan of the Women Mentorship Walk on November 29. It was highlighted throughout my time in Kenya and it is so true.

I bought from five suppliers for Up from the Dust—including two of the young women I trained. For both of them, it is their first sale to America, the first sale outside of Kenya. They are now global.

The other two new organizations help either specifically rural women or women with HIV and AIDS. They have new, unique products and the wealth is being spread. I’m excited to see the reaction.

I had my hair braided by Cynthia and her Aunt Josey. Cynthia was one of the two 12-year-olds in the training. She was orphaned two years ago and lives with her Aunt, who has a hair salon in one of the slums. They came to my hotel room and it took them 7 hours to do the braiding. I paid them almost double what they asked for in compensation. It was an added bonus just to spend the time with them. Josey is having trouble coming up with the money for Cynthia’s school fees. Cynthia has been the first in her class since she started Level 1 (she is now Level 8). What a loss it would be to society if Cynthia could not continue in school and pursue her dreams.

I made new business partnerships for future business in Kenya, which will be exciting benefit to both myself and my new partners. I hooked several women up with other women from the United States where I think there may be good synergies and good business. Pay it forward.

I donated medical supplies to Dr. Obama of CARE International. And two books written by my friend Joan Bourque to school libraries. Pay it forward.

I went to an African Art Gallery that a woman owns who was the WBF training on Nov. 28. I bought some wonderful that I may want to include in Up from the Dust in the future. In the meantime, I’ll be wearing them and enjoying them myself! Pay it forward.

THANK YOU to Vital Voices for giving me this experience. THANK YOU to the girls for letting me into your lives. THANK YOU to my co-trainers, Phyllis and Eva. THANK YOU to the Nike Foundation for focusing on the girls and carrying through with the funding for these great programs. THANK YOU to Nyokabi for the mentor walk. THANK YOU to Raychelle for trusting me as a new business partner and immediately setting up a government appointment so we can move forward. THANK YOU to Eva for sharing your church and your family with me. THANK YOU to all the Kenyans who make this a special “second home” to me!

There are more stories to tell. Small, but significant. I’ll keep them coming for the next week. Hope you enjoy them.

P.S. Mark your calendars for May 20-23, 2009, (dates changed from March) when the Kenya Association of Women Business Owners will be hosting an international conference and presenting the first ATHENA International Leadership Awards in Africa!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kenya Day 5—December 2, 2008

Our training started today. The Nike Foundation introduced their powerful programs by showing their videos. (Please go to the website that I highlighted at the end of the day yesterday and view these videos.) The PEPFAR program was introduced and what the girls will be doing on Friday with the corporate launch of the HIV Free Generation program. Our purpose in this training is to teach the girls leadership and communication skills. We want to make them realize that they are already leaders! And how to communicate their story and their leadership messages.

I had high expectations for this training, but was somewhat concerned when the young ladies were identified (less than 24 hours before training was to begin!) because I would be working with women who were ranging from 12 to 23 years old!

But my expectations were by far exceeded. These girls are incredible! They started showing their leadership and profound thoughts from our first team-building exercise in the morning.

And it is such a joy to work with my two co-trainers, Phyllis Mwangi and Eva Muraya. They are working on the girls leadership skills and communicating those. Their presentations are lively, make the girls laugh and really add a great dimension. Eva had the girls come up with the Peacock Formula—which was 28 words that start with P that traits of leaders. (Why Peacock? Well, it starts with P, the girls thought it was a fun word and Peacocks are regal and proud—a good look for a leader!)

In the afternoon we worked on finding out the girls’ stories. Sometimes we had to push and prod and pull to get them to share, but they understood the value in that, as well. I’ve put a brief version of the girls’ stories below—this is the information that will be going out to the press for Friday’s event and gives you an idea of the phenomenal girls I am getting to know. I have added some of my side notes in parentheses.

Joyce Waithaka, 20, was raised by her mother in Muchatha. She won a business plan contest when she was 18 and opened a bakery. She now employs two other young women, including an orphan, because “if they make money and learn a trade they won’t participate in behaviors that endanger themselves.” (Today when we were envisioning a “world leader”, Joyce envisioned one of her employees. She feels her mentorship and employment may have this type of impact on this girl’s life).

Ann Agesa, 12, is a Girl Guide and lives in Nakuru with her parents. As a peer educator, she teaches other youth about HIV/AIDS prevention. She helped develop a handbook for other peer educators. She wants to be a doctor.

Cynthia Aginga, 12, lives with her aunt and uncle, their two children and her four siblings in Kasarani. Her father died when she was one year old and her mother died of cancer two years ago. Cynthia has been number one in her class at school from Class 1-8, and she won an essay contest on “Something I’ve Never Told Anyone About”. She is a member of Chill Club, which teaches youth about being an HIV Free generation. She wants to be a pilot because she wants to travel to different countries. (Cynthia is ashamed of being an orphan and did not want to publicly share that part of her story. We are working with her on being proud of who she is, where she comes from, and what she is accomplishing despite the odds against her).

Stephanie Shipemo, 20, lives in Jamhuri in Kibera and completed Level 4 this year. She dropped out of school after getting pregnant from a rape, but went back to school and completed her studies. “I am an overcomer” she says! She wants to be a beautician and make a better life for her two-year-old daughter. (Stephanie said it is the first time she told anyone about being raped.)

Maureen Atieno, 18, is a community organizer. She is a leader with the Binti Pamoja program in Kibera. She has recruited all the girls from her immediate community (30) and works with the “Kicking AIDS Out” program. She wants to be a lawyer. (We are teaching Maureen that she is a “community organizer” like President-Elect Obama! Why? BECAUSE SHE IS!!)

Maggy Muthoni, 20, is a single mother of a two-year-old and owns multiple businesses in Baba Dogo. She has learned to save money every month rather than buying snacks. Her family left the Masai over tribal conflict before she started school. Maggy was instrumental in uniting the Kikuyus and Luos in her community after the post-election violence. Many peers seek her out for her insight and guidance and personal and professional matters. She takes good care of her son, who has some health challenges.

Queen Atieno 17, lives in Baba Dogo where she works at a beauty salon seven days a week. She lives with her aunt because her parents and four siblings fled Nairobi after the election violence. She wants to expand her business, buy her own home where she will live with her younger siblings and find a caring and faithful man.

Cecilia Katungwa, 23, lives in Mukuru Fuatanyayo with a brother and little sister. Her mother was an alcoholic and died from TB when she was 13 and Cecilia was raised by nuns in a Children’s Home. She established a knitting and design business two years ago and continues to expand it each year. It is located in the Kenyatta Market. She has cultivated her leadership skills as a Chairwoman of Smart Girls Youth of Life, a savings alliance for young women ages 15-25. (I may be importing some of her items for Up from the Dust!)

Monday, December 1, 2008

KENYA Day 4, Monday, December 1, 2008

Today I went to the slums of Nairobi for the first-time and it was such an uplifting experience.

That may seem like an odd statement and my emotions from today are so high that it may even be hard for me to explain.

I must start out here by saying that I am tired. It is getting late and training starts tomorrow. So I may leave some holes and some questions, but please be assured that I will try to fill in those holes throughout this week. However, I have to share some points about my day despite the late hour at night.

Today we did site visits to some of the homes and businesses of girls who are going to be in our training program this week. We visited two girls that are in a program conducted by TechnoServe (

Maggie sells water (for 2 shillings a jug—about a quarter) and Queen works with her aunt in a hair salon. Maggie and her two-year-old son live in one room and it is obvious that it is cherished and taken care of with great pride. Lace curtains and beautiful embroidered couch cushions are just a few of the special touches.

But I was particularly impressed when Maggie reached under her mattress to show us her ledger. She had been keeping track of her sales for two months. She shows sales and expenses for each day. But most impressively, she also shows SAVINGS for each day. She is saving over 1,000 shillings a month.

She said she learned how to do all this—her ledger and to save—through the TechnoServe program (which is funded by the Nike Foundation). Maggie said before her training with TechnoServe, she spent the extra money on snacks, but now she understands the importance of saving.


It was quite a walk from the main road and entrance to the slum—and local bus stop—to Queen’s home. I mention this because sometimes when Queen goes to training programs she gets back after dark. Our chaperones from TechnoServe told us how unsafe this area of the slum in particular is at night, and they are concerned about how far Queen has to walk from the bus stop.

The entire time we are walking through the “streets” the young children are running up to us and saying “How are you?” It is a chorus of “How are you?” “How are you?” “How are you?” the entire afternoon! Maggie told me that these are the first English words that children learn. Many reach out to shake our hand. Pauline Mwangi, Entrepreneurship Manager for TechnoServe (and a graduate of a Vital Voices-Fortune program) said most of these children have probably never seen a white person.

There were many ducks on one street. Maggie told me the ducks belong to her cousin, who sells the ducks as a business. I asked her how her cousin can be sure the ducks aren’t stolen? Maggie said, “It is very hard to steal a duck. If someone tries to steal a duck, the duck quacks very loudly so my cousin knows and can come out and get the duck before the person can get away with it.” To Maggie, I’m sure it seemed like a funny question, because the answer is so practical.

We went to a meeting that about 10 girls had for the TechnoServe program. Maggie is the leader with a girl named Florence as the assistant leader. I was extremely impressed with both of the girls’ leadership skills. Since I had not met Florence earlier, she was a welcome surprise. She kept Maggie focused on the agenda, paid attention to staying on track of time and was not afraid to disagree if she did not think plans were practical.

Florence said, “We will be seen as very important now in our community because we have two white women that came to meet with us.”

Florence was also drop dead gorgeous. When I mentioned this on the ride back to the hotel, Pauline told me that Florence’s past included prostitution, but she had quit that and was working hard to stay away from it. TechnoServe had set up a sales internship for Florence and Pauline said she did an outstanding job.

After the meeting Florence came up to me and asked for my email address. She told me she wanted to email me and keep in touch. I was extremely honored that this bright young woman had an interest in me, this 52-year-old stranger from America. I look forward to corresponding with her and really hope she writes to me.

The girls’ group scheduled an acting class that would start the following week. Part of the purpose of the acting class is to use it as a recruiting tool to get other girls to join their group. They also discussed topics for the play they wanted to write and put together. I gave them a goal. I will be back in Kenya in March. I wanted to see their play in March. The girls, and Cyprian Amakulu, our driver and an intern with TechnoServe who works with this specific group, assured me that it would happen.

On the way back to the hotel, I asked Pauline what the goal was with these groups, which TechnoServe has set up all over Nairobi. Is it to get the girls out of the slums? Or is it as simple as trying to build up their self-esteem? Is it to help them grow a business and get a better life?

Pauline said the goal is to show the girls the options that are out there in the world. One option might be entrepreneurship. Another one might be to save money and provide a better life for your child, even if it is within the same community. This answer was so impressive to me. If the goal was to get the girls out of the slums, it may seem too far-reaching and discouraging. To build their self-esteem would not be enough. This goal makes perfect sense.

The three-day training that Vital Voices is doing for the Nike Foundation starts tomorrow. For more information on this program, go to

KENYA Day 3, Sunday, November 30, 2008

Other than logistical things with the upcoming training, I had the day off. I went to church with my friend Eva. Going to worship services in different countries is one of the greatest cultural things one can do when visiting another country, in my opinion. Eva’s church is a series of HUGE tents and there are three different simultaneous services—one for adults, one for youth and one for children. The service was almost 3 hours long, but extremely interesting. Next Sunday Eva’s choir does a holiday presentation so I’m really looking forward to that.

Some of us did an afternoon shopping trip to the Masai Market. A woman I purchased items from in August 2007 saw me and came up to me. I was so surprised that she remembered me. I was looking for her as well. You can check out my website at in the next couple of weeks and we’ll highlight the “bone jewelry” that I buy from her. It sold out quickly the last time I got it!

Phyllis Mwangi and her husband joined the Vital Voices team, Eva and her daughters and myself for dinner. We got into a very interesting discussion about the Women’s Business Forum’s advocacy training that Eva conducted on Friday (see Kenya Day 1 blog). Or—I’ll save you the trouble and remind you of one thing that I wrote:
Advocating for “economic” issues has never been discussed before, they said. Advocacy here is generally about human rights so the idea of economic empowerment and advocacy is a first.

One of the presenters, Betty Murungi, Director of the Urgent Action Fund in Nairobi, talked about the importance of businesswomen to stay involved with the human rights advocacy as well. We had a great discussion about this at dinner. I mentioned that based on my experience with WIPP, I thought it might be important for the Women’s Business Forum (WBF) to make sure they focus on business and economic issues.

This created a lot of discussion about how violence against women, gender discrimination and overall human rights violations are an economic issue. If an entire generation is dying of AIDS, where are we are business owners going to find our employees? If women are beaten and battered by their husbands, they can’t go to work and that affects the economy. If girls are married off at age 15—or lower—society is potentially missing years and years of economic contribution from that girl.

Melysa Sperber from Vital Voices, a lawyer who has experience representing human rights’ victims, cited a US Supreme Court decision that upheld a lower court ruling which declared that violence against women is even an interstate commerce issue.

Again, as I said earlier, I am active with Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), which represents more than 500,000 women business owners on Capital Hill. WIPP has more than 30 women business groups as coalition partners. However, you will not see WIPP take an issue on a breast cancer bill, for example. WIPP only responds to issues that relate to small business or women-owned business, not to women’s issues.

Part of the strategy behind that is to keep a focus. Part of its policy statement reads “Matters which are not directly relevant to the economic health and well-being of constituent businesses are not part of our agenda.”

So, the scourge of AIDS on society does affect a business, but maybe that can be covered by making sure that businesses can afford to provide health care benefits? This is just one example. But the Supreme Court decision also shows the impact on human rights issues when businesses get involved or commerce is affected. So if more businesses and business associations got involved with human rights issues, would we move more quickly in these areas?

One suggestion I made is that for a group like the WBF, maybe economics is the umbrella and the human rights issues are visibly mentioned under that umbrella. That begs the question that should human rights issues be treated as second-rate issues—or is that how it would be perceived?

This discussion can go around and around. Will WBF, especially since it is just beginning, be less effective if they don’t keep a focus? Another great suggestion was—are any of the 30+ coalition partners in WIPP groups that are predominantly advocating for human rights issues, women’s health care issues, etc.? If not, maybe those groups need to do more to reach out and work together with business groups and add the economic impact of their issues to the forefront of their advocacy!

We continued this discussion on Monday with the NIKE Foundation representatives, because their programs really look at the economic empowerment of adolescent girls because overall, that helps increase the living situations of the girls, their families and their communities…..So again, does economics lead the human rights issue, or vice versa? More on the NIKE Foundation program later this week as we get into the training.

I encourage readers of this blog to respond to this discussion—what do you think?

Dr. Auma Obama

Here I am at the mentoring walk with Dr. Auma Obama, the Sport for Social Change Initiative Coordinator for CARE International in East Africa (and half-sister of our President-Elect!). My t-shirt was printed by Color Creations in Kenya, the business which is owned by Eva Muraya.