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. (www.HIVFreeGeneration.com) 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!

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