“If we don’t empower women, we don’t allow them to unlock the potential of themselves and their children”. – Melinda Gates
Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day, a day celebrated around the world in honor of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Women and girls have made a tremendous amount of progress over the years however much work still remains to be done especially within the developing world.
In honor of this special day, I wanted to share a few of my recent photos of some of the inspiring girls and women I met in Western Kenya last week with LifeStraw. It was a truly life-changing trip that fed my soul with joy, compassion and hope. I can hardly wait to share more!
Over the course of a week, our international team of 130 LifeStraw staff and volunteers, rose at dawn and were off on the road by 6:30 am to reach the schools. We were divided up into 15 teams with the goal of reaching 3-4 primary schools per day. Our days were long but incredibly exhilarating and rewarding as we provided training and installation of safe water filtration systems at each school.
At our demonstrations on how to use the LifeStraw Community (a water filtration system that treats unsafe water making it safe to drink), it was almost always the girls who were up front and center participating in the program. Many of the girls were selected to be prefects in charge of maintaining and cleaning the LifeStraw Communities, a tremendous honor.
I was thrilled to see that in all the primary schools my team visited (15 in all ) and in the 11,923 school children we met, there was not a wide gender gap as you normally see throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and the developing world. In fact, girls and boys have reached gender parity in schools and that is a huge sign of improvement and success.
With more girls going and staying in school, there will be even more opportunities for them to become educated and to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. More girls will be able to become teachers, nurses, lawyers and doctors like these four girls I met and interviewed at Lufumbo Primary School in Butere County.
These girls were as curious about me as I was about them. As I left the group assembly to check out the school they shyly followed me and asked my name and questions about America. I asked if I could interview them to learn about their dreams for the future. Here is what they had to say.
The moment I brought out my camera, I was surrounded by thousands of children. All the them truly wanted their photos captured. I enjoyed taking their pictures and showing them the results which usually ended in giggles from the younger children and pride in the older ones. I felt truly connected to these children and even more so now when I look back at their photos.
LifeStraw has worked hard to promote female leadership on the ground in Western Kenya. Many of the local staff are women and they have become role models within their communities inspiring more girls to follow in their footsteps and become female leaders.
The LifeStraw Follow the Liters Program is powered by a group of strong, independent women, many of whom come from the communities that they serve.
When I reflect upon the incredible week I just experienced, the one thing that stood out to me the most was the strength, perseverance and collective voice of the girls. Every single one of them wanted to meet me. Every single one of them had a story to share with me. I could see it in their eyes. The connection we made as women and girls was unbreakable.
My team was fortunate to have two young volunteers, one from the United States named Sophia and the other originally from Kenya named Kiki. The school children adored them and it was fantastic to see them gathering around Sophia and Kiki asking them all about their lives.
The women I met were unforgettable as well. They were honored to have their photo taken and shared with them. I often went to met each school’s cook and any of the other women who were around the school. Many women were also teachers at the schools alongside men.
Their smiles will remain in my heart forever. They truly touched my soul.
Even the youngest of all, not yet in school, wanted to pose for me in front to the camera. I couldn’t resist this little princess. She was one of the teacher’s daughters and still was able to have her hair which will have to be shaved once she starts school.
After a beautiful week in Kenya, my soul was nourished. The joy and happiness in the eyes of the children was a lesson we should all take home with us. It proves that the most important thing you can have in this world is happiness. Even without running water, electricity or any materialistic things, the key to life is happiness.
Happy International Women’s Day! I hope that these photos help tell the story of the amazing girls and women I met last week in Kenya.