Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Life in Denver

Family life was hard. It was hard for me and I can only imagine how hard it must have been to crate space in a family of five for one more teenager.

I channeled the challenges into school. I did well at accademics but excelled in Speech and Debate. One major accomplishment is that I won the Colorado State Championships in Original Oratory in 1996! Accent and all!

In high school I also met three women who nurtured me and became my ‘other-mothers’. Mrs. Dachman who I cleaned for, Mary Hanna who I babysat Jonna and Evan for, and Melora’s (my best friend) mom who let me stay with them the summer after I graduated high school. These women gave me jobs so I had some pocket money, gave me rides, let me cry on their shoulders, and overall fed my spirit. The clincher for me is that for Mrs. Dachman and Mary Hanna came and supported me at every single award ceremony during my senior year of high school.

Two very important things about Akili Dada came out of my experiences in Denver.
What would it look like if we helped bright young women without having to take them away from their families?
At the time I left Kenya for the U.S. there were very limited opportunities in Kenya. That is changing drastically. The new democratic dispensation is creating incredible opportunities for education and advancement within the country that I think that outweighs the trauma of dislocating young high school students by sending them abroad. It is also important to build the educational infrastructure in Kenya by supporting schools that are there. That is why Akili Dada identifies the best girls schools in the country and supports them by paying the school fees of their poorest but best students. What we are doing is helping not just the scholars, but hopefully building the institutional capacity of the schools our scholars attend.

It is important for young women to have access to older women who nurture and mentor.
The teenage years and high school is hard enough without an uncomfortable family situation and culture shock in suburban Denver. I would not have made it out of Denver without my other-mothers. Their emotional support sustained me through the most difficult period of my life. Its important to me to try and avail that to our scholars. Our mentoring program is one step but as I read their essays, I think we need to do more. I’m thinking of ways to do more. Any ideas? How can we organize a mentoring/counseling program that is not too institutional to be useful but still effective? Its an ongoing conversation with the Board and Advisors.


mona said...

i love the work you are doing.trully inspirational.i really admire people like you.so talented, intelligent and purpose driven.very different from my confused self.i hope one day ill be able to do good like you are

gal africana said...

I second Mona. When I grow up I want to be like you (tsk we are the same age mind you). But golly! Be blessed!
I'm a mentee and want to start a mentoring prog in Dk too for african students, but still grappling with how on earth to do that. Also fun to see pics of PB...I'm an ex Pberain. Would love to sponsor someone from PB and will look into that this christmas when I go home. Did I say be blessed?! Good luck with the Phd!

sunnyK said...

greetings. I am very excited that you are starting such an important project. It is difficult to get the kind of access to scholarships and other opportunities, especially when you already left Kenya. As a young African woman doing the student career in the US, I feel you on many of the concerns. I would like to connect with you and share some ideas. I am also an ex-Pberian,like gal_Africana coincidence? I think not!

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg said...

You ladies are so so sweet and encouraging and awesome. I can't tell you how amazingly encouraging it is to read your comments and know that others think its something worth doing.
I'm actually going to be in Kenya in dec so i would love to connect with you if you are around.
we don't do one on one sponsorship at this point because we really feel strongly that Akili Dada exists to take care of structural inequalities as a whole. Also, if we did one on one sponsorships we might end up in a situation where only the cutest girls got sponsors etc. All that and we are really not trying to create celebrities in our scholars so its important we keep their young lives somewhat sheltered from the public until they are old enough to handle the public knowing their details.

All that said, we are always looking for donors to give to the cause. We are also always looking for women, especially young women professionals, to serve as mentors. So if you're based in Kenya and are interested in mentoring holla! Mona, you interested? email me at wanjiru@akilidada.org

Bless you lovely ladies! and thanks for the encouragement. We need each other like this!

much much love,