Guest post contributed and written by Jen Murtagh. All photos by Candace Meyer Photography.
I had yearned to visit Kenya from the time I was a little girl. I was obsessed with documentaries of the Serengeti and incensed by the Ethiopian famine that took the lives of so many children my own age. Those images and the idea of Africa has stuck with me most of my life and although I didn’t know when, I did know I would one day make the trip to a continent that called my name.
I landed in Kenya in the dark but I could feel the energy even if I couldn’t see it. Nairobi vibrates in a way that you sense the moment you step off the plane and onto the tarmac.
A chance meeting with the indomitable Lotte Davis in 2015 had brought me to Kenya. Lotte is the co-founder of Burnaby based global hair care line AG Hair, and the force and founder behind One Girl Can. A native South African, Lotte returned to Kenya many years ago and travels twice a year to oversee school projects. She mentors and connects with the girls, while running One Girl Can’s women’s leadership conference for their university scholarship recipients. Growing up as a young girl in South Africa in the age of apartheid, and witnessing the deepest levels of social injustice and gender inequality, drives Lotte’s vision to empower and educate the girls of sub-Saharan Africa in order to break the cycle of poverty.
Thankfully Lotte was quite open to me tagging along with her on her most recent visit to Kenya. Established in 2013, Vancouver-based One Girl Can has made considerable advancements in a relatively short period of time. The key to their growing success? Meticulous oversight, low administration and Lotte’s passionate drive to reach as many girls as possible. To date, the organization has built 6 schools, provided scholarships for 190 girls and mentored 7,000 — and their impact continues to grow exponentially.
One Girl Can believes that education is the key to alleviating poverty and their work is focused on a cycle of empowerment that begins with building and improving schools. From there, they identify girls whose parents are struggling to pay their school fees and offer them scholarships.
Girls on scholarship must maintain a B average, showing their commitment to their studies. Through hand-picked mentors and program managers, each girl in school will go through four different mentorship programs. They then have the opportunity to be supported through their university studies with a further scholarship and stipend for living expenses. Finally, One Girl Can provides ongoing support to the girls, helping them to find internship opportunities and preparing them for their careers.
My role on this trip was simple – try to keep up with Lotte’s fervent and impressive pace of doing as much as possible in 24 short hours and provide support in running a few leadership workshops for both their high school and university scholarship recipients.
Our first day, we visited a school in the middle of the Nairobi Kiberia Slums, the biggest slum in Kenya. One million people existing in abject poverty, with no running water, sanitation and very little electricity. When you are immersed in this you do start to grasp why 64% of girls are not attending school. School fees in Kenya are close to $700 a year and with most families surviving on $1.90 a day, it’s nearly impossible. This is why One Girl Can’s work is so vital.
Over the next week we visited more areas, including Ganze School in Kilifi and Masinga School about three hours outside of Nairobi. The transformations at both of these schools thanks to One Girl Can is simply breathtaking. Classrooms, science labs, dormitories, fresh paint and new washing and bathroom facilities all paid for by generous donations. The smiles, songs and gratitude when we arrived signalled to me the profound impact the donations have made on these girls’ lives.
I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to travel to Africa and participate in a cause that is deeply woven into the fabric of my heart. As a mother of an eight year-old girl, the importance of gender equality and equal rights is paramount. Education is a fundamental key to poverty alleviation and these girls deserve just as much of a chance as my own daughter does.
To some, Africa might seem like a world away but I believe we all have a collective responsibility to leave this world a better place. The Dalai Lama has said “the world will be saved by the western woman” and what better place for us to share our resources and make a profound impact than in Kenya — a country where only 24% of girls make it to secondary school. We have the chance to change the lives of countless girls. Don’t you think we should take it?
My hope, with this piece, is to inspire other men and women to get a group of friends together and sponsor a girl either as a collective or individually, through One Girl Can. What a beautiful way to celebrate your friendship and pay it forward. You will receive letters from the girl you sponsor, hear about where she goes to school and learn more about her.
One donation can change a life. For more information and to view girls who currently need sponsorship, please visit: OneGirlCan.com