Last year we admitted into our program a young girl named Gloria Hope Mwanyama. Her father, a teacher at one of our high schools, had come to us for two years pleading her cause, saying what a bright, dedicated girl she was. She had been admitted to Kenyatta University, (a huge accomplishment for a girl from the bush) and there was no way she could go without a sponsor. When she came for her interview, cloaked in the fear and shyness that most young girls wear when talking to a white person for the first time, she could barely look me in the eye, let alone express why she so desperately wanted to pursue a university degree in Environmental Protection and Community Development. We admitted her. The stars aligned and we were able to get a great sponsor for her (thank you Barbara Tanner). And she set off to realize her dream.
Gloria, June 2011 Gloria, June 2012 Gloria’s plastic bag handbag
As these students leave for Nairobi you wonder how they will ever make it. They are so naïve, so desperately poor in what they have to take with them, both physically and educationally. Yet they muster that legendary African courage, and off they go. Often Joseph, our indefatigable leader and father to all, will accompany them to orient them and make sure they are safely placed in the foreign swirl. Traveling 6 hours back on the night bus, he will then report the triumph to the parents and community.
Our college students join our team when we are here, conducting interviews of the young students. With pride they wear their Kenya Keys shirts, and become part of “executive” leadership. Gloria arrived yesterday. I watched her confident stride as she walked up the path. The smile on her face lead the way. She loved seeing my shock. “Surely this is not Gloria,” I exclaimed. “It tis,” she said. No longer the girl from the bush, she shared with us the excitement of her year “in university.” Her words, now pouring out of her in beautiful English, didn’t tell as much as her countenance. Here was a young girl, now a woman, who had unearthed what we would hope for all the girls we work with; a sense of I CAN, and I WILL!
She was a powerhouse working with us, asking insightful questions, sharing new ideas. At the end of the day I took her with us to the meeting of the SOS (Save our Sisters) girls, a group of secondary girls that organized last year to mobilize for girl’s advocacy. (Click here to read the story.) They cheered when Gloria shared her story. I swallowed the lump in my throat, as I watched her share an idea with the girls. She had learned to make purses out of used plastic bags, lovely things in all sizes. She explained how they can be a source of income, while also reducing the waste that floats everywhere around here. Perhaps the girls could make and sell the bags to make their group self-sustaining?
The girls loved the purses, and loved the idea. Today Gloria will teach them how. It is a job that takes Kenyan patience, but I know they will love it. Which will they like more? Producing something that turns waste into income, or sharing a moment with Gloria Hope, who embodies the dream they all carry in their hearts.
“Hope is the thing with feathers,” writes Emily Dickenson in one of my favorite poems. And indeed it is. Hope can lift like nothing else can. I watch it catch hold here, in the young and the old, in the girls and in the boys. All we do is sit back and watch them soar.