A Voice For the Voiceless


The Advocacy Project (AP) recruits students to help marginalized communities tell their story and claim their rights.

My RSS Feed

Twitter: #apfellows

Camp, cutting, and courage

Charlotte Bourdillon | PostedApril 30th, 2011 | Africa

“Charlotte, she won’t speak,” Kakenya Centre for Excellence student Vivian told me. She was talking about her holiday Health and Leaderhip Workshop/Camp mentor partner, Beatrice, from one of the surrounding schools from an even more rural area. I reminded Vivian the importance of sharing the lessons of confidence and empowerment the students have learned here at the Kakenya Centre for Excellence with other girls who aren’t as lucky as us to have the same resources and opportunities. I told her that it was her role to make sure her partner always understood the trainings, always had food at lunch, and never felt left out, and if she could do that she would be demonstrating the compassion, patience, and leadership that I have seen her demonstrate before.

From April 20-24, we held the first of what may be many more “summer camps” for girls here at the Enkakenya Centre for Excellence. The goals were really fourfold: To increase girls’ knowledge about health and leadership-related skills; to give girls in the community access to the fun and inspiring educational resources available through the Kakenya Centre for Excellence; to foster long-term mentorship relationships between Enkakenya Centre students and girls in the community and to further disseminate the skills and knowledge to which the students of Enkakenya Centre have access; and, to empower and motivate young girls’ in all of the community to achieve their full potential.

Teamwork and leadership activity - notice the uniforms from all the different schools!
Teamwork and leadership activity - notice the uniforms from all the different schools!

In order to match every standard 6 student at the Enkakenya Centre with a partner to mentor from the community, we invited several surrounding schools to send two students each. We were targeting two types of girls: those who were already displaying leadership qualities and those who were perhaps the most vulnerable at home and might benefit the most from the empowerment trainings. All in all, the seminar included 60 students from a total of 15 schools, all in standard 6 and averaging 12 years. We tried to gather some demographic information about the participants in our registration survey, and this is what we found. 36 % of participants reported that neither of their parents had any education at all, and relatively very few had parents who had finished high school. 24% of students reported that they did not have enough time to study at home. Kakenya explained to me, however, that talking about or complaining about this sort of personal thing is uncommon here, and so this number might be far lower than the real percentage.

Group shot at the April 2011 Health and Leadership Camp
Group shot at the April 2011 Health and Leadership Camp

We also asked about what type of house students lived in at home, and while the most common type of house is a semi-permanent one (i.e. temporary structure with iron sheet roof), 13 students reported their houses were entirely temporary or “huts”, and 12 students reported that they lived in permanent houses (i.e. stones and bricks). This implies that we reached a range of socioeconomic groups. Lastly, 48% of students reported that they had educational needs that their parents were unable to meet. For example, one student added in the margin, “I have a problem of story books but my parents doesn’t want to buy for me.”

Community outreach programs are critical to Kakenya’s dream; obviously, educating a select group of 100 students isn’t an efficient way to promote social change. In the not too distant future, Kakenya hopes to open a community center that will make resources (like computers) and education (like the risks and violations entailed in FGM) available to men and women in the community. To me, with this camp, we have reached a milestone here in Enoosaen – as far as I am aware, this is the largest scale community outreach effort yet.

The seminar started with sessions about confidence, self esteem, and self awareness, then jumped straight into the health issues; personal hygiene, female circumcision (FGM), and HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Then we tackled what leadership means, how to be a good leader, the importance of confidence and speaking up, and teamwork. Lastly, we talked had a speaker on children’s rights and had a motivational speech by an impressive Maasai woman who had started her schooling when there were no school buildings and had fought her way through education and up to the rank of Area Education Officer, a post which she now holds while on the side she houses girls fleeing FGM in her home.

Learning about sanitary towels
Learning about sanitary towels

All of this, of course, was interspersed with activities to reinforce the lessons, to foster the partnerships between Enkakenya Centre students and the others, and to let loose. And oh my, did they ever let loose when I introduced them to capture the flag (an all time favorite camp pastime).

At night we sang songs and watched movies (exposing many of these girls to things they have never seen before, and some much needed relaxation after very taxing days), and on the last night, we held a talent show. I have to say that for most of the camp, I didn’t think I was getting across my message about what a talent show is, and I definitely didn’t think the girls were excited about it. Alas, come the last night, every girl in the room participated (with a little coaxing from their counselors!), and some of the shyest girls were up at the front of the room reciting poetry they had learned about the importance of education or singing a traditional Maasai song with their friends. Can you imagine how giddy I was when one group actually put together a drama about FGM? The premise was that they held a traditional circumcision ceremony for 5 girls, and then one girl died as a result of loss of blood after the ceremony. Finally the girls broke into a song about how the community should give up the cutting practice, and it was incredibly moving to hear them raise their voices like that.

Following through in future programs and future years is really key to making sure these programs are effective – they will give us a chance to continue to arm the students with knowledge, and they will give us a chance to follow up and see what happens to the girls we train. Because of limited time and resources, however, we have to find a balance between reaching a diversity of new students and following up with the girls we have already trained and working with them over many years. Ideally, we will identify participants who demonstrate that they have strong potential as leaders, and we will work with those girls to cultivate those seeds of leadership and empowerment. Perhaps they will be our counselors for the holiday leadership workshop 2016! We are also thinking about ways to ensure that every student who attends our trainings becomes a peer educator to the other girls at their schools when they return home.

Teamwork activity
Teamwork activity

Let’s be clear about something: I have never planned a camp before. I did once work at a summer camp for recently resettled refugee youth, but it was more of a summer school than the feel good girl scouts type. And I have definitely never organized a seminar in a place like Kenya where arrival times, for example, and even arrival days, are apparently open to interpretation. I moved into the dorms with the girls to make sure things ran smoothly, but with the knowledge that despite how many agendas I posted around the school, and how many times I confirmed the topics with our trainers, things could never really run smoothly. Trainers had changed their schedules, the speaker arrived late, the borrowed TV didn’t work for two days, miscommunications abounded, and all in all probably less than a third of the camp went as planned. For those of us involved on the planning end, this time around was about learning how to run such a seminar. But at the least it seemed apparent by the last day that the girls had learned an impressive amount, and it was obvious that they were having a blast.

One really saddening issue became apparent as I went along; most of the adults in the community really don’t like to contribute their ideas and energy without compensation. There is a serious dearth of volunteer sentiment, and because this school is funded by muzungus, many people forget it is about raising the next generation of their community and think they can squeeze out some personal benefit. Surely, it is harder to ask people to be giving with their time when their quality of life is such that money for school fees may often pose a challenge, yet to the end that Kakenya is doing it, she expects others to chip in for the benefit of their daughters, sisters, nieces, and for the future of their society. Community buy-in is the only way that this project can be sustainable, and I learned first hand that it is still hard to weed out those who genuinely wish to be a part of the dream, and those who can’t help but think of personal gain.

Still, the spirit in the Enkakenya Centre for Excellence girls is always an phenomenal antidote to the ugliness of adults. If you ask them about their dreams, almost all of them desire to build a school or hospital for orphans or street children or something of the like. They have internalized Kakenya’s passion for giving back to a community and helping to make opportunities available to all. By the end of the workshop, I noticed Beatrice not only speaking but even jumping in and interrupting Vivian, as the two talked to me arm in arm about the leadership activity we had just played. These girls are up to the challenge, and at the ripe age of 12 they are already setting an example for their peers, and even their parents.

I love the slogan on the back of the camp t-shirts: INVEST IN ME, BUILD OUR NATION
I love the slogan on the back of the camp t-shirts: INVEST IN ME, BUILD OUR NATION

One Response to “Camp, cutting, and courage”

  1. Charlotte – This posting is the next-best thing to being there; thank you! I love the rich details, especially about the students. Thanks to Kakenya for masterminding the value of the camp concept, which truly does reach out to the rest of the community and region in ways so desperately needed. Bravo to Beatrice and to Vivian for being her mentor!

Leave a Reply

Security Code:

Fellow: Charlotte Bourdillon

The Kakenya Center for Excellence


Agent for Change Better than a safari Children's Act Child Rights Cleia Noia Computer lab Counselor Caroline East Africa END FGM Female Circumcision FGC FGM gratitude health professionals HP ICT Kakenya's Dream Kakenya Centre for Excellence Kenya MEPERI Moran Nairobi Naserian Girls Rescue Initiative Nkararo Paul Ole Sire Pusanki Rescued girls Rwanda Simon K. Masake Travel video Wild Animals Women's trainings World Vision




2013 Fellows


Benan Grams
Meron Menwyelet
Mohammed Alshubrumi
John Steies


Andra Bosneag
Chris Pinderhughes
Emily MacDonald
Jasveen Bindra
Kelly Howell
Raymond Aycock
Sujita Basnet

Middle East

Mona Niebuhr

2012 Fellows


Dane Macri
Laura McAdams
Mallory Minter
Megan Orr
Oluwatooni Akanni
Katie Hoffman


Adam Kruse
Alex Kelly
Alicia Evangelides
Heather Webb
Jesse Cottrell
Matthew Becker
Rachel Palmer


Claire Noone
Elise Filo

Latin America

Laura Burns

Middle East

Nur Arafeh
Thayer Hastings

North America

Caroline Risacher

2011 Fellows


Charlie Walker
Charlotte Bourdillon
Cleia Noia
Dina Buck
Jamyel Jenifer
Kristen Maryn
Rebecca Scherpelz
Scarlett Chidgey
Walter James


Amanda Lasik
Chantal Uwizera
Chelsea Ament
Clara Kollm
Corey Black
Lauren Katz
Maelanny Purwaningrum
Maria Skouras
Meredith Williams
Ryan McGovern
Samantha Syverson


Beth Wofford
Julia Dowling
Quinn Van Valer-Campbell
Samantha Hammer
Susan Craig-Greene

Latin America

Amy Bracken
Catherine Binet

Middle East

Nikki Hodgson

North America

Sarah Wang

2010 Fellows


Abisola Adekoya
Annika Allman
Brooke Blanchard
Christine Carlson
Christy Gillmore
Dara Lipton
Dina Buck
Josanna Lewin
Joya Taft-Dick
Louis Rezac
Ned Meerdink
Sylvie Bisangwa


Adrienne Henck
Karie Cross
Kerry McBroom
Kate Bollinger
Lauren Katz
Simon Kläntschi
Zarin Hamid


Laila Zulkaphil
Susan Craig-Greene
Tereza Bottman

Latin America

Karin Orr

North America

Adepeju Solarin
Oscar Alvarado

2009 Fellows


Adam Welti
Alixa Sharkey
Barbara Dziedzic
Bryan Lupton

Courtney Chance
Elisa Garcia
Helah Robinson
Johanna Paillet
Johanna Wilkie
Kate Cummings
Laura Gordon
Lisa Rogoff
Luna Liu
Ned Meerdink
Walter James


Abhilash Medhi
Gretchen Murphy
Isha Mehmood
Jacqui Kotyk
Jessica Tirado
Kan Yan
Morgan St. Clair
Ted Mathys


Alison Sluiter
Christina Hooson
Donna Harati
Fanny Grandchamp
Kelsey Bristow
Simran Sachdev
Susan Craig-Greene
Tiffany Ommundsen

Latin America

Althea Middleton-Detzner
Carolyn Ramsdell
Jessica Varat
Lindsey Crifasi
Rebecca Gerome
Zachary Parker

Middle East

Corrine Schneider
Rachel Brown
Rangineh Azimzadeh

North America

Elizabeth Mandelman
Farzin Farzad

2008 Fellows

Adam Nord
Annelieke van de Wiel
Juliet Hutchings
Kristina Rosinsky
Lucas Wolf
Chi Vu
Danita Topcagic
Heather Gilberds
Jes Therkelsen
Libby Abbott
Mackenzie Berg
Nicole Farkouh
Ola Duru
Paul Colombini
Raka Banerjee
Shubha Bala
Antigona Kukaj
Colby Pacheco
James Dasinger
Janet Rabin
Nicole Slezak
Shweta Dewan
Amy Offner
Ash Kosiewicz
Hannah McKeeth
Heidi McKinnon
Larissa Hotra
Hannah Wright
Krystal Sirman
Rianne Van Doeveren
Willow Heske

2007 Fellows

Johnathan Homer
Adam Nord
Audrey Roberts
Caitlin Burnett
Devin Greenleaf
Jeff Yarborough
Julia Zoo
Madeline England
Maha Khan
Mariko Scavone
Mark Koenig
Nicole Farkouh
Saba Haq
Tassos Coulaloglou
Ted Samuel
Alison Morse
Gail Morgado
Jennifer Hollinger
Katie Wroblewski
Leslie Ibeanusi
Michelle Lanspa
Stephanie Gilbert
Zach Scott
Abby Weil
Jessica Boccardo
Sara Zampierin
Eliza Bates
Erin Wroblewski
Tatsiana Hulko

2006 Interns

Laura Cardinal
Jessical Sewall
Alison Long
Autumn Graham
Donna Laverdiere
Erica Issac
Greg Holyfield
Lori Tomoe Mizuno
Melissa Muscio
Nicole Cordeau
Stacey Spivey
Anya Gorovets
Barbara Bearden
Lynne Engleman
Yvette Barnes
Charles Wright
Sarah Sachs

2005 Interns

Eun Ha Kim
Malia Mason
Anne Finnan
Carrie Hasselback
Karen Adler
Sarosh Syed
Shirin Sahani
Chiara Zerunian
Ewa Sobczynska
MacKenzie Frady
Margaret Swink
Sabri Ben-Achour
Nitzan Goldberger

2004 Interns

Ginny Barahona
Michael Keller
Sarah Schores
Melinda Willis
Pia Schneider
Stacy Kosko
Carmen Morcos
Christina Fetterhoff
Stacy Kosko
Bushra Mukbil

2003 Interns

Erica Williams
Kate Kuo
Claudia Zambra
Julie Lee
Kimberly Birdsall
Marta Schaaf
Caitlin Williams
Courtney Radsch