For the past four years, just before the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I have had the privilege of joining extraordinary women and girls who gather to dream, learn and collaborate at the East African Girls Leadership Summit (EAGLS) in Nairobi, Kenya. And each year, I leave newly inspired by their energy, incredible creativity and vision. It is a rich week where girls gain confidence and learn new ways to activate their leadership in the world. It is a beautiful way to close the year!
Building on Margaret Butler’s original vision, and in partnership with key funding partners, EAGLS has continued to evolve over the years, adding new partners, enhancing the curriculum and broadening the experiential learning. This year, we welcomed 60 girls and 35 women mentors from 20 organizations with new partners from each country. We were excited to include two new organizations serving girls with psychosocial and physical disabilities – one from Rwanda and one from Uganda. And we were thrilled to have women and girls from South Sudan for the first time! The presence of these incredible young women and their mentors reminded us all of the importance of creating inclusive spaces where we learn together, and celebrate our unique perspectives and the many gifts each brings. What an incredible group of strong leaders!
Each year we create an opportunity for the girls to meet professional women who share the details of their journeys. This year, hosted by the GoDown Art Center in Nairobi, we invited a group of diverse speakers from a variety of fields including accounting, engineering, wildlife conservation, gender equality, academia, and high tech who rotated amongst small groups of girls for intimate discussions in a World Café style. In addition, GoDown artists guided the girls to create a dance, song and collaborative visual piece that reflect key issues concerning girls in the region such as gender-based violence, girls’ education, and sexual and reproductive health. Our guest speakers were able to witness the resulting performances and art pieces that left us all inspired!
Some things didn’t change – but continued to deliver! I don’t know what it is about the dance, but watching the girls learn the One Billion Rising dance to combat gender-based violence gets me every time. It is just incredible to watch them purposefully push through learning the complicated dance steps and ultimately dance as one. And when they combine with the choir group who perform the song as they dance, well, you can’t help but get the chills. And finally, a highlight of the week for me was the chance to sit down with returning mentors and hear the myriad of ways they have used the leadership and advocacy tools they have learned with Creative Action Institute to strengthen their organizations and support their girls as they step into their leadership.
As we head into 2019, it is reassuring to think that each of these girls and their mentors will bring the rich experience home with them and use their many talents to advocate for the rights of women and girls in their communities. This powerful regional force of creative changemakers is collectively advancing opportunities for young women to step into their full potential – a force this world sorely needs!