By Mukonyo Muendo
This year, the Summit had in attendance 59 girls from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea. With them came 31 women from the East Africa Region who are Mentors to the girls. After all the planning and logistics that went into ensuring the Summit kicked off, boy did it kick off! The Mentors had prepared and performed welcoming songs and dances for the girls on the evening they arrived. The hall was filled with cheers, laughter and dancing eyes that showed the girls’ excitement for the activities that would follow in the upcoming week.
I had the pleasure of watching the girls immerse themselves in the week’s activities like the “Leadership Tree”. The girls took time to reflect and draw their tree, which represented where they come from, what they are passionate about, important role models in their lives, their leadership qualities, their dreams and aspirations and the limiting beliefs they had been told about being female. The reflection invited them to redefine who they are as girl leaders and create a new narrative of their lives in their own words. It was during moments like this that I felt most connected to our work and the girls.
The girls also had the opportunity to work with a thespian, a visual artist and a musician to craft plays that depicted gender-based violence and how to report it, the importance of education for girl empowerment, how cultural practices like child/early and forced marriages can cause harm, and sexual reproductive health. The plays were informative, emotive and offered up solutions, all while the girls eagerly showcased their acting prowess. They also came up with an original song expressing their emerging confidence, with lyrics like, “I am a girl, I am strong, like an eagle, I will soar!” In coming together to create that original song, I saw the tremendous impact our work has and was truly awed to see them blossom into the leaders they are meant to be!
Through our work, we see countless examples of mentors inspiring the girls to grow into their beautiful empowered selves. In this spirit, we went to the United Nations Environment Program headquarters in Nairobi where the girls learned about climate change and the roles they can play in the fight for environmental conservation. This site visit inspired the girls to advocate for climate action when they return to their respective communities. Later in the day, we visited the RefuSHE offices in Nairobi where the girls met and interacted with ladies in the world of tech, development, engineering, psychology and law. Saying that the girls’ dreams were ignited after our day out does not do the experience justice. It comes close though.
I can’t tell you how full my heart was after the Summit. It truly was a spiritual experience for me and I’m glad I’ll be here to attend and witness many more! The girls and mentors made me excited for 2020 and the new decade that we have just stepped into. I can’t wait to share how they used the skills they learned at the Summit to ignite, inspire, empower and transform other girls in their various communities.
Because of supporters like you, these girls had the space and resources necessary to activate their inner leader and confidently fight for girls’ rights and gender equality.