Linet Nenkoitoi, a 16-year-old alumna of KCE, had the chance to speak with President Obama at the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Regional Leadership Center in Nairobi on July 26, 2015. One of four KCE alumnae invited to meet with the President, Linet compared the story of a friend who was married at 15 and now had two children with her own opportunities, resulting from the safe haven she was given at KCE and the chance to continue her education. Now enrolled at the Pangani Girls High School, she spoke about her aspiration to go on to study cardiology at Harvard. After hearing her speak, the President gave her a hug and said: “I am sure you will be an excellent cardiologist. This sends out a message of what civil society can do. Linet, we are proud of you.”
Linet is part of the Network for Excellence, a group of 95 KCE alumnae studying at high schools across the country. During their school holiday this August, the Network for Excellence girls returned to KCE for 10 days of tutoring on homework as well as skills such as selecting subjects, setting goals and maintaining healthy relationships. The sessions were conducted by trained high school teachers hired by KCE to provide mentorship, an investment in the ongoing success of their students. In addition to learning, the visits give the girls a chance to collaborate and share their experiences with each other. They also act as an inspiration to the students currently enrolled at KCE.
Students for KEEP (“SFK”), an official club at John Jay High School since 2012, has been busy spreading the word on the issues girls face in rural Kenya and fundraising to support the tuition of the 5th grade class at the Kakenya Center for Excellence (“KCE”). The club hosted a viewing of Kakenya Ntaiya’s (KCE Founder) Ted Talks video which generated greater understanding and interest in the cause.
In October, SFK Club joined forces with the Feminism Club to attend the screening of He Named Me Malala. Recently, KEEP board members presented a slideshow of past and present projects to SFK members and guests which prompted intuitive questions and conversation. In addition, club members have exchanged pen pal letters with the KCE 5th graders which has helped to create a unique connection between the students. SFK will continue to raise awareness and funds throughout the school year through membership drives, bake sales and by volunteering for the Running Goddess 5K at Lasdon Arboretum in spring.
Newly elected officers voted in this fall include:
Adare Cronlin (President)
Kayla Medille and Willa Tobin (Vice Presidents)
Emma Page (Secretary)
Lucy Seigel (Treasurer)
Haleigh McCarthy (Historian)
With Noelle Maoriello (SFK Club Advisor) at the helm, SFK will continue to inform and inspire others to “keep girls in school”!
On October 15th, KEEP had the pleasure of sharing our slide show presentation with the Presbyterian Women of the First Presbyterian Church of Katonah.
The Presbyterian Women are the inspiring group responsible for the amazing annual Katonah Rummage Sale! All proceeds from the Rummage Sale are donated to charity, and for the past two years, KEEP has been honored to be one of the many recipients of Rummage Sale funds.
After a delicious homemade buffet lunch, KEEP shared the story of our founding, and photos and information about our work in India and Kenya, followed by a brief question and answer session.
Thank you Presbyterian Women for inviting us to share our story, and for your very generous donations!
On Wednesday, October 14, 2015, over 40 friends of KEEP gathered to watch and discuss the film He Named Me Malala at the Jacob Burns Theater. This film profiles the extraordinary life of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager who survived the Taliban’s attempt to kill her for speaking out on behalf of girls’ education. Subsequently becoming the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Malala now runs the Malala Fund “to ensure every girl has access to 12 years of free, safe, quality primary and secondary education.” Dovetailing with KEEP’s mission, Malala’s goals inspired film attendees and reinforced the importance of supporting the Kakenya Center for Excellence.
The 2015 Running Goddess 5K on Sunday, May 17, raised an incredible $3000 for the KEEP/KCE Project! Runners and walkers of all ages braved the challenging but gorgeous course of the Lasdon Park & Arboretum to raise awareness and funds to support women’s and girls’ health and education. KEEP is extremely grateful to the The Running Goddess Founder, Bettina Sementilli, and her outstanding team for creating and executing such a wonderfully spirited annual event which recognizes the importance and value of investing in girls’ education. KEEP is exceedingly honored to, once again, be a recipient of the funds from this year’s event and we look forward to supporting the TRG Races of the future.
In February, KEEP Board Members Celeste Crosby and Cynthia Braun visited The Whitby School in Greenwich, CT, to discuss KEEP’s work with seventh and eighth grade student members of the Model United Nations Club. Invited by Andy Greene, Whitby teacher and Model UN Club Advisor, Celeste and Cynthia presented a slide show detailing KEEP’s partnerships with Apne Aap and the Kakenya Center for Excellence. Photos from KEEP’s trip to India and from the KCE in Kenya gave the students an idea of the issues that face girls in developing countries. Many students expressed amazement that if they were typical girls in India or Kenya, they would be already preparing to marry. They commented upon the stark differences between educational opportunities for girls in the US compared to those in India and Kenya. Later, Andy Greene noted that KEEP’s presentation showed his students how a small group of people, or even one individual, could make a big difference in the lives of girls around the world.
On a cold winter’s night in February 2015, supporters gathered to celebrate the new partnership between KEEP and the Kakenya Center for Excellence (KCE). With traditional Kenyan Dawa cocktails to sip and exotic treats to nibble, attendees came together to toast the new venture. It was a heartwarming evening of solidarity with friends new and old committed to keeping girls in school.
We are thrilled to announce a new partnership in our effort to keep girls in school: The Kakenya Center for Excellence (KCE), a boarding school for girls in rural Kenya. These girls, who typically are forced to marry when entering puberty, instead pursue their education at KCE. Enrollment at KCE also protects all students from female genital cutting. Learning how KCE educates, protects and empowers these most vulnerable girls, we feel inspired and motivated to help. We have set a goal of sponsoring the fifth grade class of 37 girls. Please join us in forging this new relationship between two communities dedicated to education.
Under a waxing October moon, supporters new and old of the Katonah Education Exchange Program (KEEP) gathered to listen as Dr. Abhilasha Kumari, Director of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, spoke about the valuable impact KEEP is having on the ground in Bihar, India. Dr. Kumari, a woman of small stature but tremendous presence, mingled with guests at the home of Ruth Rosenberg and then gave a formal presentation.
While outlining specifics of the program like health screenings, academic supports, and enrichment classes, Dr. Kumari interspersed vignettes about the girls and their lives in the red light district: how a troop of girls returned exhilarated and triumphant after having convinced the parents of one of their group members to delay an early marriage in favor of staying in school, how another group of girls confronted local police officials to address the harassment they experienced as they made their way to and from school each day, and the momentous occasion when Poonam and Resham accepted diplomas, their mother uneducated and prostituted as a young girl herself, standing beside them.
Dr. Kumari did not shy away from sharing the less-glowing reports. She paused from speaking for a moment when the picture of a particular young woman with bright eyes came on the screen. This girl, she explained, had gone missing while visiting her family. All Apne Aap’s efforts to locate and return her to safety had been stymied. The trail was cold. She was lost. Stories such as these brought some of the realities the girls and staff living and working in the red light districts of India must face – never mind the inconsistent electrical power, harassment and imprisonment of employees, and deep-seated hindrances presented by acculturated inter-generational prostitution. Keeping the girls physically safe is an ever-present challenge.
She spoke about implementing feedback from meeting with the KEEP board in the spring, in particular, taking the girls on field trips. The excursion to a public park in the mountains spurred a paradigm shift for young women who have literally never left the neighborhood in which they were born. Experiencing in a small way, the concept that there is a wider world where things can be different was new and powerful for these youngsters.
The visit from Dr. Kumari, with her impassioned and frank conversation with KEEP illustrated her deep connection and commitment to the program as a whole and to the girls as individuals. It was a step in further affirming one of KEEP’s primary charter intentions: to be connected to the change we wish to effect – to people beyond their ‘profile’ and even beyond the organizations that strive to assist them.
Cynthia Braun concluded the presentation describing the common experience of reading and hearing about horrendous situations around the world and feeling powerless. KEEP’s connection with Apne Aap gives one something to do. It’s real change, with real people.