Msomi Academy for Girls Blog

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Strong girls make strong women

In honor of International Women’s Day it seemed appropriate to post for the first time in a long time. We are working hard but slowing a bit in our progress, as always happens with a new program. We are still working though, and that is the important part!

Our first big event is coming up in exactly 30 days, so please join us for our first Girls Run Red 5K in Fort Worth, TX! You can get to the registration link on the “activities” tab of this website or by clicking the hyperlink: https://www.roadid.com/a/event-calendar/events/3421-girls-run-red

You can walk, run, bring a pooch, or just come out and volunteer – we hope to see you!

International Women’s Day 2019 is an interesting moment in history. As the U.S. seems to want to push women and other marginalized groups’ rights back to the dark ages, we are seeing women around the world step and raise their voices to combat inequity and inequality in all things – pay, treatment, law, policy, and every day living. We applaud the bravery of these strong women and support them in their efforts. We also hope that Msomi will add to their ranks, providing opportunities for strong girls to become strong women who will tear down those glass walls and ceilings and bring forward the half of humanity that is currently not as privileged.

Stay strong and beautiful, fellow ladies! And never forget that we all deserve to be seen, heard, and valued. Happy International Women’s Day!

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Perpetual forward motion

It’s almost the end of January already and I can’t believe how fast the time is going! Sometimes it feels as though we are standing still and the world around continues to spin, but then I get news and all is well. We hit another small milestone today – I received notice that our trademark application has been “allowed” for registration, meaning no one has disputed its originality and, after a couple more steps and a few more dollars, Msomi’s logo will be legally and exclusively ours. Hip hip hooray! Now if we could just get the government back open so we can learn the fate of our 501c3 status…

We also had our first meeting of the new year, which went very well. We are excited to be moving forward with our 5K in conjunction with period Dallas (you can register here: https://www.roadid.com/a/event-calendar/events/3421-girls-run-red or on our website). If you have any interest in helping us, do let us know! In addition, we have our first board in place and their duties have begun…thank goodness. All these little details that you never knew about until you had to do them. It’s been a great learning process, for sure.

Lastly, our June trip is now officially in the works and we look forward to getting as much work, fun, and work done as possible (yes, I said work twice). Jenesta is heading up our efforts to deliver some teacher training and enhanced lessons for our friends at Kosogo and Oldononyonyokie primary schools and we are all so excited to see our friends there again. Lots of traveling and lots of time to get to know one another, so good times will be had by all.

Thanks for reading and we look forward to you joining us on our journey. Oh, and for those wondering about my title, it alludes to running (appropriately). As an ultra runner (runner who does races longer than the 26.2 marathon), one of the mantras we use is “perpetual forward motion.” Meaning, if you stop, you’re likely to stop for good, so even a slow walk or crawl is better. Suits us at Msomi right now, don’t you agree?

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Happy New Year!

2018 was a wonderful year with many milestones for our fledgling non-profit, and we hope that 2019 will be even better. Thanks to all the great members of our team on the U.S. AND the Kenya side; we surely wouldn’t be nearly as far along without all of you!

This is a short and sweet one…but it’s important to acknowledge new beginnings, continuations of wonderful things, and new challenges to be faced and overcome. We have made great strides, indeed, but now it’s time to double down and work through the Kenyan legal system to ensure we are able to make this dream a reality.

Join us on our journey…on IG and LinkedIn (msomiacademy), or just check back periodically to see updated photos and read the blog. We look forward to meeting you in 2019 and hope you’ll join us in our quest to provide opportunity through education for girls in Kisii, Kenya.

Happiest of New Years to you all and here’s to an even better 2019!

A beautiful family in Kisii that we were able to talk to. I’m captivated by their faces!
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Mzungus return

We are back in the states after a whirlwind trip to Kenya. Successful – yes! Fun – yes! Rewarding – yes! We checked all the boxes on this quick trip. And it was absolutely lovely. Oh – and “mzungu” means “white person” in Swahili; it’s something we hear all the time when we’re in Kenya, especially from the kids!

Unlike our previous experiences, the travel went as smoothly as one could hope for. No major delays, no missed flights (though we had a close call in Atlanta), and no hiccups. Our driver in Nairobi, Lewis, was there early and our driver in Kisii, Victor, was great. The bulk of our costs were for transportation, but it’s worth it to have safe and reliable vehicles and drivers when you’re going to be in a car that long and that often.

I’ll have to break this into a couple of posts, so be sure to come back to read about the fun stuff…this one will focus on the work. We were able, with the help of our friends and colleagues Jared and Jackie, to meet with and survey 19 teachers and over 40 parents; Sarah has the final tally, but we were pleased with the participation. It also meant that all 60 pairs of the shoes were given out and are currently in use. The kids and parents were so excited and grateful, and we are very much looking forward to returning in June with even more shoes to give!

Our last day in Kisii, a city we are thrilled to be connected with and so looking forward to continuing to build relationships in, we met with Abel and his family on his family land. I had no idea before we went that this land has been in his family for generations, and that he had to get all his brothers to agree to sell us the land if we choose to purchase it…it is humbling that this family, who just lost their father in July at the age of 118 years!, is willing to sell the mzungus (white folks/foreigners) some of their rich and fertile land. Abel himself had nothing but a t-shirt until he was 6 years old, when his parents scraped up enough Kenyan shillings to buy his school uniforms. From there, he has never looked back; he is working on his doctoral dissertation, is a Bishop in his church, and has taught regularly in the Bible College he and Deborah are working to bring back to fiscal health. He’s a true inspiration and he knows the power of education – a combination that is utterly transformational. His only desire is to ensure that the land goes to a purpose that serves his community, a desire we truly hope to fulfill if we should go ahead with the purchase.

Kisii is beautifully geographically and the people are kind, generous, and so happy to see new faces. Abel’s house is located about a block away from the Gucha WEEP center, which makes it even more convenient…it seems we have been guided to where we are and how lucky are we to have all these opportunities opening to us? Sometimes when you embark on the “right” path the path seems to pave itself. We certainly still face some hurdles and not all will be smooth sailing, but the big bumps in the road are still relatively small in the big picture of everything. I continue to hope that we get the support we need – both internally and externally – to keep this dream alive and bring our vision into being so that girls in Kisii, Kenya can be transformed by education, just as I have been, just as Abel has been, just as all those who are working with us have been. Education is powerful and empowering, and a trip to Kenya will only help you understand that even more deeply than ever before.

We are thrilled to have finally visited Kisii and look forward to many return trips. Help us make education for girls a reality in a country that contains such great promise and potential. We know our girls will make a big difference in the world – whether at the community or global levels!

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Girls Run Red!

It’s been far too long, I know…with the new year arriving rapidly, I’m planning to be more diligent about providing updates.  Sometimes it’s slow, but that’s no excuse.  However, we have a lot to report this time around!

Up first, we are partnering with period.org’s Dallas chapter to direct our first official fundraising event!  We have planned a 5K run/walk in Fort Worth’s Trinity Park on Sunday, April 7th at 7:30am. Bring your dogs, your strollers, and your running shoes as you meander through the park and get some exercise while supporting two non-profits doing great work in the world. You can register here:  

https://www.roadid.com/a/event-calendar/events/3421-girls-run-red/registration

We are capped at 300 participants this year, so register soon and use the new year to motivate you to run your first – or 100th – 5K for two great causes!

Now that we have that out of the way, I’m happy to report that we have officially seated our first three board members, are headed to Kenya for our second trip this year to deliver those shoes that grow and get familiar with city we hope will be home to our (first) school, and are keeping our fingers crossed that the IRS doesn’t need any additional information so we can earn our 501(c)(3) status in January rather than April or May.  Send lots of good thoughts our way, please!

We are also starting to plan our big 2019 trip to Kenya, where we hope to continue our work through delivering more shoes that grow AND work with teachers at Kosogo and Oldonyonyokie primary schools to deliver high quality, focused lessons to students in English, Math, and Science.  We are SO excited about these partnerships and so very grateful for the relationships that got us here and allowed us to make these connections.  

Look for at least one more post before the end of our inaugural year – and visit our photo gallery after we return so you can see some of Brandon’s amazing photos from our December visit.  In the meantime, stay healthy and happy and we look forward to seeing some of you on the race course in April!

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It’s been a bit too long

Life has a way of making you crazy sometimes, but I am trying to get back to this on more regular basis.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best!

I would like to say that today has been a good day.  My class this morning was fun and interesting (the topic; the students are always that) and my lunch time talk went over really well – it was about Msomi, which definitely helped.  But the thing I think helped me the most was finally owning that my vulnerability is important.  I need to be better about sharing my life so that people really understand where I’m coming from and why I’m trying to go where I want to go.  Of course it’s not all about me, but it has to start somewhere, so that somehwere might as well be the genuine me that’s been trying to burst out in one way or another for a pretty long time.

It’s nice to know that you’re going to be well-received and that people out there are going to see the real you – flaws and all – and not turn away.  Msomi is all about providing those moments for Kenyan girls; moments that allow all the facades to fade away, all the faces and shrouds, and letting the world see them for who they are in their strength and rawness, their joy and fear, their courage and sadness.  It’s about helping girls – no matter their age – learn that they don’t have to live in the shadows of others, be afraid of crying in public, or think they are “less than” because they don’t have x, y, or z.  It was school that did this for me, and I am hoping it is school that can do that for them – even if it’s just one.

It’s taken me over 40 years to finally embrace who I am and where I come from.  To find a way to use my story for good rather than, well, not so good.  I don’t want to manipulate, I want to inspire.  I don’t want to accept, I want to challenge.  Msomi enables me to do all these things and to live in a way the hopefully does that for others.  So what’s your story?  Why do you want to help?  What inspires you?  Tell me – and perhaps you’ll find it in one of these blogs do that you, too, can inspire, challenge, and grow.  I hope to hear from you!

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International Day of the Girl Child

The Girl Child: A Poem by Naomi

The lives of innocent children have been shattered.

Come look my brethren,

Mighty dreams have been thwarted.

My sister is a commodity of trade,

Only reaching to the third grade,

She found herself under a share,

She became property of an exchange,

Having no say over anything.

I have been longing for revenge,

Heavy penalty but got nothing,

Feel the life of my innocent sister.

 

This is a public outcry.

I insist on stiff measures,

Both in oceans and in dry,

It is a grievance from all creatures,

The inhuman act of RAPE.

Four humiliating offenses,

To my sister who lacks defenses,

Feel the same of my innocent sister.

 

My sister is depressed,

No second for deep rest,

In marriage she is oppressed,

Her property lives in her chest,

Financially she is pressed,

Me beast of burdens is hard-pressed,

No matter how she tries her best,

Her efforts are all compressed,

Restricted from searching her light to the west,

Look! She is denied of her life’s zest,

Why her alone and not the rest?

 

A women has the right to rest,

If allowed she is able to invest,

In enabled she will pass any test,

This is a true word not spoken in jest,

Instilled in me in order to teach the rest,

Feel the discomfort of my innocent sister.

 

Before my heart was burning hot,

But now I am grateful a lot,

Finally I have reached my lot,

I wish to halt on this spot,

Make a change as small as a dot,

To relieve my sister from the pot,

Because there is strength in everything I’ve got,

There is ability in my innocent sister.

 

Now that our 501(c)(3) is filed, we’ve started the journey of searching for grant funding to get our school off the ground, which essentially means devoting hours to navigating the tunnels of the internet. That is how I came to discover today is the International Day of the Girl Child, with a theme for 2018 of “With Her: A Skilled Girl Force.”

This falls in line with Msomi’s mission perfectly. Yes, we want to provide education to girls, but beyond that, we want to stand behind our students as they acquire skills they will take into the workforce and use to support themselves. Before they even graduate from primary school, our girls will have the experience of planting, growing, harvesting, and selling their own produce. Nothing boosts belief in oneself quite like doing, and with girls already believing by age 6 that boys are more suited than girls to “really, really smart” activities, we need to help girls see their own strength as soon as possible and to believe in themselves as fiercely as possible.  #dayofthegirl #GenUnlimited

To learn more, visit the following:

http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/girl-child

Links to some poems about International Day of the Girl Child

“U Have to Struggle More”

https://humanrightswarrior.com/2013/10/11/u-have-to-struggle-more-a-poem-for-international-day-of-the-girl/

Untitled

https://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/users/lisbeth-salifu/posts/88918

Thank you to Sarah, our current intern, for coming across this celebration and writing this post!

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One large step forward!

Threes are apparently an important number for Msomi….we incorporated on April 23rd and we sent off the 501(c)(3) application on October 3rd, which means April 3, 2019 is the date we will await our letter confirming our official legal status as a fully-fledged non-profit.  It’s definitely a large step forward!  Thanks to Sarah for all her hard work and dedication to this, to Ryan Parrot from Sons of the Flag for referring us to Shelby, a lawyer in Boulder who helped us, pro bono, work through some of the legal-ease that paved the way to significantly reducing the time our attorney had to spend reviewing the application (which also saves us quite a bit of money).  Also, thanks to Deb for providing us the attorney’s name on referral, and to our attorney, Darren, who was so kind and responsive when he was approached.  Clearly, it takes an entire team to get this done and I might be just a LITTLE proud of the team I get to work with in this organization.

With any luck, we’ll have our official IRS stamp of approval before tax-filing day, so those who so generously donate in 2018 can take it as a tax deduction if they wait to file…for those who might be unnerved by waiting until so late in the filing game, we hope you’ll donate again next year and get to write it off in 2020!  As frustrating, tedious, and long as the paperwork preparation felt (mostly by Sarah, who may be regretting her decision to be our intern), I’d like to point out (mostly because I have to remind myself) that we had 27 months from the date of incorporation to file the paperwork and retain non-profit status from the date of incorporation.  Yet here we are, a mere 5 months and 10 days removed from incoporating and our application is already there.  Much like there are a lot of ABDs (all but dissertations) and only a few PhDs, I suspect there are a lot of non-profits who are legally established but never quite get their full status.  So I’d say we’re doing pretty darn well.

It’s been a really hectic couple of months and I don’t see it slowing down any time too soon.  However, I do hope I’ll be able to get back on the wagon with this blog and write a new one at least every 2 weeks.  It fel really important to get this one out there, so it’s a nice to get the ball re-rolling.  Meantime, please share our stories and tell people about us.  Msomi Academy for Girls is moving full steam ahead!

 

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We have shoes!

It’s been a bit since my last blog – that happens when a new semester begins, I suppose. But it doesn’t mean we haven’t been continuing to inch forward.

Our partnership with theshoethatgrows.org has been fruitful and we are now in possession of 80 pairs of shoes that grow. Brandon, Sarah, and I will be taking 60 of those with us to Kenya in December to distribute to children, teens, and adults in need free of charge. John and I both tried a pair on and they’re remarkably comfy, so we are excited to be able to help out in some small way.

Our partnership with period.org is also moving ahead; we are meeting with the leadership team of the Dallas chapter in early October to begin planning our first big fundraising event – a 5K fun run! We are shooting for late winter/early spring of 2019, so be looking for that on our website.

And last, but definitely NOT least, we are making great progress on our 501c3 filing. Next week I have a meeting with our fabulous lawyer who has been donating her time and expertise to us, and from there we’ll pass it on to the expert in the field for review and filing. So, fingers crossed, our paperwork will be in before the end of September. A couple months later than we were shooting for, but still in time to provide a write off for those who choose to donate to us and file in April.

Please keep checking back for opportunities to support us – whether you donate time or money, we are happy to have your help. And if you have questions, reach out! We always love to hear from folks. In the meantime, enjoy the cooler weather and don’t forget to stop and appreciate the beauty of the coming autumn – my absolute favorite season. Cheers!

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The elusive 501c3

It has been a good learning experience, for sure, to be working on 501c3 status and seeing what is good and bad out there in the world of law and business.  Shopping around and relying on connections has proven to be a very good strategy.

I’ve found a lawyer that we can afford and will get our paperwork filed fairly rapidly, though I am on my way to a consultation with another lawyer who may be able to do it even less expensively with a bit longer timeline.  Either way, the finish line in terms of getting the paperwork filed is very near.  Thank goodness!  With any luck, my post next week will be good news on this front, so please keep your fingers crossed for us.  However, the hurdle won’t be completely cleared, as getting over this one means we get to start working on the Kenyan side of things, and that will be a whole different set of challenges and fun. 

On a nice note, the story published last week has gotten some views and, as a result, I have had several UNTHSC alumni reach out to me to offer to help.  It’s nice to know that those stories have some reach (#1), and that there are so many good folks out there with great skills who are willing to invest their time in our organization.  As “Mama” Vickie said several times during our trip, development breeds development, and I would say commitment and passion breeds commitment and passion.  So thanks to all of you read the story, have emailed or talked to me in person since it came out, and encouraged us to continue our march forward.  The 501c3 shall not stop us; I know it’s less elusive than the heffalump, so success will be ours!