Msomi Academy for Girls Blog

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Msomi means scholar

It occurs to me that most people don’t know what Msomi means, so I thought I’d solve the riddle.  We chose this word because it means scholar in Swahili, the most commonly understood language in Kenya.  There are 42 distinct ethnic groups in Kenya, each with their own unique language – not dialect – full language.  Some are a bigger (Lu’o, for example) percentage of the population and others are smaller (Maasai, for example).  English is used in schools from Grade 5 on, but Swahili (or kiswahili) is used much more often for inter-ethnic group communication.  I try to learn the language, but it’s a challenge.  Fortunately, we’re usually able to work with Kenyans who are much better with languages than we are!  It’s a truly beautiful country, and I hope you all have a chance to visit some day.

On another note, I had a great conversation with Vincent Forand from period.org; we are working on partnering to help them with the upcoming education launch and looking forward to having their support when we need to provide feminine hygiene products to our girls.  I’ve also reached out TheShoeThatGrows to see about working with them to make sure our girls always have shoes that fit.  Some of these may work out and some may not, but you just never know until you try.

We are working hard to get our name out there and drum up support but are still looking for that one person who’s willing to take the plunge and support us financially.  We’ll likely be starting a public online fundraiser in the near future, so hopefully we’ll at least start the snowball rolling.  Check back for updates and remember how lucky we are to be living as well as we do!

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Making friends with kids who have parents…

I’ve been to three countries in sub-Saharan Africa now: South Africa, Uganda, and Kenya, and in two I’ve been lucky enough to really connect with a little one.  In Kenya, it was Celestine’s youngest child, Desmond, a darling little boy who bonded with me over a game of hide and seek (the more you travel, the more you appreciate the differences and similarities of people everywhere).  He also fell in love with my hat, to be fair, so it might not have been all me, but he trustingly took my hand as we walked around his home and out to the vehicle that was to take us away from Kisumu for the night. 

In Uganda it was Linda, a bald little girl in a bright blue dress, whose family owned and worked in the little electronics shop right next door to the tailor we frequented during our month-long stint in Adjumani.  Linda and Desmond were lucky to have parents who loved them, so me shuttling them away and finding a way to adopt them in the U.S. was just not going to happen.  It’s also helped me form a good mantra:  I can only make friends with kids who have parents.  Of course I say this a little tongue in cheek, but the issue is real.  In Uganda there are “baby markets” where you can literally buy a baby for $50 to $100 USD.  And 300 of the 500 students at Kosogo primary school in Kenya (the school where the kids wore blue and gold uniforms in the gallery page) were orphans, it tugs at me.  I, too, was an orphan.  I was unlucky in many ways, but so lucky in others. 

My child friends in Uganda and Kenya make me smile for a multitude of reasons, mostly because they have parents who love them and are doing their very best to provide good lives for them.  But they also remind me how many are out there who don’t have loving families, or who don’t have families at all, because I was one of them, and it has impacted me for my entire life.  It’s also one of the driving forces behind my desire to create Msomi.  So yes, we will take orphans.  We will take any girl or young woman who wants to get educated; it’s a fundamental right and one we are committed to providing.  Thank you for joining us on our journey!

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Oh happy day!

Sometimes we forget to be grateful when things happen that we weren’t sure we wanted to happen.  For example, I had taken a fantastic job out of Texas a few months ago, then came crashing down when I ended up having to NOT take that job.  But other positives balanced it out, not the least of which was being able to move forward with Msomi more quickly than we could have had I been in a different state.  The other bonus is finding out that your network of friends and colleagues are genuinely friends and colleagues; people who are willing to support you when you are trying to do something audaciously good.

Staying in Texas has provided me a lot of insight into who I’ve chosen to associate with during my decade-plus of time here, and I’ve been counting the thank yous I owe in droves for awhile.  Yesterday provided Msomi another leap forward – so please welcome Brandon, from snapjudgementphoto, on board.  He’s a professional photographer with a heart for helping people connect, and he has generously offered to help us document our process from inception.  Look up his work at www.snapjudgementphotography.com or follow him on Instagram @snapjudgementphoto; we think you’ll find his work as remarkable as we do.  In fact, many of the photos on these blog posts and throughout our website are courtesy of Brandon and some the work he did in Kenya a couple of years ago.  Thank you, Mags, for the connection and for your generosity and kindness throughout this process.  I appreciate you immensely and am so proud to call you a friend and colleague.  Let’s hope someday I can somehow return the favor!

And Brandon – words cannot express how thrilled we are to have you joining us for the ride.  Memories are precious, but when those memories are translated into pictures by a true artist, it helps personal memories become connections that expand them into shared commitments to making the world a better place. Up, up, and away team!

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Some collisions are good collisions

When I signed up for the AVMA conference this year it was because I had the funds and I needed some CE to ensure my veterinary licenses remain in good standing.  Afterwards, I discovered the keynote speaker was Shiza Shahid, founding CEO of the Malala Fund and current head of NOW Ventures, very short shrift to her list of amazing accomplishments.  But really, the important thing here is her dedication to ensuring girls around the world have access to education.  Sound familiar?

Sometimes you go into these things hoping for the best and ending up disappointed; not so for this one.  Shiza is a phenomenal public speaker, which is perhaps not surprising given her vast experience over the past decade or so.  What makes her so good, though, is the passion and conviction with which she speaks.  It also helps, of course, that her passion echoes my own, but let’s not take do anything to take away the gift she has in this arena.  We already follow Malala on Instagram (malalafund – so you can, too), and I’ve reached out to Shiza to see if she’s willing to open a conversation between us and her.  But even if she never gets back to me or isn’t interested, if you ever have the chance to hear her speak, DO IT.  You won’t regret it – it may even inspire you to do something you never thought possible.

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In honor of Friday the 13th

For many superstitious folks, today is the day to worry about strange goings-on.  For me, however, Friday the 13th has always been a good day; I used to say that 13 was my lucky number.  It is a fun day no matter how you slice it, so in honor of that, I thought I’d remind everyone that EVERY day should be a good one – at least in terms of learning.

When my team and I were in Oldonyonyokie primary school in the Rift Valley of Kenya and in the heart of Maasai country, we talked with teenage girls who had dreams to become pilots, physicians, and lawyers.  Many of these girls believe, for the first time in their ethnic cultural history, that this is possible.  Why?  Because they have been visited and mentored by a young woman who became the first female from Oldonyonyokie primary to graduate from medical school.  You can see a video about her, and the school, here:

Every school in Kenya has its own colors and unique school uniforms, and for the Msomi team, these dark pink and white checked uniforms will be dear to us forever; the girls were funny, bright, warm, and so excited to have visitors spend time with them.  We played games, delivered bed nets, and taught the grade 4 through 8 students about malaria and how to prevent it.  It was our first human-centric outing in our most recent visit, and a wonderful way to introduce us to the diversity in Kenya.

We hope you’ll continue to join us as you see just how much power education of girls and young women can wield.  As I told the ladies at Nyakach – women can change the world!

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Making progress…

We are getting good news every week, it seems – a nice place to be in!  We have a lead on possible land in Kisii, the city we are most interested in establishing our school.  I have a meeting with a wonderful professional photog in about 10 days to discuss how we can facilitate him documenting our process from inception (well, almost) to teaching our first classes of girls.  Most everyone I speak to about this wants to donate, so we are working hard to get the website up and running – especially the donations button, of course! – and will be rotating photos of our most recent trip in and out.  An article about our endeavor is in the works and will be published in the next few weeks by our School of Public Health (SPH) communications director, and there will be photo murals on the wall with museum-like captions somewhere in our school.  Finally, we are planning our second trip to Kenya at the end of this year.  On this trip, we will stay in Kisii and it will be our first foray into getting around without someone there to constantly hold our hands.  I’m glad there will be a group of us, at least!

Often I don’t feel as though I’m doing that much when it comes to the planning processes for Msomi, but then I look back at that first paragraph and realize I’m doing fairly well – especially when I have such a fantastic team of folks who are working just as hard.  Little bit by little bit, we will get through these start up times; I know this beyond the shadow of a doubt.

My next blog will tell a story from our adventures in Kenya the first time around; I do hope you’ll come back to read it.  We learned so much while we were there and I’d love to share as much as possible with as many people as are willing to hear!

Kwaheri for now –

Katherine

 

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Welcome to Msomi Academy for Girls!

Jambo!  We are thrilled that you’re spending a few moments of your time with us.  Please look through our photo gallery to see pictures of the team in action and to view some of the beautiful faces and places we were honored to get to know and visit on our inaugural trip to Kenya.  And if you have any questions or would like more information, connect with us through our “contact us” section or follow us on IG, Twitter, or LinkedIn.  We’d love for you to join us on our journey!

Msomi Academy for Girls is a non-profit registered with the state of Texas in the United States.  We are in the process of applying for our 501(c)3 status, which will make us tax exempt and, better yet, give anyone who chooses to donate a tax deduction.  Check back for updates as we move forward with this – we are looking to file our official paperwork by the beginning of August, so wish us luck.

Currently we are self-funding.  All donations will go directly to the non-profit as we collect funds and supplies to purchase land in Kenya, contract labor and supplies, and begin building our school.  We are determined to build an all girls primary school (grades 1 through 8) in a rural city in Kenya, so that we can provide high quality applied sciences focused education to girls who might not otherwise have access.  Our plan is to recruit, hire, and train excellent educators from Kenya, and to ensure the program is self-sustaining within the country.  It’s a big goal, but our team is committed, passionate, hard-working, and brilliant, so we feel good about our chances.

That’s it for the first post.  Keep visiting us to learn more about our organization, our people, our progress, and our adventures.  We look forward to sharing our journey with you and welcome your inquiries!  Kwaheri, my friends.

Katherine

Katherine Fogelberg, DVM, PhD

Founder/CEO

Msomi Academy for Girls, Inc.