Msomi Academy for Girls Uncategorized

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!

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!

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!

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!

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

 

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!

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!

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!

 

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.

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!