Unleashing the Girl Effect: Urban Slums in Kenya

By Lydia Wanjiku

In an effort to seize a career opportunity and a chance to work with Lensational, that I thought was doing a phenomenal job with women and girls through the lens, no one, not even I or Bonnie, would ever have thought a simple email conversation in February 2015 would evolve into what it has turned out to be: the first successfully concluded Lensational Photography Training Programme in Kenya and, in general, in Africa as a whole.

Learning photography at Mathare Foundation

I am born and raised in Nairobi, and in recent years, my hometown has become the innovation hub in Africa — exploding with new social and technological innovations. Yet, Kenya is one of the most unequal countries in sub-saharan Africa with 46% of people living in poverty according to UNICEF, which affects women and girls disproportionately. 1 in 3 girls in Kibera said they have experienced physical, emotional and sexual violence. Research shows young women living in urban slums are at significant risk of early unplanned pregnancies, which lead to poorer schooling outcomes and poorer health outcomes for themselves as well as their children. Empowering adolescent girls in urban slums can effect change for the whole country and the continent. This is the Girl Effect.

Pretty in Pink.

With this in mind, we set out to work with adolescent girls in urban slums.We had been in talks to hold a collaboration between the Mathare Foundation and Lensational. Mathare Foundation empowers youth in the Mathare Slums through photography, football and performing arts. We had been talking about a collaboration between the Mathare Foundation and Lensational for a while. So we were delighted when we were ready to select ten girls aged between 12 to 18 years to go participate in the photography training.

It was my first time to train or even be in a position to equip young adolescent girls with a tool that would take them out of their current situations and context, make them be women leaders in their diverse spheres of influence. It amazed me just how much empowering women could alter and influence the future of a whole generation.

Some of the girls in group discussions about what photography means to them.

Over two days we conducted two 2-hour training lessons. And after each session, we could witness a radiant glow of confidence, understanding and even maturity in these girls’ eyes, body language and even speech. It seemed as though someone had eventually unlocked a potential that had been waiting within these girls to be unlocked, and some kind of new understanding, clarity and even direction was revealed. And for me it was a feeling of satisfaction, a feeling of fulfillment about getting to play a part in these girls’ development.

Suddenly, these girls had freshly inspired ideas and thoughts, sober questions of how to handle a camera and a subject, their speech more fluent, and a newly found confidence, the same girls who couldn’t even utter their names without chewing their nails while facing down when we started. What an eagerness to practically apply the knowledge they had just gathered.

I could tell something had been unlocked in these girls, an unlocked and untapped potential, that needed just a little nudge. And for the first time, and as cliché as the infamous saying may sound, “When you empower a woman, you empower a Nation”, became more apparent to me than ever before, as I watched these girls yearn in anticipation to take up the world by storm.

And while we hugged them goodbye, a flicker of hope shimmered in their eye; the hope that we would return and continue with them this journey until they run themselves.

Lydia Wanjiku Kibandi, 22, completed her undergraduate degree in Bachelor of Business Information Technology at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in Nairobi, Kenya in Dec 2013, where she is currently based. She joined Lensational in Feb 2015 after learning about us from the Hivos Social Innovation Award. She is a writer and blogger also running her own blog on fashion and style, Shishi’s Wardrobe.