Jane and her brother at the Kevjumba High School in Nairobi Kenya, right outside the Lenana Slum.Photo©Suzi Altman
I have been home about 8 weeks now and still working on my recovery from the “typhoid’ vaccine poisoning incident.
During this time I have spent many hours wondering about the kids I met at the KevJumba High School just outside the Lenana Slum about 10km from downtown Nairobi, Kenya. A few of the young girls in particular stood out from the rest, to me, because of their desire and passion to make a difference in their country and their community. After getting to know both young women I want to help both to continue their education. As I explained to them, continuing their education is the key to unlocking their unlimited potential and the only way to effectively make changes in their community and their country.
The two young girls Jane and Senterine are both 15 years old and live in the Lenana Slum. Jane wants to be a writer, and Senterine wants to be a nurse and a journalist. Both come from extremely impoverished backgrounds and broken families, with the odds stacked against them. Yet they both arrive at school each day, very early, smiling, happy, proud and ready to make a difference in their community and the world they live in. They are both eager to learn how to use a camera to tell their individual stories, and they both have a gift for storytelling. And each has a powerful story to share and as I teach them about photography I learn valuable life lessons from them both.
Although they have much in common the two girls are very different. When I first met Jane, she was very shy, introverted and did not feel or think she was beautiful or worthy of being loved. She worried if she could actually have a future in Nairobi and make a difference. Jane keeps a journal, a daily personal experience of what it is like to grow up in the Lenana Slum. What we take for granted , clean water, food, housing she struggles for everyday. Her mother is in a mental institution and her father is not home, she lives with her grandmother in a dirt floor, corrugated metal roofed home in the slum. And her grandmother does not care much for “raising” another child.
Jane feels very alone and discouraged until I teach her she is beautiful and her words are powerful. And that combining her words with images made her even more powerful. I helped Jane learn to share her insight into her life in the slum and her daily struggle to survive. She learned that by continuing her education she could then influence others to make changes in her community and her country and that one person could make a difference. She needed to believe in herself and by the end of the week I could “see” a difference in Jane. As her self confidence grew, she was more confident in her abilities to write and photograph her community and herself. And that by sharing her story in a visual manner along with her journal was a way for her to reach many other children struggling with similar issues around the world and in her community and this would empower her. I also told her beauty comes from within, and her passion, desire and drive to make a difference made her beautiful.
Senterine on he other hand , has confidence oozing from her pores and just needs a chance, an opportunity, and guidance in achieving her dreams.
We all learned – “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger ” I shared this with Jane and Senterine when we first met in regard to my journey to meet them. And I learned this to be Very True and that they are words to live by.
This past Friday when I went to the “bill box” aka the mailbox I was stunned to see a hand written letter from Jane! Mail regular hand written mail, all the way from Nairobi to Mississippi. To my great surprise when I opened the letter from Jane, it was so beautifully hand written, each word spelled correctly in english. She asked about my health, my return trip home and hoped I had not forgotten her. During her daily struggles she found the time to write and ask how I was doing. I was stunned and amazed by her kindness and grace. In her letter she thanked me for the lessons I taught her, she referred to me as “her mum” and said she never met a person “like me , with a golden heart” and promised to” stay strong” for me! Again I was stunned, but this time I was also crying. There is no way I could eve forget Jane, or the lessons I learned on the journey to meet her. I only hope I can continue to be there for her in the future, and I plan to be. Currently I am preparing a packet of prints and a hand written letter to send to her so she will know I have not forgotten her, nor could I ever. She has changed the way I view the world, and this I will never forget.
to see more photos go to http://www.SuziAltman.com
coming soon …
more about my time in Africa and the journey now