This awesome teen established a library in her community in Kenya
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This awesome teen established a library in her community in Kenya

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Story and photos by Zachary Ochieng

A young woman’s mission to promote education and improve literacy levels in her community is already bearing fruit. At just 19, Leah Kibe is the director and brainchild behind the Colour World Green Initiative Library.

Leah with other community members outside the library.

Leah’s journey hasn’t been easy: At one point in her education, she nearly dropped out because she had no way to continue paying the school fees. Even though she’d earned good marks that would qualify her to attend, she almost missed her place at Kenya High School, a leading national school. When her parents could not afford the annual $600 school fees, she was helped out by well-wishers and extended family members.

“My parents were so poor that my uncle had to see me through my primary level. After that, I just stayed home hoping for a miracle,” Leah says. “It was so traumatizing to imagine I would drop out of school due to lack of fees. That’s when I started applying for scholarships. The school principal was very understanding and gave me more time to seek help.”

Just when she had almost given up on getting a scholarship, help finally arrived from Akili Dada, an organization promoting the ideals of women and leadership.

Through their scholarship programs, Akili Dada’s mission is to nurture transformative leadership in girls and young women from underprivileged backgrounds, in order to meet the urgent need for more African women in leadership roles. The organization also provides psychological support to girls in their programs. The recipients benefit from an extensive network of devoted mentors who are drawn from a wide range of professional networks.

The experiential learning retreat at Akili Dada.

“Every school holiday, girls on the scholarship program are taken through a five-day residential academy that focuses on different aspects of leadership, offering lifelong learning practices designed to adapt to the growing needs of the girls,” says Anne Njeru, Akili Dada’s communications officer.

With the support of Akili Dada, Leah completed high school and excelled in her exams. She enrolled in the organization’s Young Change Makers Programme, which helps young women between the ages of 17 and 20 to develop as leaders in their schools and communities. Dadas (sisters) in this program are provided the space and support to develop their personal leadership style, learn how to identify issues and areas of need in their communities, and build tangible skills to address those issues.

Akili Dada mentees in a discussion session.

Akili Dada has so far awarded 121 scholarships to academically talented girls from under-resourced backgrounds. These girls have come up with social change initiatives in their communities that have directly impacted 27,344 community members!

“When I was in Form One [first year in high school], I was a very shy girl, but Akili Dada’s continuous leadership training and designed thinking inspired me to be a leader, to bring change in my community,” Leah says.

As part of this program, Leah was inspired to build a library in her community.

Her decision was buoyed by her determination to improve her younger brother’s reading skills. While on holiday, Leah gave some basic learning materials to her brother to read, but noticed he struggled with them.

An Akili Dada mentoring session at Kenya High School.

“This shocked me and I realized something needed to be done,” Leah says. “I started collecting story books from friends, relatives, and anyone willing to donate. I would organise to have children within the community come to our home and read the books. However, there was a lot of resistance from their parents due to illiteracy levels, and also because children were expected to assist with house chores. This however only motivated me even more.”

Seeing how enthusiastic the children were to learn, Leah approached the County Development Fund for funds and secured $900, all of which went towards the establishment of the library. Today, the library serves around 1,000 students!

Leah and a local administrator at the entrance to the library.

“I have grown in confidence and courage to challenge situations,” says Leah. “I now know I can contribute in the development of my community and as a result, be a role model to others. This library is my success story that young people can bring positive change regardless of their circumstances.”

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