Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Slowly by Slowly

In the fall of 2010, Ryan Sarafolean, the Director of the KGSA Foundation, walked into my classroom at Cretin-Derham Hall to tell my students the story of KGSA. He had freshly returned from Kibera, raw and full of emotion. I sat in the back of the room as he told stories about and projected pictures of the KGSA students and got emotional myself. This was a great story.

As a teacher, woman, athlete, writer, and traveler—all kinds of corners of my heart woke up. I truly, passionately believe that getting more girls access to excellent education is one of the jobs of our generation if we dare to dream of a healthier world. We know it is the right thing to do, and it is the strategic thing to do. Educated girls become transformative women who invest in their families and communities. At KGSA, Abdul was doing the important work of education, and he was doing it well to the benefit of the girls, their families, and all of Kibera.

I fell in love with the story first, and then I fell in love with the actual school and the girls. In the summer of 2012, Ryan and Abdul invited me to KGSA as a writer to help them tell their story. The campus feels like a haven in the middle of Kibera, abuzz with learning and laughter. I got straight to work. My work was asking questions and then sitting and listening to the story of the school unfold before me.

I learned through and through that these girls are vibrant, sharp, powerful, funny, talented, resilient, patient, strategic, driven, focused, silly, supportive and kind. They know what opportunities they need to build a fulfilling life. That is the magic of KGSA. Abdul is not a trained educator. He is a Kiberan man, wanting to honor the memory of his mother and grandmother who worked to get him an education. He listens to the students and uses his charisma, vision, instinct, cultural capital and work ethic to grow KGSA into what the girls need the school to be.
Abdul and Ellie hanging out at the school 

I returned to KGSA in the summer of 2013 and was welcomed in like a long lost family member. And since then, I have been working on the story of KGSA one sentence at a time. The book is called Slowly by Slowly, and it will be available soon.

I struggled over whether I was the right person to write the story. I still struggle. Abdul has read it and likes it and is appreciative that I have the time to whittle the details together. He assures me that he is simply too busy growing the school, which is exactly where he should be putting his time and energy. Abdul poked his head in one day during an interview and said, “Ellie, I think you know more about our story now than we do.” It has been some of the most rewarding work of my career.


KGSA has a great story. I am lucky to know and care about the people behind the story who have created a family, a transformational school that honors the whole girl and dares to hope for a better Kibera and thus a better world.

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