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Discovering Voices at 'See My Story: Sikilizeni'

By Debbie Odenyi

Kungangana Ya-kutosha Kuweka Matumaini Kupata Kesho - Struggle Enough. Keeping Hope. Getting Future.

Kara Nanu Entito Olmaasai Sidai Naleng - I am a very beautiful daughter of Maa

Kaang’ida Paaku Enkariponi Oontimi Tenkop e Kenya - I’m Proud To Be A Conservationist in Kenya.

These are just a few of the beautiful, evocative and proud Six-Word Memoirs authored last month at Girl Rising’s See My Story: Sikilizeni, a new storytelling camp. Last month, I had the joy of traveling to Amboseli, Kenya, joining Girl Rising colleagues, CHD and Drawing Dreams Initiative, to lead the Sikilizeni with 41 Maasai girls. “Sikilizeni” means “listen” in Swahili - and listening was a key part of our role. Through art, nature studies, photography, video and story-sharing, the Sikilizeni activities expanded on the Maasai community’s rich tradition of sharing narratives to build community and reinforce identity. The girls shared their experiences, their aspirations and their connections to the visually stunning Amboseli region, while examining the impact of climate change on their communities and how their stories had the power to lead change.

Each day dawned with a sense of wonder with sunrise nature walks led by the girls who took turns sharing their intimate knowledge of the savannah, identifying animal tracks, pointing out medicinal plants and explaining animal behavior. Morning meditation, led by Cata Chacon, Future Rising Senior Program Manager, offered moments of reflection, while discussions on stewardship of the land underscored the girls' deep connection to their environment. Camp leaders encouraged the girls to recognize the extraordinary value of their knowledge of plant and animal life and their detailed observations of the impacts of climate change.

"'Ngoja kidogo!' ('Wait, do not be in a hurry!') became a mantra during our walks—an exclamation punctuated by laughter whenever a prickly thorn bush ensnared our clothes and halted our progress. It seemed that the plant itself was urging us to pause and appreciate the moment.

In the afternoons, the camp transformed into a hub of creativity with workshops devoted to art, writing and media. Through exercises such as Six-word Memoir, Self-portraits and Sensory Poems, the girls delved deep into their lives and experiences for the source material of new stories - supporting each other’s creations with love and enthusiasm. They learned videography and digital editing, quickly grasping new technical skills and concepts of visual storytelling. Working in pairs, they experimented with tablets, challenging their creativity to capture evocative visual moments - and of course, selfies!

For many of the girls, Sikilizeni marked a journey of firsts - their first encounter with digital equipment, and their first invitation to share stories of their lives, their experiences, their opinions, their hopes for the future. Special guest, Dr. Winnie Kiiru encouraged the girls to  "Tell your story!”  in their own voice, in their way, prompting them to speak out about the realities of climate change in their lives. They shared their experiences of climate change-induced drought - having to walk further distances for water; having to miss school when they had their periods because there was not water available for hygiene; seeing families marry off daughters at a young age when they had to move their livestock long distances. Their stories showed a sophisticated and personal understanding of the gender-related impacts of climate change.

Sikilizeni provided more than storytelling opportunities -  it was a space for connection, laughter, dance and friendship, allowing these young girls to embrace their true selves without the weight of responsibilities. Many who were Initially reserved, exuded confidence as they shared their new projects with family and friends. In writing their personal narratives, they showed boundless enthusiasm and resilience. One example was Purity, the youngest participant, who was often quietly observant during our storytelling sessions. When it was her turn to share her story, we reminded her of Dr. Winnie’s words - “Tell your story!”  We encouraged her to “say it loud, and say it proud.” She bravely shared her story with a strong, energetic voice - and saw her audience beaming with appreciation. Witnessing her newfound pride was a moment to cherish—one that filled us all with joy and pride alongside her.

Sikilizeni was more than a camp; it was a celebration of courage, resilience and the power of storytelling to shape lives and communities.

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