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Sunflower Trust Uses Storytelling To Transform Informal Settlements in Kenya

Rukia Sebit is the Founder and Executive Director of Sunflower Trust, a literacy and leadership development program that offers holistic educational support to vulnerable children in Kenya. The program encompasses literacy, technology, reproductive health education, sports, art, and culture. Rukia, who spent her childhood in Kibera—an under-resourced community with low literacy rates, particularly among girls—is now dedicated to breaking down barriers that prevent girls in this community from accessing education.

What inspired you to start Sunflower Trust?

Hailing from one of the most marginalized communities in Kenya and growing up in the sprawling Kibera informal settlements in Nairobi, I have been exposed to gross violation of women rights where the patriarchal society denigrates women and limits their opportunities for creative thinking, which is essential for innovation and progress. The increased misogynistic tendencies exhibited in our communities became my impetus to start The Sunflower Trust organization in 2018 that works to improve the lives of girls and women in lower income communities through literacy and leadership programs.

Tell us about the name of the organization, why is it called the Sunflower Trust?

The name came from the plant Sunflower. Sunflower plants blossom in any kind of soil and that is what we want for our beneficiaries, to blossom without looking back at the challenges that they have faced or going through, they should be able to change their lives positively.

Could you tell us about the work your organization does?

Sunflower Trust is a social enterprise dedicated to providing high-quality education to vulnerable children throughout the world. We envision a just and equitable world where all children can live up to their potential. Through leveraging the resources of high-performing private institutions, Sunflower Trust works with schools in the informal settlements that serve vulnerable girls and young women at the risk of ending their education early due to poverty, instability, and illiteracy.

Both Girl Rising and Sunflower Trust recognize that girls are disproportionately impacted by the current education crisis, why do you think it is vital to prioritize this issue?

It is important to prioritize girls in education because due to harmful gender norms they are often made vulnerable. When poverty hits any household, girls carry all the burden as they need to take care of their siblings and families. When a girl is educated, it means that they are in a better position to bargain for their own well being like when to get into a relationship, when to have children, when to walk out of a relationship that is not working and most importantly contribute in building the economy.

Storytelling is an important part of your after-school programs. What role does storytelling play in transforming communities?

Storytelling is key because it allows the audience to internalize and picture what is happening. This has helped the children in our after school programs to contextualize what is happening to their everyday lives. It has also enabled them to be able to express themselves better than before.

If there is one thing that people can do to remove barriers in the way of children, what would that be?

A barrier in the way of a child is their voice being limited in our society. Many of our actions as a collective society limit children from speaking up and expressing themselves. More often than not, they will be criticized for “talking too much or for not being respectful.” Children are saying something important and need to be heard. If given the opportunity, talents will be nurtured and their lives will be better at a very young age because they will know what they want and will have the confidence that they need to pursue their dreams.

What is your message to girls everywhere?

That they can be what they want to be, they just need to work hard for it and take those opportunities that come their way.

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