Paying It Forward: Creating Safe Spaces for Others June 10, 2013 by jamiep
By: Suzanne Thomson, Organizational Consultant, CFK Kenya; and Nick Johnson, CFK Staff Associate
Kibera can be a dangerous place for adolescent girls. Routinely faced with gender-based threats and discrimination, it is incredibly important for young women to have a safe space in which they can express themselves and learn how to keep themselves and others out of harm’s way. Because Kibera is so dense and overcrowded, those places are often difficult to find. Privacy is essentially nonexistent, causing many girls to feel constantly exposed.
As part of its Daughters United program, Carolina for Kibera encourages program graduates to create Safe Spaces—both physical and emotional—throughout the community for their peers. Groups typically meet at churches or schools that have opened their doors to them. There the girls form havens where they feel both physically and psychologically safe.
Recognizing the need for these havens, Lorine eagerly took up the challenge of opening not one, but two Safe Spaces. The second oldest of four girls, Lorine graduated from the Daughters United core program (also known as Binti Pamoja, or “Binti” for short) in 2008 at the age of 14. She was able to continue to secondary school and graduated last year. Though she took time off from Binti to focus on her studies, she returned after graduation to give back to her community in Kibera by setting up her Safe Spaces, one of which is currently being launched as an organization of its own.
As the leader of both of these groups, Lorine helps girls, aged 10 to 17, to feel empowered so that they can enact change they want to see in their community. Following the Daughters United program model, Lorine uses drama, poetry, debate, and other creative techniques to reach the girls with whom she works. She encourages the girls in her Safe Spaces to have high self-esteem and to be assertive in their decisions. She also leads workshops about reproductive health and financial literacy, providing them with skills and information that will be helpful throughout their lives.
When asked about her role as a mentor to so many girls, Lorine explained that being a mentor helps keep her on the right track because she knows that there are many looking up to her. She expressed that many people have a negative impression of Kibera, but she wants the girls she mentors to know that Kibera isn’t a bad place, that “nothing is impossible for a willing heart, and that it’s all about one’s mentality.”
A confident, determined young woman, Lorine likes to visit her family in Kenya’s countryside when she’s not working with the girls in her Safe Spaces. Though she has finished secondary school, Lorine doesn’t see this as the end to her education; she hopes to join university one day to study social community development. As she continues to affect social change and develop her own community, she sets a remarkable example for the young women she mentors, inspiring them and others to go after their dreams—and to help make it easier for others to do so as well.