A Special Blog from Julian at SWB

Julian, Co-founder of Schools Without Borders (SWB), was a host and facilitator to the trip.  Here his blog regarding the entire experience. WE are the CHANGE!

How do we identify and recognize change? We feel it within ourselves. It churns up emotion. It makes our hearts race. It challenges us to question everything we thought we knew and forces us to imagine something different. We exercise our power when we begin to turn these new ideas into reality. We’re genetically geared to do it. It’s a part of our survival and our evolution, so why deny it? We’re only human. This week I had the privilege of participating in a change process, which began by connecting people who were once worlds apart: a talented management team from Aeroplan and a group of fierce young women from the Eastland slums of Nairobi. Aeroplan’s Beyond Miles Program has the profound vision to bring such brilliant minds together to deepen the relationships between their company and the communities that they support.  We took this opportunity to redefine “global citizenship”. The blogs posted over the past week illustrate how the young leaders of Safe Spaces introduced their work, grounded the Aeroplan team in the program, and got them participating in all the activities with their heads, hearts and minds. For our team, it was the spaces ‘between’ where the relationships formed: walking to and from Safe Dishes for lunch every day, driving back and forth from activities, walking around the community: all opportunities to share a moment. “Pole pole” they say in swahili, meaning “Slowly slowly”. It’s a reflection of how we work and how we build relationships incrementally. When Nish says, “Karibu sana” (you’re very welcome), she really means it, as in “welcome into our lives”. The team was so moved by our welcome into the community and realized very quickly that we were all being granted our own “Safe Space” to ask questions, share stories, dance together, laugh, listen and be heard. Each day, we felt ourselves further understanding our place within the Safe Spaces community. We participated in all aspects of the program, from the mothers group, to mechanics workshops, basketball practice and lifeskills training. We learned with our hearts and hands that girls’ empowerment is the cornerstone of community health. However, in order to achieve long-term success, we need the blessings of parents and elders, participation from young men, and opportunities for employment and income generation for the community. We got to see all of this in action, and realize that this is actually a world-class model of holistic community development. We see the potential of this work to ignite female-led grassroots movements across the globe.

We sat together with the girls on the last day and reflected on our week: We recognized each person as a critical source of learning and knowledge. We heard how our encouragement was reinforcing the ambitions and hopes of the girls. We recognized our sisterhood (and brotherhood) across continents and realized that we are all in this together, as ONE. As Nish reflected, “We are all one community, all on one course – together. Every experience is a stepping stone to what we wish to achieve.” Mamu chimed in closer to the end, “What kind of people leave the comfort of their own home to come to Nairobi and visit us in the slums?” A week ago she was skeptical of who might step off the plane. Today she had tears rolling down her cheeks, feeling the connection and hope that exists when we tear down the walls that separate us to find committed allies, friendship, and community. So what kind of people are we? The Aeroplan Team (with support from Schools Without Borders), will be setting up a “Friends of Safe Spaces” group in Canada. We are coming together to build a core of individuals committed to strengthening the life changing work of Safe Spaces. We will be supporting each programming stream of Safe Spaces and developing resilient partnerships that will help to bring sustainability to this work. If you want to be a part of our team, please get in touch. The vision we share today is one of Unity, Hope and Connection.  We’re living it and breathing it as we come away from this experience. We see what is possible when powerful women take the reigns, and inspire leadership within their community. We’re excited to see where our collective vision might take this. One undeniable lesson we learned this week is that change starts from within – and that it’s a feeling, a process and a profound learning. As the girls say everyday of their lives, “I’m THE CHANGE!” With love and appreciation, Julian

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