• The Survival Girls


    A Girl's Story, Like Their Own

    In 'Survival Girls', Ming Holden introduces us to a remarkable group of Congolese refugees who use theater to tell a story of survival.

    In 2011, Ming Holden traveled to Kenya and founded a theater group for Congolese refugee girls in the slums of Nairobi. Her new book about the experience, Survival Girls, traces her journey and the stories of the remarkable young women who joined her project. (Incidentally, all proceeds of the book go to the Survival Girls themselves, and Hillary Clinton and Anne-Marie Slaughter are reported to be fans.) Below, an excerpt from Holden's non-fiction novella introduces us to the sweet, spirited refugees she encountered in her theater workshop:


  • Kakenya Ntaiya. (Vital Voices Global Partnership/Newscom)

    Our Hero

    Vote for Kakenya!

    She’s a hero to Kenya’s girls. You can make her CNN Hero of the Year.

    Even the prospect of excruciating pain couldn’t stop Kakenya Ntaiya from getting an education. Born in a Maasai village in south Kenya, engaged at age five, she was destined to undergo circumcision and end her schooling at 14. But Kakenya had a different plan.

    "I really liked going to school," she said. "I knew that once I went through the cutting, I was going to be married off. And my dream of becoming a teacher was going to end."

  • Interpol/AP

    On the Loose

    Interpol Issues Alert for ‘White Widow’

    For alleged involvement in Kenya bomb plot.

    Interpol on Thursday issued an arrest alert for Sophia Lewthwaite, a fugitive known as the "White Widow" who is wanted by Kenyan authorities for alleged involvement in a bomb plot. Lewthwaite is a 29-year-old Muslim convert from the U.K. whose first husband was a suicide bomber in the 2005 terrorist attacks on the London Underground. Social-media reports also linked her to the mall attack in Kenya last week, saying a white female was leading the operation, though there is no evidence of her involvement. Kenyan authorities want Lewthwaite for alleged involvement in a plot to bomb holiday resorts.

    Read it at The Associated Press
  • Simon Maina/AFP/Getty


    Kenya’s Women Fight Back

    An innovative new program teaches Nairobi’s teens and grandmothers to defend themselves from sex attacks in the city’s slums.

    “Today, I’m your guide and your security guard!” Mercy Anyong’a cheerfully tells me as we walk through the narrow alleyways and muddy paths of Mukuru Kwa Njenga, one of Nairobi’s largest and most dangerous slums.

    Caroline Gitau, a young, vivacious Kenyan woman perpetually in motion, tells me that I should give my camera to Mercy: “She knows the slums well.”

  • Saudi princess Meshael Alayban listens to an interpreter during an appearance in court on July 11. (Nick Ut/AP)

    Domestic Abuse?

    The Princess & the Peon

    What pushed a Kenyan servant to flee a Saudi royal in California? By Eliza Shapiro and Christine Pelisek.

    It’s the story of the princess and her peon: a member of the Saudi royal family was arrested (PDF) in her Irvine, Calif., condo just after midnight on Tuesday for allegedly forcing a Kenyan woman to work as a domestic servant against her will.

    Now 42-year-old Meshael Alayban is facing 12 years in prison on human-trafficking charges in one of the nation’s ritziest counties.

  • A group of salespeople in Kenya. (Sam Nuttmann)


    If You Give a Girl a Solar Lamp …

    Livelyhoods, the brainchild of two 20-something activists, takes Kenya’s youth off the streets and transforms them into eco-friendly entrepreneurs.

    In a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, where an attractive daily salary clocks in at $2, a group of two-dozen 18- to 25-year-olds in crisp blue polo shirts peddle their wares. At one point, many of them sold scavenged scraps of plastic or metal on the streets. Some sold drugs. Now, they sell clean cookstoves, solar lamps, sanitary products, and LED lamps. They work as iSmart sales agents for Livelyhoods, an eight-time award-winning organization run by a pair of 26-year-old women pushing a business model of job creation and sustainable products. On average, their sales associates make $75 a month, but of the 80 young adults who’ve passed through the program—many of them single parents and first-time job holders—a number have already been promoted to managerial positions.

    “We are selling products that aren’t currently available within slum communities and have a really big impact,” says executive director Maria Springer, who, along with co-founder and COO Tania Laden, founded the business almost two years ago. The pair run the store along with a team of four former sales agents and a steady flow of fellows coming from America’s top schools. And they’re getting ready to open the second store after a successful, and slightly unusual, fundraiser raised them more than enough cash to do so.

  • Somali refugees wait at the entrance to the registration area of the IFO refugee camp which makes up part of the giant Dadaab refugee settlement on July 24, 2011 in Dadaab, Kenya. (Oli Scarff/Getty)

    True Grit

    War Took Her Leg, But Not Her Spirit

    Somalia's Dehabo Hassan Maow faced grueling challenges as a disabled teen refugee—and now she's working to help other girls carve out a fighting chance.

    At just 14 years old, Dahabo Hassan Maow was caught in the crossfire of her native Somalia’s civil war and injured so gravely that doctors were forced to amputate her leg at the knee. With no family (she was orphaned as a baby) or support, she fled her homeland, traveling by unpaved road to what she hoped would be the relative safety of Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, in Kenya.

    But even greater challenges awaited upon her arrival. “I use crutches, so if I was able to stand in line for food, I couldn’t carry it back to where I was living,” Dahabo recalls. “I couldn’t fetch water for myself.” In the event that she found someone to help her transport her share of food back to her makeshift home, she still lacked the firewood needed to cook it. “I thought it was only me,” she said, “but I saw a lot of disabled people who didn’t have any help, who were going through the same problems.”