Letter from Denise

During the first two weeks of August this year, I was privileged to travel to Kenya to visit the Umoja Project. The main purpose of my trip was to attend the Boys and Girls Empowerment Retreats for our students who are in secondary school and post-secondary school. This was my first time to witness the GET UP Sr retreat now in its eleventh year, and this was the first ever BET UP Sr retreat. 

Every trip to Kenya is powerful for me, but this trip was particularly special. The lives of the children who are the beneficiaries of the Umoja Project can be sad and inspiring. They remind westerners of the privilege into which we were born. These stories can be humbling as you begin to doubt whether you have contributed enough to the world in which we all live, especially when you consider everything these children have overcome. I always learn new things about Kenya, about our beneficiaries, and about myself during my visits.

Both retreats included fun and games, a talent contest, and a game drive. However, the bulk of the time was spent in small groups led by facilitators covering responsibility, peer pressure, sexual health, mental health, and financial health. During the girls retreat we had five speakers, Madame Alice Osango, Madame Nelly Ndenge, Mural Nyangaga, Olivia Naya, and Mr. Samson Nyarima. The boys retreat had a slightly different group with Chrispin, Olivia, Mr. Nyarima, Mr. Nyambega, and Mr. Sewe. Listening to these young adults share their stories with each other was enlightening. Watching them lift each other up either with their words, gestures, smiles, or touch demonstrated how much this group has become a caring family. Most surprising was the way the boys shared during their small groups. 

Below are some quotes from the GET UP Sr girls, who wrote letters for me to bring home, as well as the story of Tobias who shared with me and then shared even more deeply with his brothers during the BET UP Sr retreat.

I learned from these young adults that the Umoja Project is working.  The holistic approach of food, clothing, shelter when necessary, education, and emotional support is empowering young people to become independent and provide for themselves and their younger “siblings.” These young Umoja beneficiaries are grateful, but most of all they are hopeful for a better life tomorrow. They know with hard work they can achieve their dreams.

What did I learn about myself? Well, the most important thing that I learned: I made the right decision to say “yes” to try and fill my predecessor’s shoes. They lifted me up with their stories. I am honored every day to continue the journey set out by Ellen Daniels-Howell. 

With your help, we can continue to transform communities one child at a time. 


Denise Soltis
Executive Director