Girls on Vashon work to help improve lives of girls in Kenya

Girls in the MCI group are, clockwise from top left, Audrey Benner, Aubrey Kraabel, Kate Atwell, Taryn Mulvihill, Clara Atwell, Tess Mueller, Hannah Van Dusen and Silvia Henley. Not pictured are Rayana Weller and Natalie Van Devanter. - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
Girls in the MCI group are, clockwise from top left, Audrey Benner, Aubrey Kraabel, Kate Atwell, Taryn Mulvihill, Clara Atwell, Tess Mueller, Hannah Van Dusen and Silvia Henley. Not pictured are Rayana Weller and Natalie Van Devanter.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

Several girls on Vashon have banded together, set their sights on Africa and are raising money to improve the lives of girls who belong to the Maasai tribe in Kenya.

For more than a year, the girls have been meeting regularly and raising funds as part of MCI Girls to Girls — an offshoot of the Kenya-based Maasai Children’s Initiative (MCI). The girls — several freshman at Vashon High School and one sixth-grader at McMurray Middle School — have raised nearly $4,000, enough to build a playground at an MCI-supported school in Kenya and to begin a fund to bring two Maasai girls to Vashon this August.

Their efforts have im-pressed Anne Atwell, a mother of two girls in the group and MCI’s director of development on Vashon, where the nonprofit organization has its U.S. office. Because of the Vashon girls’ efforts, she said, girls in Kenya’s Maasailand are benefiting, and, she added, the Vashon girls are reaping rewards as well.

“Each girl has brought her own talents to bear on the project,” she said. “They all believe in the cause, … and they’re all having a lot of fun realizing their abilities.”

The group was the brainchild of two mothers who thought their daughters and friends might be interested. They approached Atwell with the idea, who enthusiastically endorsed it. Now, it includes her daughters Kate and Clara and six other girls — all with a keen and growing interest in the lives of girls in Africa.

“We wanted to get involved with what MCI is doing,” said ninth-grader Aubrey Kraabel, a stalwart of MCI Girls to Girls. “We wanted to get to know the girls in the schools and to raise money for the schools.”

MCI supports two schools in Kenya, a day school for students in nursery school through grade three and a boarding school for students in nursery school through grade eight.

The two schools fill a need in a part of the world where many girls aren’t able to attend school and by 14 are often married and pregnant. But when girls receive an education, Atwell said, their lives improve dramatically — as does the quality of life in their communities. In fact, research has shown repeatedly that providing education for girls is the number one way to alleviate poverty throughout the world.

Shortly after the Vashon group formed in January 2012, the girls began raising money to build a playground at one of the schools. Through bake sales and other fundraisers, they brought in $2,000, the goal for the project. The girls then looked toward funding a new goal, bringing in $1,000 from a booth at the Strawberry Festival and $500 by hosting an activity booth for young kids at the Sheepdog Classic in the fall.

And in what may be the trip of a lifetime for some, four members of the Vashon group traveled to Kenya last summer and saw firsthand the value the Maasai students place on education. The girls brought this lesson back with them; students in this country often complain about their homework, the Vashon girls noted, but that was far from the case at MCI’s schools.

Kate Atwell, one of the girls who took the trip, said she was impressed with how inspired every student was to learn.

“They were all very proud to be there, and knew they were accomplishing a lot,” she said.

Aubrey Kraabel also went on the trip and was struck by the quality of education. She had expected it to be less than it is in this country, an assumption that turned out to be wrong, she said.

“We got there, and it was more like they were teaching us,” she said. “We thought it would be the other way around.”

The trip inspired the girls to strive to raise funds for their current goal: to bring two Maasai girls to this country and host them while they are on Vashon. With $1,500 in the bank, they hope to raise another $1,500 by June.

“We want to give them the opportunity they gave us,” Kate Atwell said.

To that end, Aubrey Kraabel plans to cook a multi-course meal for donors with the help of caterer Sheri Hamlow, set for March 9 at the home of islander Matt Bergman, who co-founded MCI. The other girls will help with the remaining work the evening will entail.

The girls also hope to host a bake sale later this spring and possibly a fun run, with donations and sponsorships all benefiting their cause.

In the coming months, they plan to solidify the workings of their group so they can expand and be a model for other students interested in forming their own Girls to Girls group.

Already, there is interest from as far away as The Netherlands, Anne Atwell said.

When asked what drew them to this cause, the girls gave different answers, but similar themes ran through them. Vashon does not have much diversity, many noted, and through their work, they can change the lives of girls just like them but who live seemingly a world away.

“It’s better to help and do something even if you’ve not experienced it,” Aubrey said. “Because, really, it could have been you.”


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