Magellan Scholar Studies ‘Strong Girls, Strong World’ in Kenya

Created: November 15, 2016
Last Updated: July 9, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Nov. 15, 2016) – “What is it like to be a girl in Kenya?” This question, though simple in words, unraveled many complex and surprising answers for Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) sophomore Carmen Carroll.

Her Magellan Project, “Strong Girls, Strong World,” focused on the treatment of women in the Kenyan education system. Travelling to the bustling capital city of Nairobi, Carmen visited several schools and rescue centers in the area, which inspired her to film a documentary as part of her Magellan.

The documentary, “I am a Girl,” features the lives of those she met on her three-week journey. The documentary highlights the strength of women and girls in Kenya, the struggles they often face, the power of education in their lives, and the goals these young women and girls hope to achieve.

As a communication arts major with a public relations emphasis, a poet, and writer, Carmen strives to be a global citizen in the world, which includes being aware of the disparities around her. She felt particularly drawn to Kenya for its history and demographics.

“Kenyan women remain disadvantaged economically, socially, and politically. According to The Foundation for Sustainable Development, nearly 40 percent of households are run solely by women, and because of a lack of fair income, nearly all these homes suffer from poverty or extreme poverty,” she writes in her blog.

Even as girls and women excel in school and have higher rates of graduation, men dominate the workforce. Thus, she writes, many find that the strong traditions of the country help to keep women from important leadership positions and within narrow roles as wives and mothers.

As she set out to do her research, Carmen wanted people to tell her their stories. She met people at Hillcrest, an international secondary school where her host mother Mama Ndinda teaches, the Thicka School of the Blind, the University of Nairobi, and Tala Secondary School.

Throughout the documentary, Carmen captures the stories of a young schoolgirl, Stella, who dreams of being an accountant; law student Lucy Muthama; University of Nairobi students Vivian Murda and Henry; and four top students at Tala secondary school. When asking the very question that inspired her Magellan about what it is like to be a girl in Kenya, Lucy simply responds, “It’s not easy,” and recounts personal anecdotes that illustrate how women are often treated as second class citizens.

Lucy also confesses the pressure to marry and have children, as most girls her age, between 21- and 23-years old, are either engaged, married, or pregnant. However, Lucy remains focused on completing her degree and becoming an advocate for children and their education. The same sentiments can be found among the students at Tala. In their village, most girls start families after Form 4 (the U.S. equivalent of a high school senior), and this dynamic informs much of the struggle women in Kenya continue to face today.

While the situation Kenyan women face was sobering to see and hear about firsthand, Carmen felt incredibly inspired by the talented and educated women she met and spoke to there. As she saw these women break out of their country’s traditions and stereotypes, she says it’s confirmed her own desire to work in non-profits around the world after her time at W&J.

About the Magellan Project

Established in 2008, Washington & Jefferson College’s unique Magellan Project extends liberal arts learning outside the classroom by providing scholarship funding for students to spend the summer pursuing independent projects and internships in the United States and abroad. Learn more about the Magellan Project on the W&J website.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work.

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