Girls on Fire Leaders | SPOTLIGHT

Martha, age 15; Daisy, age 12; and Beldin, age 13, are students at the Kibera School for Girls in Nairobi, Kenya, and part of the Girls on Fire Leaders program founded by global entrepreneur and investor, Eileen Flannigan.


Girls on Fire Leaders is a nonprofit organization that provides vulnerable girls in the Kibera slum with opportunities to overcome their circumstances through education, travel, service, self-expression, and empowerment. The Kibera School for Girls is part of a group of services funded through Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), an NGO funded by global resources to combat urban poverty and gender inequality. 

Martha, Daisy and Beldin are just three of the 30 Girls on Fire who have come from difficult circumstances that include dire poverty, deprivation, physical and sexual abuse and violence, risk of early marriage and pregnancy, and little chance of a future other than the only one they know. HIV/AIDS is prevalent, and residents often suffer from diseases and malnutrition due to a desperate lack of nutritious food and healthy sanitation resources. The Kibera slum is the largest slum dwelling in Kenya, covering an area the size of Central Park in New York City. Population estimates vary--somewhere between 500,000 to 1 million people, all existing on less than $1 a day, according to local estimates.  

The Villa team was in Nairobi last week to deliver one of our leadership programs to the United Nations World Food Programme, and we were invited by GOF leader Eileen Flannigan to spend a few hours with these remarkable girls teaching them leadership skills. Walking through the slum was to reach the school was sobering, to say the least. The living conditions are quite primitive, but the vibrancy of the community was unexpected.  


The girls at the school were adorable, intelligent and articulate, and we fell in love with them within minutes. We visited several classrooms, then spent a few hours with about 50 girls, sharing lessons on leadership and emotional self-awareness, and listening to them express their dreams and describe their activities of service and learning.  

We were so impressed with their maturity, exuberance for life, and optimism that we invited several of them and their dedicated teacher, Debborah Odenyi, to come to our hotel and speak to the UN women who were attending our program.   

Afterwards, we treated them to dinner in the hotel restaurant. (They picked politely at the stuffed chicken but heartily inhaled the fries and mango juice.) We also got a chance to interview them, and they told us about their dreams of university, careers, and helping their community. They talked about female empowerment, FGM (female genital mutilation, which is against the law but still practiced in the smaller villages in Kenya), early child marriage, education, world peace, and their dedication to Kibera and giving back to their community.  


The one thing they did not talk about was wanting material things or wealth. Martha and Belden had the opportunity to spend two weeks last summer attending leadership camps in Connecticut and New York with GOF sponsors, so have had a taste of life outside of their neighborhood. They and one other girl recently passed their school exams with flying colors, and have earned scholarships to attend high school in Connecticut next year. They were humble, wise beyond their young years, and so very impressive. Here is an excerpt of their interviews: 

Question:  If you fell asleep tonight and woke up tomorrow and your life was just like you wanted it to be, how would it look? 

Teacher Debbie: I would like to find a world that has many girls in the slums and in marginalized areas where girls have been brought up by single mothers empowering the rest, and where they have a voice and can speak and articulate their experiences without being pulled back. 

Beldin: I want to wake up and have the life I’ve always dreamed of. I don’t want to hear about tribalism again, and I’d like to see people coming and working together without thinking about politics or tribes. 

Martha:  I’d like to be in a world that I’ve always wished to be in, where there are no fights, no quarrels. A world where there is just peace and we are all brothers and sisters and there is nothing to bring us apart. 

Daisy: For me, when I wake up, I want it to be amazing and find out that everything has changed. A world where the youth are recognized and can be given jobs in our country. Where the youth respect themselves and want something for themselves, and every girl understands herself and has courage and believes in herself. 

Question: What do you want to be when you grow up? 

Beldin: I’d like to become a professor so as to study different languages and change the people’s mentality about different tribes, and also to be a voice for the girls. 

Martha: I want to be a president when I grow up. I want to be a president to bring everyone together with one voice.  What inspires me and makes me want to be a president is I look at my country and I wish us to be together. 

Daisy: I want to be an actress!  Mainly, because we have so many youth with talent in the slums, but they don’t take it that serious, so I’d like to be an actress so I can give back to my community and empower other women. I want to be in action movies! 

Question: What do you want to empower women to do? 

Daisy:  In the past years, women were not modern, but more traditional, so sometimes they would be the action of FGM (female genital mutilation), and women never got a chance to believe in themselves. 

Question: In a few minutes, you are going to meet some of the women who work for the United Nations World Food Programme.  They work here in Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and other African countries.  They help people who need more food. They deliver food to areas where there is not enough food or where there is war. You have this chance to meet with them so what do you want them to know about you personally and Girls on Fire? 

Daisy: When I meet them I will tell them that I’m an empowered leader and would suggest to them that girls are good leaders. I would encourage them to empower people like them to do the same for others because if you do good for others, others will do good for you. 

Beldin: I would like them to know about Girls on Fire, and that we can be the voice of the voiceless, and that girls believe they can change their community no matter where they come from, because they do not choose where they come from. 

Martha: I will tell them that Girls on Fire is not only about leading people, it’s about serving others because when you mingle with others you get to know their problems and you get to share and help each other. I will tell them that we help people achieve what they want to be. I will tell them that we should stand among a crowd and help others come out of their hopelessness. 

Teacher Debbie: From the position where I sit as a teacher, I will tell them I would like to see 100% attendance and admission of all the children in the slums who are school-going age in school. 

We at The Villa have no doubt that these girls are going to accomplish their dreams of a better life for themselves and the future generations of girls who will be born into their same circumstances. 

They also aspire to empower and educate girls, their families and tribal leaders who live in African villages outside of their city. The Villa plan to be right there with them, supporting their efforts, their goals and their determination to overcome and improve their lives and the lives of the people they love and live with. We invite you to follow along their journey with us. It’s certain to be compelling, inspirational and will touch your hearts in the same way it has touched ours. 

She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire

Hotter than a fantasy, lonely like a highway

She's living in a world, and it's on fire

Feeling the catastrophe, but she knows she can fly away

Oh, she got both feet on the ground

And she's burning it down

Oh, she got her head in the clouds

And she's not backing down

This girl is on fire

This girl is on fire

She's walking on fire

This girl is on fire


Looks like a girl, but she's a flame

So bright, she can burn your eyes

Better look the other way

You can try but you'll never forget her name

She's on top of the world

Hottest of the hottest girls say


Oh, we got our feet on the ground

And we're burning it down

Oh, got our head in the clouds

And we're not coming down


Everybody stands, as she goes by

Cause they can see the flame that's in her eyes

Watch her when she's lighting up the night

Nobody knows that she's a lonely girl

And it's a lonely world

But she gon' let it burn, baby, burn, baby

This girl is on fire

This girl is on fire

She's walking on fire

This girl is on fire


She's just a girl, and she's on fire

She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire

Hotter than a fantasy, lonely like a highway

(Alicia Keys)