31 Jan Unstoppable Leadership Program Breaks New Ground & Barriers

“I’ve learned how to love – how to make someone happy, and how to forgive someone, both at home and in the community.” – Branis, Laila

For most people living in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, life is harsh. Much of their energy is devoted to basic survival. Dreams for a better life are just a luxury.

We are changing this, one community at a time. With the help and support of our donors and partners, we are moving people from barely surviving to thriving by building schoolhouses, constructing community boreholes to supply access to clean water, providing daily meals for students and educating residents on improved farming and livestock techniques.

Our efforts have borne rich fruit in so many communities including Laila, which is now home to a thriving school, a clean water system and a flourishing community farm. Training has given families the skills they need to increase their income above subsistence level. For the first time, adults and children in Laila have a reason to dream big, and we are continuing to find new ways to foster those dreams through education.

In Laila, an entire generation of children is attending school and dreaming of lives and careers that would have been unthinkable for their parents – as doctors, teachers and scientists. Learning is not only important for Laila’s youth, though.

Although most of the parents and elders in the community had traditional upbringings and never attended school, we know that it is never too late to learn, and that knowledge is empowering at any age. For the Laila community, education is bridging the gap between the goals and aspirations of the community’s children, and the traditional values held by parents and elders – particularly those related to girls, who are often marked for early marriage.

In 2017, we launched the Unstoppable Leadership Academy (ULA) at WE College, 40 minutes from Laila. The ULA is two-year leadership and empowerment certificate program taken by all students alongside their diploma program to give learners the inner resources and skills they need to create effective change in their lives, careers, families and communities. With the enthusiastic support from elders and local leaders in Laila, we are thrilled to be offering leadership and empowerment training at the community level for the first time.

Laila community members in front of the Unstoppable Community Center

Beginning in the fall of 2019, Laila community members have gathered every three weeks in their Unstoppable Community Center to take part in ULA programming. Working in consultation with facilitators and community mobilizers, we have adapted the first course in the ULA, Foundations for Success, to reflect the themes most relevant to the community. Program content has been translated into the local language, Maa, and course materials have been customized to reflect mixed literacy rates among attendees.

Through the course, we are building participants’ capacities to navigate the complex social and economic changes taking place in their families and communities, and to build their own vision for what successful community development looks like in Laila.

The course has focused on aspects of inner success, relationship-building and group dynamics, delving into topics such as forgiveness, facing change and loss, difficult conversations and creative collaboration. It has been a fascinating and rewarding journey as ULA attendees have begun to examine both traditional social norms and the broad socioeconomic changes taking place in their community through a new lens. Participants have opened dialogues about challenges such as teenage marriage and grazing land conflicts, and developed their own strategies for addressing community challenges.

Unstoppable Leadership Academy Facilitators teaching Foundations for Success to Laila community members

One of the highlights of the program so far was participants’ collaboration with Unstoppable Tourism Scholars at WE College to develop a community outreach and mentoring day for the youth in Laila. The day was filled with fun activities, featuring a play that dealt with the realities of teenage pregnancy and interactive informational sessions about reproductive and menstrual health. By opening up discussion and engaging the entire community in addressing these traditionally taboo topics, leaders in Laila are giving young women the support they need to avoid unwanted early pregnancies, and — too often — a life consigned to unskilled labor.

A core principle in the ULA is that that leaders empower themselves by empowering others. We are profoundly inspired to witness the ways in which the adult community in Laila is applying this principle. We look forward to the months ahead and continuing to share more about how this very special community is transforming itself.