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Design Studies Students Collaborate with Kenyan Activist Josephine Kulea

Bailey Schuldt is a Senior, Communication Arts 2018, Certificates in Digital Studies and Gender & Women’s Studies

Several weeks ago, Kenyan women’s rights campaigner Dr. Josephine Kulea visited SoHE as part of a partnership initiated by Design Studies instructor Lesley Sager. In 2012, Kulea founded the Samburu Girls Foundation, an organization dedicated to rescuing young girls from child marriages, female genital mutilation, and beading. With help from a community of informants, the group removes children from these dangerous situations, giving them a home and the opportunity to continue their education by paying their school fees. Kulea, a survivor herself, began working with Faculty Associate Lesley Sager and her students to create an empowerment journal to help educate the girls on their rights.

Josephine Kulea visiting design studies course.
Kulea visiting with Sager’s (pictured far right) design studies students.

Sager’s course, Design Studies 341: Design Thinking for Transformation, spends time exploring the applicability of this creative process across different fields. Students were sectioned into groups, all focused on their own cooperative design projects. Michelle Ho, one of the students working on an empowerment journal for the Sambura girls, said they started by coming up with a “how might we…” statement. This is part of ’empathy research,’ the first step of design thinking, which involves fostering a deeper understanding of the problem, the goal, and those affected. Michelle’s group decided to explore how they might “encourage the development of self-worth and self-esteem so that girls feel empowered to pursue their dreams.” From there, they came up with concept for the Me, Myself, and I informative journal, drawing inspiration from the Tharaka Women’s Welfare Program and Dr. Jasmine Zapata‘s Beyond Beautiful: A Girl’s Guide to Unlocking the Power of Inner Beauty, Self Esteem, Resilience, and Courage. Their prototype included sections on self-esteem, empowerment, and planning for the future.

After completing their prototype, the group sent the journals to the Samburu Girls Foundation with Kulea, where they were very well received. Because these girls have been experienced such trauma, the journal also contains information to educate them on how topics like human rights, power dynamics, and decision making apply to them. During her visit, Josephine highlighted the importance of education, stating that “in life, when you lack knowledge you’re doomed, because you have no options. But when you have information, any kind of information, you can get the help and support that you need.” She believes these journals are a great step towards teaching the young girls that they’re capable of anything.

Both women emphasized the impact this partnership has on both the young girls in Kenya and the students at SoHE. The group was given feedback on the journals, learning what parts the kids enjoyed and what they might want to see in later iterations. Regarding future changes, Michelle noted that “the feedback was that [the girls would] like some more information on women’s health, so we’re trying to incorporate that as well as some more coloring pages and activities for the younger girls.” This partnership has no end in sight as Kulea and Professor Sager continue working on ways to expand, including possible student trips to Kenya in the future.

I believe this kind of book is the greatest thing for the girls because they just want to hear it’s possible, and what other options they have and what is there for them.
–Josephine Kulea