"I will live as though I have a thousand daughters, even though I have none, because every girl is my daughter and when she sees me, or engages with me, she's looking to me for how to live. So I will live, I will laugh, I will speak, and I will love as though her heart and soul depend on it.”
For as long as I can remember, a piece of my heart has been dedicated to encouraging and cultivating self-esteem in girls. But over the last few years of travelling around the world doing development projects, I've come to understand that the importance of girls goes even beyond that. To me, girls are the most powerful force for change on the planet. They possess the amazing power to break down cycles of poverty within their own generation. And they get that power when they have access to health care and education.
A couple of years ago when I met Mike Warneke, the Executive Director of Fields of Dreams Uganda, at a conference we were both attending, and he started telling me what FoDU was about, I’m pretty sure the second sentence out of his mouth contained the phrase “Girl Empowerment”. I just stopped him right there and told him he had said the magic words, and whatever this organization was doing, “I’m all in.”
Two years and two trips to Uganda later, it’s even better that I had hoped. Here are my highlights of what excites me about this organization:
The Kids. I can tell you endless stories that will make your heart expand three sizes about the kids that I get to meet on my trips. How their joy and excitement and love for you can overwhelm you past comprehension at times. How a small child on the other side of the world can put so much into perspective for you, and you will forever be changed for the better. But I’d much rather take you along on a trip so you can have that experience for yourself. Ask anyone who’s gone on a FoDU trip… it’s an amazing experience.
The Ugandan Staff. I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for several years now, and I am an absolute advocate of empowering people in roles of leadership. Our FoDU staff is an incredible group of people who serve all of these kids and their families and teachers every day. They are what makes this organization successful. They are role models and safe havens, and purveyors of hope to the thousands of orphaned and vulnerable children we serve. Meeting the FoDU staff is the other best thing about going on a trip with us!
The FoDU Board. Incredible group of people. I’ve tremendously enjoyed sitting on this board and learning from everyone. And incredible group of serving hearts, who have been so encouraging, and who are extremely thoughtful and committed to the mission of FoDU.
Today, July 1st, is a really special day to me. Today I’m joining the staff of Fields of Dreams Uganda. As I’ve navigated my life and had experiences and met people that helped shape and define who I am and what I stand for, I feel really blessed to land here today. I get to have a career that is located at the center of my soul. I am the new Girl Empowerment Coordinator for FoDU. I am excited about this role and what we will
be developing this year! We will be launching our new Ekisa Designs line of fair trade goods, hand made by our artisans in Uganda. We will be partnering up with our exceptional young men and women on our Uganda Youth Council to help advance and develop our current projects as well as other sustainability projects. And we will be doing advocacy work here in the US to educate and encourage other to get involved.
On my first trip to Uganda with FoDU in 2015, I took part in distributing the hygiene kits to the girls at our partner schools. These hygiene kits contain reusable pads that last a year, soap and a wash bucket, new pairs of underwear, and a drawstring backpack to carry it all in, among other things. I learned a tremendous amount about the life realities that a young woman goes through their when she starts her period. I learned that due to lack of money/resources/support she is often only able to use dried leaves, dried cow dung, or old piece of clothing during her period. Not only does it affect her health, but she falls desperately behind in school. It’s embarrassing for her and uncomfortable.
Seeing the impact those hygiene kits had on those girls, impacted me like nothing else had in my professional career. When I returned to Uganda in March of this year, I was so encouraged to hear the girls tell me how they are now able to stay in school, play sports, feel healthier and more confident. Many of the girls use those drawstring back packs as their school bags.They are proud and excited. And so am I.
So I invite you to come with me to the center of my soul. It’s called Girl Empowerment, and it can be found anywhere in the world, but I’m honored and blessed that mine gets to be in the hope and the heart of Uganda.
Nicole Moore Keffer, Girl Empowerment Coordinator
Fields of Dreams Uganda