Searching for Rahma

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I first met Rahma in 2008, in the Kibera Slums in Nairobi. Kibera is the largest slum in Africa and the conditions were beyond shocking. Rahma was a student at a totally dilapidated primary school that would be our first project in Africa. Only 10 years old, she was bright, engaging and beautiful, and she followed me everywhere. Unlike most African girls we met, she was not shy and looked right into the camera with huge smiles. The images of her were so captivating that she immediately became the poster girl for AG’s packaging, brochures and website.

Less than a year later, I went back to Kibera to open the new school with my husband and daughters. Rahma was front and center again, and this time she formed a special bond with our girls.

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Lotte Davis’ daughter Mackenzie Davis bonds with Rahma and girls in Kibera

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Year after year, I would return to Africa, but our focus had shifted to building secondary schools for girls in more rural areas. I didn’t have a reason to visit Kibera anymore, but the images of those lovely children, particularly Rahma were permanently etched in my mind, and I thought of them often.

In 2014 I went back to Kibera again, this time determined to find Rahma. Unfortunately, she was away at secondary school and I couldn’t connect with her.

In the fall of 2015, I was scheduled for another trip to Nairobi, and this time I started months in advance to see if I could track her down. I had pretty much given up; when on the last day of my trip her old headmaster called to let me know she was at home and agreed to set up a meeting. Arriving with her father, she was 16 years old now, tall, graceful and unmistakably confident. There was something special about Rahma, she had a destiny to fulfill, and she knew it.

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She remembered who I was, and I explained that I’d been building more schools since I’d last seen her and now also offered scholarships for girls through a charity I started called One Girl Can. I asked her how she was doing in school and she said she was only getting B’s. She felt she could do much better but she was frequently sent home until her parents couldn’t afford to top up the school fees that were due. With six other siblings to provide for in the slums, and her father often out of work, she missed a lot school.

I asked her if she could achieve an A if she had the opportunity to stay in school without disruption, and she assured me she could. I then told her we would pay off her current debt at the school so that she could go back on Monday, and that she wouldn’t have to worry about being sent home again. I also told her that if she improved her grades, we would also pay for her grad year in high school next year. And, if she achieved a minimum of B+ and qualified for university, I would sponsor her through the Business and Commerce degree that she told me she had always dreamt about.

This was the look on Rahma’s face in that instant when she suddenly realized her whole life was about to change. Her father was wiping tears from his eyes and in that brief moment, my life changed too. I learned firsthand what it feels like to give someone a chance to escape poverty, and the privilege that goes with being in a position to do so.

I’ve just come back from another trip to Africa where I visited Rahma at her high school. She stood up in front of her entire grade after I had presented a motivational workshop, and said something I’ll never forget. “I live in the slums, but the slums don’t live in me. My parents are poor, but I am not poor. There is opportunity for all of us, and when it comes, we need to be ready to take it, and I encourage all of you to work hard and dream big like I have, and one day, we can succeed.”

– Lotte Davis, Founder & Executive Director One Girl Can