Ashley had just started at Precious Blood as a Form 1 student in 2013 when we donated our KEY Library to the School. She remembers when the upgraded library was opening, recalling that she had never before seen so many books she wanted to read. Her mother was a book enthusiast, and though books in Kenya are prohibitively expensive, had instilled in her daughter from an early age a love of reading.
Ashley’s life took an abrupt and devastating turn when her mother died suddenly just weeks after the library was handed over. Faced with overwhelming grief that she didn’t know how to manage, she turned to books and writing poetry. Her teachers encouraged her in this endeavor.
She told me her favorite books to read to this day are Harry Potter books that were donated in the library, and that these books were crucial in helping her grieve and heal. The wonderful world of witchcraft and wizardry took her away from the realities with which she was confronted, helping her escape and dream. That Harry Potter had also lost his parents, and struggles with this loss throughout the whole series, helped her in confronting her own loss.
It was through reading and exploring the library books that Ashley started to write poetry, discovering that she had a gift. She said that she found inspiration everywhere, from fantasy books to those on architecture or landscape design, from which she found words she would use to craft her art.
Her poetry addressed loss, poverty, environmental destruction, beauty, laughter, and hope – all themes that she said she identifies with Kenya. This year, she entered one of her poems into the Niko 15 competition, which was looking for a talented Kenya to represent the country at the UN General Assembly’s formation of the new Sustainable Development Goals.
Ashley’s poem beat thousands of entries of drawing, singing, painting, photography, and writing, and she became Kenya’s child delegate to this high profile, critically important symposium. It was her first time flying on a plane, let alone leaving Kenya. She describes the experience as one of the best of her life, where for the first time, she felt like she had a voice. When I asked her what the highlight was, she told me it was meeting Graca Michel, a freedom fighter and Nelson Mandela’s widow.
Ashley said she never could have imagined her own words could take her to New York, to meet and converse with people such as Malala Yousuf, Pope Francis, and David Beckham. But now she understands the true power of your authentic voice. When asked, she said the library influenced her hugely in her ability to find this voice, and now that she has it, she has great plans for herself and Kenya.