By Alysha Conner | LA Wave Newspaper
INGLEWOOD — A nonprofit organization founded by an Inglewood woman is helping make a difference in the lives of women and girls in Kenya.
Sha’ Givens launched I Can Fly International in 2005 and has devoted her life to sharing Kenyan women and girls’ realities.
“I Can Fly came from the scripture Isaiah 40:31,” Givens said. “It reads, ‘For those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.’
“When I read that, it just hit me,” Givens said. “I Can Fly.”
Givens’s first visit to Kenya was a mission trip in 2001, organized by the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles.
While serving and ministering to people on the trip, Givens ultimately discovered her purpose and connection to Kenya.
“The first step I took off of that plane was life-changing,” Givens said. “I smelled the air, and I just started weeping. I couldn’t understand why I was crying, but something in me said, ‘You’re home.’ I brushed it off, thinking, ‘Yeah, whatever. I don’t know what that’s about. I’m from L.A.’ But I couldn’t stop crying.
“There is a side of Africa that is very metropolitan with tall buildings, beautiful apartments, hardwood floors, and people riding around in Range Rovers,” Givens continued. “But, that is a small percentage of its population who can live that metropolitan lifestyle.”
Givens conceived the idea to create I Can Fly International after an eye-opening encounter with the Kamba tribe, the fourth largest tribe in Kenya.
The women told her that they could not read because their husbands, boyfriends and dads believed there was no reason for a woman to be educated.
“That’s when something in me rose up,” Givens said. “I didn’t want to challenge them because I’m not the kind of person to say your culture is wrong. I asked them if they wanted to learn how to read. That’s how I approached it. Not like some American trying to be their savior.”
As a result, I Can Fly High School was built in 2008 as a registered private secondary school for students in grades nine through 12.
I Can Fly Preschool was built shortly after on a separate campus to give children ages 3 to 6 a boost in their dreams of receiving an education.
According to the Ministry of Education records, women account for just one-third of total enrollments for primary school, secondary school and higher education in Kenya.
The I Can Fly Schools are located in a small rural area called the Makakoi Village, one hour east of Nairobi.
They provide a quality, free and subsidized education to hundreds of poverty-stricken Kenyan children.
However, before Givens was able to help any of the women from the Makakoi Village, she had to ask for permission from their chief.
“I talked to one of the pastors, and he said, ‘You have to ask the chief because the chief in this community is the person who decides what happens and what doesn’t happen in this community.’ So, I went, and he said something to the extent of his wife being one of the first students.”
Since its inception, I Can Fly Schools continue to defy the odds of cultural traditions that prevent girls from learning.
Students are taught 11 subjects: English, Kiswahili, history, geography, agriculture, biology, chemistry, physics, Christian religious education, math and business studies.
All classes are led by local teachers and parent volunteers.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the I Can Fly Schools are temporarily closed.
But Givens has pivoted by carrying out her efforts from Inglewood.
She and her team are helping protect the girls who live in the Butterfly House on the I Can Fly High School campus.
In 2012, Givens started The Butterfly Project under the I Can Fly International umbrella.
The Butterfly Project offers free education to at-risk girls from five different Kenya counties.
It is also responsible for rescuing girls between 7 and 17 years old from female genital mutilation, early marriages, child labor and extreme poverty.
The girls are provided shelter at the school’s on-campus Butterfly Houses.
All Butterfly Houses are equipped with beds and living room space while offering three meals per day and 24-hour security.
The United Nations Children’s Fund reported that 23% of Kenyan girls are married before their 18th birthday, and 4% are married before 15.
Kenya also reportedly has the 20th highest absolute number of child brides in the world.
Givens was scheduled to speak at the United Nations in March about East African women’s issues, but Kenya’s president closed the border.
“To survive, they are having to sell their young daughters just so they can eat,” Givens said. “COVID distracted the attention of the police and local authorities.
“We’re on lockdown. We couldn’t grab anybody because we were told there was a 7 p.m. curfew. People were sneaking and marrying off their girls after 7.p.m. So, now we have an increase of a thousand percent of mutilations, rapes and early marriages.”
Givens continues to help facilitate and raise funds for the programs, all while residing in Inglewood.
Although her efforts go towards life-changing work, Givens has not been exempt from financial hardships.
“I was working jobs that I didn’t like, but I knew I had to do it because I wanted to help take care of the people,” Givens said. “I remember spending 70% of my checks on the programs.”
Givens has received several donations and offers for individual sponsorship from local residents, includingthe Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inglewood Alumnae Chapter.
She continues to do so by consistently publicly sharing her testimonial with others.
“I remember asking two of our rescued girls what they wanted more than anything,” Givens said. “They said, ‘Tell our story.’”
On Dec. 5, I Can Fly will host a virtual event called “Coming To America 2020 Part II: Power In Our Voices” via Zoom.
The I Can Fly team will provide an in-depth look at child marriage, female genital mutilation and girls who have made the decision to run.
There also will be a meet and greet segment where some of the Butterfly Girls will share their stories.
I Can Fly International is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to serving youth living within impoverished villages throughout Kenya.
The umbrella organization consists of several educational and empowerment programs for women and children in Kenya.
For more information about the online event or contributing to I Can Fly International, visit http://icanflyinternational.org.