Last night, at the gathering hosted for The Honorable Sophia Abdi Noor, MP, who was elected to the Kenyan Parliament last October, I realized I only know two words in Somali: Salaam and Inshalla, which can be translated into English as “peace” and “God willing.” (Pictured above: Judge LaJune Thomas Lange and Sophia).

I recognize all translations are open to interpretation, but when I was traveling throughout Northeastern Kenya with Sophia and learning about the phenomenal work that Womankind-Kenya had accomplished (well beyond the walls of the girls’ education center in Garissa), I found myself saying Inshalla without thinking about it and definitely meaning “God willing”–a phrase that was very commonly used in homes of all faiths when I was a child to express the understanding that accomplishing substantial, positive and sustainable goals takes a LOT more than optimism, sound strategy, and perseverance.

Last night, whenever I heard the word “Salaam” I thought of how Minneapolis Mayor, Jacob Frey, compared “Salaam” to “Shalom.” That was before the election of 2016 during a panel discussion about Islamaphobia at a church in South Minneapolis. The pastor who spoke that night also drew an analogy to this familiar exchange heard in Christian churches: “peace be with you” and the response “and also with you.”

So I heard “peace” more times than I could count last night.

The evening started with the national anthem of the United States followed by that of Kenya. Words truly fall short of describing what it was like to stand together with a “filled-to-capacity” room of people unified by our love of both countries and passion for democracy.

Later in the evening, when we took a break and everyone stood up and (as live music began) we flowed out of our seats, off the stage, and into an open area at the front of the room to dance, it felt EXACTLY like what I had experienced in Nairobi on the day the new constitution was signed in August of 2010.


A pure, all-encompassing knowledge of what can be accomplished, God willing, when people of all faiths and backgrounds choose to work for good in the world.

Praying for a Peaceful Repeat Election

The repeat election for the office of president in Kenya will have just begun by the time this blog entry is posted.

I am sending prayers towards the people of Kenya and love/hugs towards my dear friends Sophia, Hubbie, David, Marsalene, Hillary, Risper and their families and friends.

Here is a hotlink to coverage by the BBC:

This is a good place to check for ongoing coverage:


Karsten in Kenya 2016

karstenleavingforkenya3amoct1This is the photo I took of Karsten right before he left (at 3:30 AM!) for the airport on October 1, 2016.

By Sunday evening, one of the co-founders of the college where he will be teaching texted to confirm that Karsten had arrived in Nairobi and was headed to the hotel.

I’m posting this photo and update to celebrate that today is Karsten’s first day on the job teaching English to students.

Congratulations, Karst!


Update: April 13, 2015

Abdullahi M. Abdi, the Executive Director of Womankind-Kenya (WOKIKE) has sent the following information while I have been traveling. I am posting it directly in the interest of time. Some of the numbers may need to be revised as more specific information becomes available. I am awaiting specific instructions about how people can make monetary donations via ILI, a long-standing U.S.-based partner of WOKIKE. I will post these as soon as I receive them.

I have also added to hotlinks at the end. The first will guide you to a news story about the Dadaab Refugee Camps. The second to research completed by The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.

North Eastern Kenya comprises the counties of Garissa, Wajir and Mandera, which share 1,200 kilometres of porous borders with Somalia. During the 50+ years of Kenya’s independence, this region has been used as a buffer zone by each successive government, and, thus, has served as a militarized region to protect other Kenyans without caring about the welfare of local inhabitants. This has caused a lot of harm to the residents of North Eastern Kenya.

The colonial government managed this region as a separate entity from the other parts of Kenya and made limited investment in public services. In its early years, the first independent government of Kenya had to battle with bandits. Government leaders imposed an emergency state in the region, placed its areas under security operation, and suspended all development. This state of emergency remained until 1997.

However, in 1992, the Government of Kenya softened its regulations to allow international humanitarian organizations and the media to visit the region. This followed the crisis of Somalia and the establishment of the Dadaab Refugee Camps in the area.

Though the nearness to Somalia provided advantages and disadvantages for the region, the challenges this proximity has posed seem to outweigh the benefits — especially during the last 25 years. The region lags behind others in Kenya in all development indicators due to the lack of investment by the government for the over half a century.


For the first time in Northern Kenya, a university (constituent college) was established in the town of Garissa in 2011. It admitted the first students in 2013. Regional leaders had consistently lobbied for the establishment of this educational institution hoping that the university would spur development and improve knowledge sharing and cultural exchange.

APRIL 2, 2015

Thursday April 2, 2015 was just a normal day until 5:30 AM when all hell broke loose. While some of the students at the Garissa University College were waking up for their daily chores and others were still in bed, gun shots pierced the air. Many soon realized that this was not friendly fire but a terror attack.


This attack has also disturbed the peace at Ummulkheir Dr. Ekman Girls Home, which is a neighbor of the university. The Home is adjacent to the University with just a road separting the two. The girls panicked and started running helter skelter [through the compound], at times overpowering the caretakers.

The impact of this attack has caused Womankind-Kenya (WOKIKE) to look critically at our security measures to determine how prepared the girls and the staff can be if a similar or worse attack occurs in the future.

The first and most critical, immediate action needed is to put in place a team of counsellors to give the girls psychological support and also address the resulting medical conditions.


Two major types of interventions are needed now: those that address immediate needs and additional long-term interventions that will produce sustained results.

Immediate Interventions

  1. Assemble a team of two counsellors to provide professional services for three months. At the end of the first three months, one of the counsellors will be retained for an additional three months.
  2. Hire one medical officer to provide medical support services for three months. The Ekman Foundation currently supports one nurse who usually visits the girls every weekend and whenever need arises. However, WOKIKE needs a resident nurse/clinical officer to treat the physical ailments stemming from the trauma the girls have experienced. The need for these medical services will be reviewed at the end of this three-month period.
  3. Secure financial support for private health service providers to treat the girls. Since almost all the health service staff feared for their lives and many of them relocated to safer areas, the cost of this activity will depend on how quickly the medical staff resumes duty.
  4. Assign armed guards (police) to the Girl’s Home. The staff of WOKIKE will request that the government assign these armed guards. However, WOKIKE will be required to cover certain costs for this added security.

Other Interventions

  1. Carry out security review of the Girls Home and come up with security plans to be implemented immediately. This requires hiring a professional security consultant to advise WOKIKE on the most crucial measures required to reduce risks throughout our compound.
  2. Complete construction of a perimeter wall. This wall had been under construction for the last seven years. Through the support of Ekman foundation we have been putting up 50 metres per year. However, for the last two years we were not able to add more.
  3. Install CCTV cameras to monitor the movement within and around the Girls Home.
  4. Adding security guards so that one of them will be able to man the control room where the CCTV monitors will be located.
  5. Increase the security lighting within and around the Girls’ Home.


  1. Recruit two counsellors for three months and another for an extra three months: 2 counsellors x 3 months x $900 = $5,400 1 counsellor x 3 months x $900 = $2,700 Subtotal = $8,100
  2. One resident nurse for the Home 1 x 3 months x $500 = $1,500

  3. Budgetary support for hospital treatment Lump Sum = $15,000
  4. Enhancement of security guards through armed security personnel – 4 x 6 months x $500 = $12,000
  5. Consultant to do security review and security plans Lump Sum = $5,300

  6. Complete the perimeter wall Roughly 218 metres x 6,000 = $15,500
  7. Putting up CCTV camera around the Home. Lump Sum – $15,000
  8. Two extra security guards for the year – 2 guards x12 months x  $125 = $3,000
  9. Increase security lights in the home (Lumpsum) = $15,000

GRAND TOTAL = $90,400

Related Links:

Long Term Needs: Security Fence, CCTV, and Lighting

This message is from Sophia Abdi Noor, one of the founders of WOKIKE:

“[To] all our friends who have stood with us during this hard time thank you very much.  Our girls have been psychologically affected. They are traumatized. Some have high fevers and others are not eating. They are still in the temporary shelter.

Our orphanage center is a restricted area as the whole neighborhood of the Garissa University has been sealed off by the security officers.

[Since] nobody is allowed to go in,  we do not know the status of our property and the girls left all their belongings.

We are also thanking the residents of Garissa as they came with a helping hand and offered [the girls] bedding and utensils. We are really touched and beyond grateful for your willingness to come to our aid.

What we desperately need currently is counseling services for the girls and medical care (as the Healthcare personnel have fled from Garissa for security purposes).

We can’t account for all our losses as of now and we will keep you informed once we have access to our Center.

For long term measures we would like to complete our fence and to put electronic safety wire and gate and CCTV as well.

We would also like to [install] street lights and strong security lights.

Thank you so much and best regards,

Sophia Abdi

Counselors and Nurse Needed

The following message is from WOKIKE’s Executive Director, Abdullahi Mohamed Abdi.

Dear friends,

As you are aware by now, last Thursday, the terrorist organisation Alshabaab attacked Garissa University College, formerly Garissa Teachers Training College which is adjacent our girls home.

This attack had a big impact on the girls who were exposed to danger of the gun shots and the grenades with heavy military presence. The girls were in this situation for [many] hours because their facility was in the operation area and could not be accessed.

The girls will immediately need psychological support through counseling. We wish to have at least two counselors to do this work for sometime.

In addition to this, we also need to have a fully trained nurse who will cover the medical need of girls, this is because most of the health workers in the region have decided to run for safety and many of them left the region.

[While these are our immediate needs] we also need to develop a security strategy for the girls home and implement [it]. This will require some money which might not be readily available.

Thank you for your support


Abdullahi Mohamed Abdi
Executive Director Womankind Kenya

U.S. Secretary of State Condemns Attack

The following is the press statement attributed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and issued by the United States State Department on April 2, 2015:

“The United States strongly condemns al-Shabaab’s terrorist attack on Garissa University College in Kenya today. We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the innocent victims who were killed in the attack. We also direct our thoughts to the many who sustained injuries.

The United States stands resolutely with the government and people of Kenya in the effort to end the scourge of terrorism. The attack once again reinforces the need for all countries and communities to unite in the effort to combat violent extremism.”

International Leadership Institute Orchestrates Support

April 3, 2015: Based on it long-standing partnership with Womankind-Kenya (WOKIKE), the Minneapolis-based International Leadership Institute (ILI) has begun to mobilize support and assistance for this most vital organization.  A brief overview of the collaboration between ILI and WOKIKE can be found here:

The depth and breadth of WOKIKE’s positive impact in Northeast Kenya is evident in the initiatives described and illustrated on its web site:

If you are on Facebook, please consider posting words of support, etc. here:

The images of people holding signs “#WeAreOne” and “#Garissa2015” convey the recurrent theme of the many email messages that I’ve been copied on as a member of ILI’s global network.

People of all backgrounds and faiths are sending prayers and asking how they can help.

The next few posts will answer the question of how we can help and also share some of the messages being sent to Sophia, Hubbie, Abdullahi and others at in Garissa and throughout Kenya.

Attack on Garissa University Campus

April 3, 2015: I am posting this update as the quickest way to respond to inquiries from friends, family members, and colleagues who have been awaiting news about the safety and welfare of the staff and student/residents at Womankind Kenya.

The Honorable Sophia Abdi Noor, whom you can read about in other stories posted on this blog, sent me this message this message this morning:

“It is with heavy heart that I inform you about the human tragedy our County of Garissa experienced on April 2, 2015 at the hands of terrorists. The site for our girls’ rescue center borders the campus of the university that came under attack. Most of the bullets were dropping in our compound. It is by the grace of God that these stray bullets didn’t hit any of our girls. This may be due to the fact that we had them take cover under their beds the whole day as the exchange of gunfire continued. Our quick and decisive interventions saved the day and thank God we were able to evacuate the girls to safe  abode.  When the guns went silent, however, they were traumatized  and panic stricken after having to sleep on their bellies the whole day without food and water. We shall, for now, hold these girls in the temporary shelter before returning them to the Center and pray they get quick recovery from the shock.”

I have asked Sophia to forward additional, useful information for me to post here as it becomes available.

Powerpoint Slide Show

Hi Everyone.  As promised, I’ve posted the digital slides I prepared for our group debriefing to this blog.  You can find a hotlink to the PowerPoint slide show at the end of the list on the “Resources” page.  I’ll post more information as plans for the cultural exchanges I mentioned progress.

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