Imara International


IMG_4002In January of 2014, I traveled to the town of Nanyuki, which sits in the shadow of Mt. Kenya, to interview teen mothers living in a safehouse there with their babies. Most of the girls had been abused; there were victims of forced early marriage, rape and incest. A member of the board asked me if I would be willing to go to Africa to interview the girls and produce stories the organization could use to promote their mission. The goal of Imara (which means “strong” in Swahili) is to empower teen mothers through education to build a future for themselves and their children.


IMG_3960Audio, we determined, was the ideal medium for the message. It allowed me to protect the girls’ dignity, created a sense of intimacy between myself and the interview subject, and minimized distractions, creating a space for the emotional content of the stories to emerge. Swahili is the first language for most of the teens. A few spoke English but several interviews required simultaneous translation. Jayne, a Kenyan house parent, teacher and key member of the Imara staff, served as translator in those instances.

One of my primary concerns was building trust among the girls, since my visit with them would be a brief two weeks and because their stories would dredge up painful memories.


My third day living under their roof,  I suggested we jointly produce a play to celebrate Epiphany — the story of the Wise Men visiting the teenage mother Mary and her baby. The girls responded with enthusiasm. They chose parts, created costumes, rehearsed their lines and entered into their roles with great gusto. The play was a success. More importantly, we had gotten to know each other and they saw, even in this small way, that they could trust me. By the time I left, 7 of the 8 girls told me their stories.  

Ngina: Age 17, from Nairobi. She fought to save her baby.

Anna: Age 16, from Rift Valley Province: Escaping to freedom.

Sofie: Age 16, from Meru: Telling her story set her free.

To see and hear impressions of Imara House, click here.


IMG_4082Imara International will use the stories as collateral for a capital fundraising initiative they recently launched and also to raise money for the general operating fund. The organization has built a campaign around the narratives, beginning with their unveiling at a spring fundraising event, followed by an e-newsletter series in which a different girl’s story is highlighted in each newsletter. The vignettes will also be used one-on-one with individual donors and at gatherings of prospective donors.

“Barbara was also able to gain the confidence of the girls in a very short period of time, and, simultaneously, capture the essence of their experience. She did a great job with this project!”

–Larry Welliver, Board Chair

Click here to learn more about Imara International.