An Educators’ Exchange in Nairobi, Kenya

Ustahimilivu Dads 2020: February 2-10, 2020

In Swahili, Ustahimilivu means resilience and dada means sister. The goal of this learning exchange is to foster resilience in participants, and in our respective communities. Ustahimilivu Dadas takes 20 women educators from the United States to Kenya, to participate in a week-long learning exchange with Kenyan educators who work in Nairobi’s community schools. 

The first Ustahimilivu Dadas cohort traveled to Kenya in April 2019. The program was a resounding success for everyone who participated–both for the women from the US as well as for our Kenyan colleagues. This is a joint project between Kenya Big Picture Learning and Elena Aguilar of Bright Morning Consulting.

Our Vision & Values

Ustahimilivu Dadas brings together North American and Kenyan women educators who are committed to healing and transforming our world through education for marginalized communities. We seek to foster international and cross-cultural learning between women educators and to support the development of Kenyan leaders. We also intend to shift dominant narratives about Africans, leadership, and women in leadership–intending for this shift to occur in all participants, both the Kenyan and the American. Finally, we hope to bring people together for learning, inspiration, celebration, and to cultivate resilience. We know that learning together, cross-cultural connections, and community makes us stronger. 

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” 

— Lilla Watson, Aboriginal activist, educator and artist

We are committed to honoring the knowledge, experiences, and humanity of the Kenyan people and to ensuring that we do not replicate colonial or neocolonial mindsets or power relationships. We–on the North American side of this project–do not see ourselves as the beholders of the knowledge and resources that will save poor African children. We recognize that the history of East Africa, including the violence and exploitation of colonialism, as well as climate change, bares great responsibility for the suffering in Kenya. We, North Americans, as beneficiaries of a living in a developed nation, whose development has come as a result of exploiting other people, will go to Kenya with:

  • a spirit of deep humility
  • a commitment to look past the dehumanizing stereotypes of African people 
  • a willingness to listen 
  • and an intention to recognize and share the full humanity of the people we meet. 

At the same time, we also acknowledge that we must share what we know–about teaching, learning and leadership–and offer our insights and experiences in the hopes that our Kenyan colleagues can adapt this information to their contexts. We must be willing to listen and learn, and to offer what we know. 

Before you look through more details, you can read about Lisa Haneys’s experience from our first cohort in April 2019.

Program Description


We will arrive in Nairobi with basic Swahili and knowledge of the people and communities we will interact with. Beginning in September 2019, participants will be guided in learning about Kenya’s history and education system, and the legacy of colonialism in Africa. Some of this learning will be self-paced although there will be required reading. Our Kenyan colleagues will provide us with instruction in their history and language through recorded videos.

We expect that our dadas will be in different time zones, and may have commitments that will make it challenging to participate in these meetings. However, we also know the value of connecting prior to our trip and these will be key moments to build community, learn about Kenya and the education system, and connect with Carol – who will join these Zoom meetings. Because of the time difference with Kenya, we are unable to have these meetings in the evening. 


Sunday, February 2: Our program begins on Sunday at 8:00am. We will come together as a community, begin getting to know our Kenyan friends, and rest up a bit in preparation for the week ahead. 

Monday to Friday, February 3-7: Throughout the week, as we visit schools and meet our Kenyan colleagues, we will explore the education system in the informal settlements, community development, women’s issues and women’s leadership development, and resilience. 

The content of this program is subject to change, but will most likely include the following activities: 

  • Visits to community schools that serve children from preschool to high school, as well as children with special needs
  • Round table discussions with Kenyan educators, students, parents and community members
  • Professional development sessions–both those that we offer and those that we engage in as participants 
  • East African cooking lessons
  • Music and dance performances by students, and music and dance lessons for us

Our daily schedule will be long. Programing on most days will begin around 8:00 am and end around 7:00 pm. Participants are expected to engage in all programming events. This is not a program designed for selective or optional participation. 

Saturday & Sunday, February 8-9: Over the weekend, we’ll take in some of the most famous tourist sites in and around Nairobi. On Saturday, we will explore these locations in Nairobi:

On Sunday, February 9, we will travel into the Rift Valley to Lake Naivasha and to Crescent Island Game Conservancy where you can walk amongst zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and more. We’ll have a late lunch in the Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort before heading back to Nairobi.

The weekend’s activities will give you a sense of the land and animals of the region. Our new Kenyan friends will be invited to join us on these excursions. 

Your last night in Nairobi is February 9. On February 10, participants depart for the U.S., or if you wish, for a self-organized excursion in East Africa. We can recommend a travel agent who can arrange an excursion such as a safari for you if you wish. 

It is our expectation that you will be with the group from the entire time – from 8:00am on Sunday, February 2, to Sunday, February 9 at 8:00pm. 

Questions About Safety

Safety is important anywhere we travel in the world. Every effort will be made to ensure our well-being.  We will always be together as a group, we will travel into the informal communities only during the day and only with our Kenyan friends, and you will receive advice about how to dress and what to carry to stay safe. Our hotel, the Amani Gardens Inn, is in a very safe part of Nairobi. We will not travel into the Nairobi neighborhood (Eastleigh) that is under a US State Department advisory. 

While we will take every precaution possible, there is always a risk of crime anywhere. You will be required to sign a legal waiver releasing Elena Aguilar, Bright Morning Consulting, Carol Owala and Kenya Big Picture Learning from any liability while you are on this program in Kenya. 


Participants in Ustahimilivu Dadas are self-identified women leaders in education.  

The Organizers: Carol Owala and Elena Aguilar

Ustahimilivu is a project organized by Carol Owala of Kenya Big Picture Learning and Elena Aguilar of Bright Morning Consulting.

Carol Owala is a Kenyan leader. As a teacher, she pioneered groundbreaking methods of working with children with special needs; as a coach of coaches, she worked to share transformative adult learning practices; as a community organizer, Carol has organized a mothers’ sewing cooperative in the communities she serves. Carol is now leading Kenya Big Picture Learning–the first Big Picture Learning school in Africa. Having grown up in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums, Carol is dedicated to serving children in Nairobi’s informal settlements, children who have few opportunities to thrive in life if they don’t receive a quality education. 

Elena Aguilar is the founder and president of Bright Morning Consulting. She is the author of The Art of Coaching, The Art of Coaching Teams, and Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators. Elena has spent a decade working in the field of adult learning and has worked with schools and educators across the United States and around the world. 

Carol and Elena met in 2016 when Elena traveled to Nairobi to work with Dignitas, where Carol then worked. Elena wrote about that transformational experience in this blog, and this one, and this one. A personal and professional connection between the two women was made. In February 2018, Carol presented at the first annual Art of Coaching Conference. Inspired by the conference and their growing friendship, the two hatched a plan to bring American and Kenyan educators together. This plan became Ustahimilivu Dadas. 

Dates: February 2 – 10, 2020

  • You must arrive in Nairobi on Saturday, February 1, as the program begins at 8:00AM on Sunday, February 2. If you wish to arrive prior to February 1, you must make your own arrangements for lodging, meals, and transportation from the airport. 
  • The program ends on the evening of February 9, and on February 10, participants depart from Nairobi. 

Cost: $3000

After your trip expenses (lodging, food, transportation within Kenya) every penny goes to Kenya Big Picture Learning. While we want this trip to be affordable to a diverse group of educators, we are also committed to fundraising for Kenya Big Picture Learning. We encourage you to fundraise within your communities and to contribute at the highest level possible. The first amount below will cover the trip expenses but we have provided a recommended range to include the donation amount.  

Cost includes: 

  • All travel, meals and accommodations within Kenya. 
  • Private hotel room (single occupancy) at Amani Gardens Inn from February 1 to 10, 2020 (9 nights). 
  • Your first meal is breakfast on February 2, and your last meal is breakfast on February 10. 

Cost does not include: 

  • International airfare to and from Nairobi
  • Other expenses related to travel to Kenya (passport renewal, visa fees, travel to/from the airport in the U.S., etc.)
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Souvenirs or gifts you may want to take for Kenyan friends
  • Other personal expenses
  • Books purchased as part of the pre-work
  • Other incidentals in Kenya or prior to travel but related to this program 
  • Additional nights and meals at Amani Gardens Inn (prior to or after the program dates).