Colleen Denny

Colleen is currently a candidate at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in the Master of International Public Policy program with an affiliation in Conflict Management and will graduate in December 2018. Colleen is a native of Buffalo, NY and graduated from the United States Coast Guard Academy in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science and a commissioning as an Ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard. Immediately following graduation, she served on the Coast Guard Cutter FORWARD. In January 2010, the FORWARD responded to an earthquake that struck Port Au Prince, Haiti. As a responder, she led the first shore excursions into Port Au Prince to provide medical care and deliver humanitarian supplies. She was also responsible for coordinating helicopter medical evacuations in and out of the harbor. In 2011, she sailed with the FORWARD to Western Africa where she trained the newly created Liberian Coast Guard, Senegalese Navy, and Sierra Leone Navy. After completing another at-sea assignment and then a shore-side special staff assignment, in 2015, she transferred to serve as the Commanding Officer of Coast Guard Cutter DONALD HORSLEY, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. While captain of the ship, the crew netted over $7 million in illicit narcotics, successfully interdicted multiple human smugglers, and conducted Search and Rescue operations in the Caribbean which resulted in seven lives saved. After returning from his fellowship over the summer, Colleen discussed with AP the impacts the fellowship had on him. "Working with CPI Kenya and doing actual peacebuilding work in the field was an invaluable experience. My 10 weeks taught me so much and exposed me to how the dedicated work of just a few individuals at CPI Kenya has completely transformed the communities of thousands of pastoralist families. It also showed me how resilient the human spirit is; the families and children we worked with have struggled through so much, yet are still kind, generous and optimistic. It was truly an incredible and humbling experience."

Mama CPI

03 Aug

Have you ever met someone for the first time but felt like you’ve met them before, and will meet them again in the future? I’ve never felt that until I met Mama CPI in Logorate, Samburu County a few weeks ago.

Evelyn Lengapiyani, aka Mama CPI


The CPI Kenya team and I arrived at the home of Evelyn Lengapiyani as dusk started to fall, but Evelyn wasn’t there. One of her sons ran to get her in the cornfields, and as we waited in front of her traditional Samburu house I gazed out at the beautiful rolling hills with the gentle sun casting its last light onto the tall green and yellow grasses. “Gosh, Samburu County is beautiful,” I thought to myself for about the hundredth time that day. After about 15 minutes Evelyn arrived and immediately invited us into her home.

Mama CPI warmly welcoming Hilary (left) and Caroline (center). You can see the beautiful land on which Mama CPI lives in the background


Full disclosure, I am not an impartial reporter when it comes to Evelyn. She is one of those people that you just instantly like. Her hugs are warm, her smiles are authentic, and despite her knowing little English and me little Kiswahili, we understood each other. She’s affectionately called “Mama CPI” by the CPI Kenya team members because she is such a big supporter of their work and has been such an advocate for peace in her Samburu community. Last year CPI Kenya held a peace conference in Nairobi and brought two Samburu and two Pokot parents to the conference to speak about the impact of peace on their communities, and Mama CPI was one of the Samburu’s they invited. She is well spoken, passionate, and genuinely kind (again, I am super biased. But in my defense, I think everyone would agree with me if they met her).

Hilary (who is about 6’1) as he enters Mama CPI’s home


We settled in her traditional Samburu home (low thatched roof, mud walls, dirt floor, no power or water, and smoky air) and began our interview with her. I began by asking her the same standard questions we had been asking all the families who received a Heifer for Peace, but could tell right away that she was incredibly intelligent and a voice of the village, so we went deeper.

“Why did CPI Kenya’s peacebuilding efforts work, while so many other approaches failed?” I asked Mama CPI. Immediately she responded “Even in families, children are a source of peace. I love my kids, and the Pokot love theirs. The children brought us together.” She also brought up a very interesting point that people outside of the communities would have never known. She told us how there is “a lot of movement between the children”, which also prevents conflict because no thieves will attack a village if they aren’t sure whether there are kids from their tribe in that village or not.

Interviewing Mama CPI inside her home


Mama CPI continued on, saying that “the children have really strengthened the bond between the two communities. The children bring friendships that go beyond their families.” She proudly talked about how her niece brings all of her Pokot friends and their families to her corn mill, and how her business is doing well now because she has Pokot customers (and she even gives to them a family discount). She talks about how “the extended family of Didi (her son’s Pokot friend, who they have a shared Heifer for Peace with) has welcomed my son, not just the immediate family. And we have done the same too.”

Mama CPI’s homestead


As we get up to leave, Mama CPI holds my hands and says “Above all, I want to thank God and thank CPI, and pray that CPI can spread their work to many more communities.” She takes us back outside, where I comment about how beautiful her property is. She smiles, and says “yes, it is beautiful now, but it used to be a battlefield.” I come to find out that in 2006, a Pokot father and his two sons were shot and killed on this same land while trying to steal cattle from the Samburu. In 2007, a young Pokot man who was a university student was shot and killed beneath the same tree that I had been gazing at when waiting for Mama CPI to arrive.

Now, this same land is owned by Mama CPI and her family. It hasn’t seen bloodshed since CPI Kenya started working with the communities in 2012. Mama CPI now has 13 cows, compared to the one lone cow she had during the conflict. In fact, just three days before we arrived her shared Heifer for Peace gave birth to a newborn calf, which she will give to the Loman family (the Pokot family whom she shares the Heifer for Peace with). It is a beautiful, peaceful land that is shared by both the Samburu and Pokot tribes, and it has remained that way because of the work of CPI Kenya and because of the commitment to peace that people like Mama CPI have made.

I feel very lucky to have met Mama CPI, and have a feeling that I will meet her again. I told her this as we said goodbye, and she agreed. I love when a moment like this hits you; it shows how wonderful and strange and small a world this is, and shows how a “Mzungu” (white person) from Buffalo, NY and a Samburu woman from Logorate, Kenya can be so closely connected.

See you again sometime in the future, Mama CPI.

Sure enough, three days later I saw Mama CPI. But she had planned this, and surprised me by gifting me with the traditional Samburu headband that she had made by hand. I was (and still am) so humbled and thankful for her gift

Posted By Colleen Denny

Posted Aug 3rd, 2018


  • Corinne Cummings

    August 3, 2018


    Hi Colleen, I always get so excited to read your written work! You never fail to make me smile — I love the connection that you have formed with the community members in Samburu County. They are drawn to you and your well-natured personality. On top of all of that, you have made tremendous progress with the work you were set out to complete with CPI. Thank you for putting your best foot forward and reflecting that notion in your blog posts. I love it. The last picture you posted in this blog is excellent! You are so beautiful with Mama CPI. I am looking forward to reading your last few posts before the end of your Fellowship. Finish strong. Take care, Colleen! Best, Corinne

    • Colleen Denny

      August 4, 2018


      Thanks Corinne – Kenyans are the nicest and most welcoming people I have ever met, so it’s quite easy to make friends here. And then there’s the nicest and most welcoming person of all of Kenya, Mama CPI!

  • Princia Vas

    August 6, 2018


    Wow, you did great justice in depicting Mama CPI and her characteristics in words. Its nice to see you meeting such amazing people who are impacting your life in such a positive way! You passion definitely reflects in your work and pictures!

  • Ali

    August 6, 2018


    This post made me so happy, Colleen! The bond that you and Mama CPI formed is beautiful and powerful. I am glad that CPI has successfully brought peace to Samburu County. Keep up the good work!

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