Brooke Blanchard

Brooke Blanchard (Undugu Society of Kenya): In 2004, Brooke conducted research on child labor abuses in Ecuador and worked as a physical therapist for children. In 2009 she worked as the Youth Program Coordinator at the International Rescue Committee. At the time of her fellowship Brooke was pursuing her MA in International Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. After her fellowship, Brooke wrote: “After working in the slums, I see myself as unbelievably fortunate. It was very trying at times, so I think I’m proud of getting through the most difficult aspects."

The Advocates: Part I

23 Jul

Allow me to ask you a question that every humanitarian organization is forced to consider on a daily basis: Which is more beneficial, offering physical care as a service provider or advocating to the local government on behalf of those who can’t do it for themselves? Is one more sustainable then the other? Does sustainability even matter when the most basic necessities of surviving one day are not being met? Where should people’s energy and limited money be directed?

If you are expecting an answer now, you won’t get it. Finding definitive and indubitable answers in the field of human rights is like searching for the missing half of a favorite pair of socks. An infuriating process that is likely to go on and on. However, for those in the field, the answer that most people derive is a constantly shifting compromise of the two options.

How can we serve him best?

Undugu has been a service provider for street children for almost 40 years. However since 2008, they have begun a creative advocacy campaign that both highlights the struggles and mistreatment of street and slum youth as well as provides these youths with skills that could potentially elevate them into a better life.  The Digital Storytelling Program (DST) takes a select group of street and slum youth and provides them with computer training skills as well as basic skills in photography and filming. With these tools, the youths write blogs and capture on film the struggle they face in their communities and in their homes. They open a window for the international community to peek into their dark corner of the world. They become their own advocate and the voice of their unheard generation. In the past two years the blogs have raised a variety of issues including: police harassment, drug use, environmental degradation, poor living conditions, abuse, and poverty. Past blogs can be found here:

A DST student works on a computer for the first time in his life

Currently, I have begun a new DST program that is integrated within the Undugu informal schools in the slums of Nairobi. Located in a small classroom, five new students between 13 and 15-years-old are beginning to learn for the first time how to operate a computer, digital camera, and video recorder. These are all skills that almost every other slum child would never be able to receive and may help them obtain better jobs as they grow older. In addition, the students are learning about what human rights are, what advocacy means and how one can become a strong advocate for their cause and people. Imagine the experience of seeing a light go off in a young Kenyan youth’s mind when they understand that their government is “obligated” by international law to provide them with adequate shelter, food and education. It’s like watching Popeye eat a can of spinach to run and fight for his kidnapped prone love Olive Oil.

A class on typing

With three classes in the bag, our students are progressing quickly and eagerly. The thrill of touching a computer and camera for the first time is beginning to wane as they dig in to understand how these machines truly operate.  With new notebooks in hand, each is responsible for keeping their eyes and ears open for the stories they need to report in their blogs. The students all have their own interest and we encourage them to focus on the causes closest to their hearts; be it the environment, abuse, or the loss of a parent.

Even though I am spending years within universities and thousands of dollars in student loans to work in the field of children’s rights and child protection, ultimately, the person who will be able to provide the most and do the most good will be the child him or herself…How is that for an answer?

Never doubt a child witness

Posted By Brooke Blanchard

Posted Jul 23rd, 2010


  • Sharon

    July 23, 2010


    Amazing work, Brooke. The children’s stories are vivid and hjaunting, and you’re clearly thinking deeply about how to best help them.

  • Daniel Hovey

    July 23, 2010


    This program has found a great way to answer this question. The childrens’ own voices are the most powerful!

Enter your Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *