Girl smiling

A picture tells a thousand words. Especially these.

Lydia Holden is communications lead for the Grassroots Girls Initiative (GGI). The GGI is a partnership of six funders who believe in the power of grassroots organisations to develop the best solutions for girls' success. To celebrate the launch of the Grassroots Girls Book Club, Lydia shares her experience of interviewing 20-year-old Fatuma in Nairobi, Kenya.

Retelling a particularly devastating part of her story, Fatuma's voice faltered. Taking her hand - the one without nerve damage - Lydia Holden asked if the 20-year-old wanted to stop the interview. "No," replied Fatuma firmly. 

It is important to tell the world what is happening. If nobody talks about it then nobody can help us.

Lydia was in the offices of Heshima Kenya, a grassroots organisation located in Nairobi, to interview the unaccompanied refugee girls who had found their way to Heshima's safe house and programmes just for adolescent girls.

Fatuma, abandoned by her mother, grew up in the Somali countryside, enduring daily abuse by her stepmother.

With her tenacious spirit, Fatuma had pushed for years to move to Mogadishu and live with her stepbrother - the only person, she says, who ever showed her any kindness. In the city, Fatuma loved to play football with her stepbrother's children and, generally, felt at peace. But around her, the city was erupting in chaos.

One evening, while buying vegetables for dinner, Fatuma heard a loud commotion and suddenly found herself in the middle of a firefight between the terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab and Somali forces. Fatuma was shot in the shoulder, causing permanent nerve damage to her hand.

In the following days, as the city collapsed, Fatuma was separated from her stepbrother and ended up in the middle of a wave of refugees headed for Kenya.

"Fatuma has an incredibly powerful story of perseverance and unbreakable will," says Lydia.

She told me she wants to be a journalist to tell the story of refugee girls. That is when I realised I needed to do something more than just record her story. I wanted to help girls like Fatuma tell their story in the most impactful way possible.


Fast-forward a year and Fatuma's story has been brought to life in a series of six graphic novellas, each telling the true story of an amazing adolescent girl who transformed her life. Each girl co-authored her own novella, choosing the story arc, dialogue and images that were later illustrated by an emerging female artist.

 Around the world, girls are often marginalised. Giving them the opportunity to talk about the world from their perspective can have a huge influence, both on the girls telling the stories and on those reading them.

"Just because my hand is not working properly I will not give up on my dream [of telling my story]," Fatuma told Lydia. "Everyone I read about who is influential also had to struggle, they didn't give up. Later, when someone reads my story, they will see that I didn't give up - that I struggled for it."

The 30-page novellas were published by the Grassroots Girls Initiative - a partnership of six foundations set up in 2006 by the Nike Foundation to support unique grassroots solutions for girls. This month, the graphic novellas are being launched on Girl Effect as the Grassroots Girls Book Club. Each novella has a discussion page to encourage deeper conversations around the challenges girls face and the solutions that can transform their lives.

The novellas-sharing stories from Malawi, India, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Kenya-demonstrate what is possible when girls are given a voice and an opportunity to use it.

Read all six novellas at