In The Spotlight : Peninah Nthenya Musyimi, Safe Spaces


Peninah Nthenya Musyimi is the founder and director of Safe Spaces in Nairobi, Kenya, a literally safe space and an empowerment program for girls and young women in the Eastland slums. Safe Spaces motto, “I am the Change”, is embodied in programs that teach girls to dream big, work hard, and achieve goals despite challenges.

My name is Peninah Nthenya Musyimi. I am the founder and director of Safe Spaces in Nairobi, Kenya. Safe Spaces is an empowerment program for girls and young women that I started in 2008. We currently work with 1200 girls in the community, offering a safe space for learning through basketball, arts, reproductive health, computer literacy, life skills, and other training, building leadership and confidence among a vulnerable population. Safe Spaces offers scholarships to secondary school and university as well as a Auto mechanics program for girls who want to learn a trade and earn a decent living in future.

What are you passionate about?

Life in the slums can be very harsh and girls and young women are especially vulnerable. They feel very much alone and there are few role models in the community.   I grew up in this situation and I learned early on that if I wanted a better life, it was up to me to make it happen. Only I could make a change in my life. That’s what I mean when I say, “I am the change”. I define my dreams; I take responsibility for my life.  I take action. I invest in my future. I accept challenges. I rise to meet them.

In 'I am the change', Penina's TEDxAmsterdam 2014 talk, she speaks about determination and how learning how to play basketball - doing something she had never done before, was the key to achieving her goals.

 At Safe Spaces, we teach the girls to dream and dream big. We support them in the process but we always remind them that they are in the driving seat. Don’t wait for something to happen. Make it happen. Choose, Work, Invest, Succeed.

Where did the idea for Safe Spaces come from?

Life in the Eastland slums is tough and very dangerous and girls are most often the victims of these harsh conditions.  What they see every day is alcoholics, drug abuse, fighting, domestic violence and prostitution. They grow up seeing this as the norm.  Unless there is intervention to switch their minds into something positive in life, they end up repeating the misery, creating more and more slum generations.

I felt the need to build a community of girls and women who could help and support one another. Where they can share their challenges and issues without fear of being judged. With mentors to guide them in finding solutions within their reach. To better their lives and their communities.

Why was this idea in particular so important to pursue?

I felt that there was a big gap in the society between men and women. It's sad when you have a great idea but you cannot express it because of your gender. There were no women role models in the community. I feel this has to change; real development has to be inclusive and women need to feel empowered to realize their potential in society.

How did you end up here? What’s your journey been like?

Sometimes I look at my life, and I think it’s like a movie.

My story does, in fact, seem a bit fantastical. Poor girl from the slums gets an education against all odds. When it looks like her dreams of going to university and becoming a lawyer might not come true, because of lack of funds, she hears about a basketball scholarship. She learns basketball in one month and wins the scholarship. Becomes Lawyer but returns to slums to start Safe Spaces and invest in the next generation. My life is a story of determination and celebration. I guess I’ve got grit.


How do you recharge your batteries or nourish yourself?

Sometimes, when things are overwhelming, I hold a general meeting with myself to find out where I went wrong, adjust my priorities and find solutions within my reach.

Sports are a very important part of my life. I am avid runner and basketball player. I still play on our Safe Spaces basketball team. For me its always “Healthy Body, Healthy Mind” I am also super competitive. Currently, in the NBA league, I am the top scorer for free throws. I am also pleased to say, that the Safe Spaces team is in the finals this year. I aim to win!

My family is also very important to me. My husband and I have two girls and a boy and they bring me much joy.

What are you grateful for?

I am grateful to see my hard work pay off. My dream of university and a family was a huge one for a girl from Mathare. My dream for Safe Spaces is paying off too. Each year we send more girls to secondary school, and since 2015, university. We are helping young women build a better future for themselves and for the community.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to all the well wishers who support Safe Spaces financially. Without them, there would be no Safe Spaces.

What inspires you?

I am the change. Everyone is the change. And together you can change a community. By empowering yourself, being a mentor to people around you, you can start the change from the bottom up.

If you want something you have never had, you must be prepared to do something you have never done.

In this clip from "A powerful woman is..." Peninah talk about building power from within. Watch the full video below.


What’s next? What are you committed to?

As always, I am dreaming big and one day, we hope to build a community center, with our own auto mechanics garage, internet cafe, and urban garden. This will give us the opportunity to become more independent as an organization and start to earn our own income. We have a draft plan ready, developed with the help of a professional architect. We are reviewing our strategy to determine our timing and next steps.

In the short term, my immediate goal is to strengthen my team and extend our network of well wishers to raise more funds.

Our upcoming Global Giving Campaign on #GivingTuesday, November 28, is one way we hope to raise funds for 2018 school fees. For every recurring donor, Safe Spaces receives matching funds from the Global Giving platform. That’s why the 28th is an important day for us. After #GivingTuesday, we will continue the campaign till year end. Donations are welcome at Safe Spaces every day.

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