Remarkable Rose is the true story of a girl growing up in one of the poorest communities in the world — Kibera, Kenya. Despite a culture that discouraged girls from getting an education and forbidding them to participate in sports, Rose found a way to persevere and pursue her dreams. In this book, she serves as a strong role model for all children, teaching them the joy, freedom and confidence that comes with play and participation. Lily Banning, an artist and Axiom client, illustrated Remarkable Rose.
Q: Where did the idea for the Remarkable Rose come from?
A: In 2010, my friend and author Ellie Roscher, was teaching a gender equity class at a high school in St. Paul, MN. A school alum, Ryan Banning, then the Director of KGSA Foundation, was a guest speaker in her class and told the story of Rose and KGSA, which stands for Kibera Girls Soccer Academy. Knowing how few children’s books depict a strong, active girl as the main character, gave Ellie the inspiration to write the story of Rose. It’s geared toward children ages 2 to 8.
Q: Can you summarize the tale?
A: Rose Achieng was born and raised in Kibera, Kenya. She grew up in a time when girls weren’t allowed to participate in sports. When she asked her parents and teachers why the boys could play, she was told she need to stay home to watch her siblings and help with chores. But when she met a community leader named Abdul, he told her about his idea to start a girls school and soccer team. Abdul had been raised by his grandmother to believe in women having access to both education and sports.
Q: Since this is a true story, can you talk about the impact school and sports had on Rose?
A: Rose joined Abdul’s girls’ soccer team in 2002. Since there were no girls teams to play against, they had to play the boys. It was a discouraging start. When the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy opened four years later, Rose became a student and a role model, encouraging other girls to get an education and play sports. She was extremely successful on the soccer field, going on to win many regional and country-wide tournaments.
Q: Where is Rose now?
A: She still lives in Kibera and has two daughters of her own who play soccer.
Q: Have you been to Kibera, Kenya?
A: Yes. I went this past Spring. When I visited, I was struck by what a dynamic scene I found on the streets, in terms of textures, colors and sounds. I did my best to capture that vibrant, layered, complex community.
Q: Have you illustrated books before?
A: I have been drawing and painting most of my life but had never experimented with illustrations. It’s been such a wonderful and rewarding experience. To me, this was an important story to put into pictures, by using bright colors and various textures to depict the street life in Kibera and the community that thrives there. It was also an opportunity to share a part of the world that doesn’t get exposure in a positive light.
Q: What is the key message you and the author would like to impart?
A: We want readers to understand that when children, especially girls, are encouraged to thrive, the entire community thrives. Giving girls the opportunities to learn, be healthy, play sports and just be children, allows them to develop their individual skills and strengths. This is what KGSA is fostering and nurturing in these girls. It gives them a place to be young and grow at their own pace, without having to take on adult responsibilities at an early age.
Q: What does the story teach about empowerment and self-confidence?
A: Rose defies a lot of what her family, her community and her culture told her girls cannot do. Through soccer, she found her strength. Young children can be empowered by many things—sports, schooling, community connections, friendships and finding a mentor like Abdul. When parents read the book to or with their families, they can help foster independence and self-confidence, so their children can find their own ways to be remarkable.
Q: Will proceeds from the book go to KGSA and its mission?
A: Yes. Through the years, KGSA has grown from being just a classroom to now serving 150 girls a year and has a dormitory space, a partnership with a local health clinic and a social worker on staff. Proceeds will help continue the growth of the school, so it can serve the girls more holistically—with education, medical needs, housing, food, and the teaching of social and emotional skills.
To find the book’s links at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores, go to Remarkablerosebook.com
To learn more about KGSA’s mission to educate, inspire and empower girls in Kibera, visit kgsafoundation.org.
Lily Banning is a visual artist whose varied portfolio includes oil paintings, illustrations, public murals and textiles. Her work has been exhibited at the Hill Center Gallery, Watergate Gallery and Torpedo Factory in the D.C. area, and Universita’ Ca’ Foscari in Venice, Italy. Lily lives in Portland, OR with her husband and pup. Follow along @art.lilyb and www.lilybanning.art.