Kenya Keys event in Lake Oswego to be beautiful testament

by: SUBMITTED - Aliska Julian, former Lake Oswego resident, makes friends with some shy but happy children in Kenya while on a mission trip for Kenya Keys.When Megan Wilcken of Lake Oswego first heard about the massacre at Westgate Mall in Kenya, her first reaction was to weep.

It was noontime on Sept. 21 when grenade explosions rocked the shopping center in Nairobi and 15 members of the Somali group al-Shabab rushed in firing automatic weapons. The terrorist toll was five attackers, six Kenyan Army soldiers and 61 civilians.

“People who had been on previous trips to Kenya got together and cried together,” Wilcken said. “It was a pretty sad day.”

Wilcken and her friends first of all wept for those who had died. They also cried for their own lost opportunity. The massacre happened just a few days before the members of the Lake Oswego-based organization Kenya Keys had planned to go on a trip to Kenya. They were to be like a peace platoon, descending upon the troubled African nation to open doors of opportunity and education for Kenyan girls, whose powerful determination in the face of awesome odds is what inspired Wilcken to become involved in Kenya Keys three years ago.

But they decided not to go because the situation in Kenya was so volatile, not only because of the danger it posed to themselves but also to the small, isolated villages they planned to serve.

“We eventually realized it wouldn’t be safe for us to go,” Wilcken said. “Even more, it would make the rural villages a target. To bring violence there would be devastating.”

But it was not long before Wilcken and her associates, many of them with Lake Oswego connections, decided that tears were not enough. They could still reach out and help the courageous girls of Kenya.

“We will not let the terrorists win,” Wilcken said. “While the girls conference is taking place in Kenya we want to show our support.”

That will be shown on Saturday with a rally at the Lakeridge High School auditorium at 7 p.m. The film “Girl Rising” will be shown and the general public will hear the stories of Kenyan girls fighting for a better life. It will show how hope can arise from tragedy.

“The idea emerged here that we could support Kenyan girls who face impossible odds to better their lives,” Wilcken said. “A lot of personal stories will be shared. They have so much hope and courage.”

The girls of Kenya have inspired Wilcken so much that she has made them her life. In 2010 she was on her way toward earning her master’s degree in instructional technology and had lived for several months in South Africa. She came away not only with a degree but a great love of Africa. Not long after moving to Lake Oswego she met Kenya Keys founders Brent and Rinda Hayes, and she quickly impressed them.

“I had such a love for the continent and the people there,” Wilcken said. “They brought me on board as development director.”

In 2011, Wilcken made her first trip to Kenya, and it was a life-changing experience.

She plunged enthusiastically into the work of carrying hundreds of pounds of books and building libraries. She did it with the constant threat of Islamic Somalians crossing into Kenya and launching attacks. There was even an attack made while she was serving in Kenya.

Besides being brave, Wilcken is an idealistic and gentle woman. She still cannot comprehend why violence in Kenya can suddenly arise with such ferocity and hatred.

“I cannot imagine the kind of person who would carry off an attack like that,” Wilcken said.

But it takes a lot more imagination to do good than commit violence. When it comes to facing terrorism, there is no retreat for Kenya Keys. Members say their Lake Oswego event will be “a beautiful testament.”

“Now I tell people half of my heart lives in Kenya,” Wilcken said.

Admission is free to Saturday night’s event, but a $10 donation is suggested. All proceeds will be given to promote girls’ education in Kenya.

Lakeridge High School is located at 1235 Overlook Drive. For more information about Kenya Keys, visit For more information about “Girl Rising,” visit > SUBMITTED - Megan Wilcken is where she wants to be: right in the middle of Kenyan children eager to improve their education.

Cliff Newell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 105.

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