Alumna: Book, work with Congolese refugees wouldn’t have happened without IU

IU Bloomington alumna Ming Holden has finished her first book, a nonfiction first-person narrative about her experience founding a theater group with Congolese refugee girls in a Nairobi slum in 2011.

Ming and the Survival Girls

IU alumna Ming Holden, third from left, with some of the Survival Girls.

Known as the “Survival Girls,” the girls are orphans and survivors of severe gender-based violence. They’ve continued to meet since Holden’s initial work with them. During her last visit overseas, she watched the group perform a piece depicting serious sexual violence, a difficult task for the girls themselves as well as their audience of fellow refugees.

“Afterwards, the Survival Girls came out and talked with the audience members in small groups. They’ve made it their mission to be there in the community for those who’ve gone through similar things,” Holden said. “And by the end of the day, they’d talked with so many people and had a list of names for counselors of people who might be in need of additional directed care and counseling. That was such a brave thing for them to do, and it was just phenomenal to watch. What these girls do blows me away.”

Holden said none of her work with the girls would be possible without IU. Her initial trip to Nairobi in 2011 was funded by an International Enhancement Grant from the university. She was able to visit the girls again and finish the book after receiving the 2012-13 Wells Graduate Fellowship, provided for by the estate of longtime IU president and university chancellor Herman B Wells.

Survival Girls Cover“While I began a draft of the book shortly after returning from Nairobi, the Wells Graduate Fellowship played a role in how I was able to zero in and finish it,” she said. “I don’t know if I’d have been able to do so without the gift of time to dedicate to the project. And the support I received institutionally from IU and my mentors in the MFA creative writing program, all of whom could not have been more marvelous pillars of support.”

The project itself got a shout-out from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of a series of essays created for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Frontiers in Development campaign, who wrote, “You’ll be delighted to meet the Survival Girls, turning their stories of abuse into empowerment in a Nairobi slum.” Holden also blogged about her experience on the Huffington Post.

Holden’s book, “The Survival Girls,” is available through Wolfram Productions, with original artwork by Seattle-area artist Jody Joldersma. E-books can be ordered online, and donations can be made through the website. All proceeds benefit the Survival Girls.

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