Africa Team

Dr Utheri Kanayo - Special Africa Advisor

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Dr Utheri Kanayo (née Susan Kiragu) was born and raised in Nairobi and Nakuru, Kenya. She studied Education at Undergraduate and Master's level at Kenyatta and Nairobi universities, and then won a full scholarship in 2005 to pursue a PhD in Education at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, UK. After her studies, she stayed in the UK from 2009-2013, working as an academic researcher at The Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, and later as a Research Manager for Camfed International. She is well exposed to Africa’s educational landscape, having carried out research in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, and Swaziland. In 2013, Utheri and her husband Kanayo quit their well-paying jobs in the UK to return to Kenya and established an NGO called Children in Freedom. They offered scholarships and mentorship to African children, encouraging them to love their African heritage, and use their talents to innovate solutions for their communities. Their powerful mentorship programme received recognition from President Uhuru and Margaret Kenyatta. In 2018, three years after her return to Kenya, Utheri co-founded the first Afrocentric school in East Africa, Children In Freedom School (CIFS). CIFS has grown to be a gifted and talented centre, dually grounding children to embrace their Africaness, and become global leaders. She is a Metis fellow, and an ALA Anzisha Education Accelerator fellow. In 2021 CIFS won the first ReimaginED Liberatory Learning Award.

Utheri started as the Beacon Rep in Kenya in 2016, and then became the Regional Representative until 2022 as the programme expanded. She is now continuing in an advisory capacity as the demands of her Children In Freedom School take up more of her time. Her Beacon hands-on role gave her the fantastic opportunity to train and mentor gifted African minds in leadership, ethics and responsibility – preparing them to use their giftedness and leadership to help their countries and Africa actualise their true, rich potential. And now, her continuing involvement as a Special Advisor enables her to serve her passion for nurturing great African children who are, and will become, the ethical changemakers that Africa and the world needs. She is highly committed to helping the Beacon achieve its mission.


Debborah Odenyi - Kenya and Uganda Beacon Representative

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Debborah Odenyi was born and raised in Kakamega, Western Kenya. She studied at Kakamega Township Primary School, then Bunyore Girls’ School Kenya, and went on to study Education. She attended Eregi Teachers Training College, The Kenya Institute of Education, Sir Humphrey International College, and Kenyatta University College where she obtained her B.Ed. (Early Childhood Studies). She worked for the Teachers Service Commission, Kenya for 18 years, teaching in different public schools until 2011, when she joined the private sector. She taught at Oshwal Academy, Nairobi before going on to become Headmistress at SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities) - Kibera in 2014. She is currently Director for Programs and Education, Kenya and Tanzania for Girls on Fire Leaders. GOF provides early adolescent girls in the slums of Kenya and Tanzania with transformative leadership skills through educational travel, sustainable community projects, diversity engagement and global connectivity.

Debborah brings to the Beacon a wealth of experience in teaching and mentorship. Having worked in public and private schools, which employed both local and international curricula, she has interacted with and taught children from very diverse environments. She is passionate about transforming young people’s lives through mentorship and empowerment.


Dr Lilian Benjamin - Tanzania and Zambia Beacon Representative

Lilian SmallDr. Lilian Benjamin was born and raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and completed her Bachelor of Medicine Degree (M.D.) in 2017 at the Hubert Kairuki Memorial University based in Dar es Salaam. Lilian volunteered as a freelance Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) counselor from 2014-2018 at a national health helpline. She championed access to differentiated service delivery models for young people living with HIV in 2017 with the International AIDS Society; she has also taken part in a number of leadership programs including AVAC Fellowship (2018) and advisory youth committees at both national and global levels.

Currently Lilian is leading an advocacy program with a local NGO focusing on improving access to HIV and integrated SRH services for young people. She is passionate about bringing the voices of young people to life by unleashing their leadership potential through quality education, mentorship and meaningful engagement. She recently founded a local organization, DARE, focusing on young people's full involvement in community mobilization, advocacy and research. She believes for any sustainable positive change in our communities, one must invest in young people!