Ellyn Bader


There’s a scene in The Little Mermaid after Ariel trades her voice for legs and makes it to land to have dinner in Eric’s palace. New to the human world, she picks up a fork – and starts brushing her hair with it at the table.

The audience laughs, knowing surely this is not what a fork is for!

This whimsical and lighthearted scene may seem fit for just Disney movie fantasy, but I can tell you it also rings true for a group of kids in Africa.

Over the last 8 years, I’ve been working in resettled refugee communities in Kenya. With the organization Village Impact [formerly called World Teacher Aid], Pete and I and our daughter Molly have helped build 14 schools including 120 classrooms and helped educate over 5,000 students. 

More recently we’ve launched a counseling program in 5 of the schools.

I especially wanted you to hear what happened when our Kenyan team took all the 8th graders on a field trip to the big city Nairobi for the first time.

Kids shrieked and sang when they saw tall buildings for the first time. They clutched each other with wide eyes as they saw street lamps and sliding doors. At the elephant sanctuary they grabbed at friends and pointed, exclaiming, “Look at that! And that, too!”  

Like Ariel, some children were amazed to see a fork for the very first time! 

When we began building schools, we had a desire to educate traumatized children who were internally displaced and had been out of school for 4 years. And as we’ve built, we’ve seen how the schools begin to transform the communities.

We’ve also learned a lot about the many things that act as barriers to education even after classrooms are constructed. And so we’ve sought to tailor our support to each community’s specific needs – helping install gutters and water tanks in one school, introducing meal and snack programs in others, building Teachers Quarter’s to prevent dangerous commutes, and launching counseling programs. 

It’s one of the things I’ve grown to respect about Village Impact, the organization we work with. While education is always the primary mission, Village Impact listens deeply to the needs of each community, and focuses its resources and efforts on sustainable solutions. Not imposing our Western idea of what’s right, but really listening to students, teachers, principals, and parents to develop support structures that will help the kids thrive. 

Our counselors have made a lot of progress. At first they were viewed as strangers, even possibly spies. Children were told not to sit in a room alone with them. Now they are highly valued members of the communities in which they work. 

As a therapist, supporting the counselors is especially close to my heart. And I imagine you can relate to it, too. 

I’m including some photos to give you a sense of the passion and energy of the people we serve there. They have so little. And their hearts and spirits inspire me deeply. 






I hope you enjoy these photos. And more importantly, I hope you have something in your life that inspires you the way this work inspires me and my family.

Please feel free to comment below or ask any questions about our evolving programs.


Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy.

Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

    Find more about me on:
  • googleplus

Tags: Forward to a Colleague

Please Comment ↴

  1. Hi Ellyn, As you know I (with my husband Ron) have been visiting Uganda, near Kenya, almost annually since 2008. I take some personal credit for my possible influence of you, when I remember that I gave you a CD that contained a taped (U.S.) couple session, as well as a few brief video clips of dancing children and adults in Gulu, Uganda! That was a number of years ago, and Ron and I still visit Uganda, although not quite as often, and we are planning to go this year, God willing. (I was chagrined when I was unable to participate in your “free” training some years ago in exchange for making a donation to your worthy cause in Kenya.) The two ministries that I support have born much fruit in transformed lives and in an active introduction to Ugandans of counseling techniques and awareness when working with traumatized children and adults. In addition, Ron and I have been able to sponsor the education of five young people. I am thankful that you are sharing this blog!

  2. Ellyn — What a fabulous moment. The photos are awesome! The animated, excited, smiles tell the tale of joy, hope, trust, discovery and connection ( kinda like Ariel ) borne of your incredible inspiring service. Their worlds are transforming.

    It’s really impossible to imagine how these energies will effloresce and flower in a time beyond our imagination:
    I recently received this email. Subject: were you my 10th grade teacher?
    “I was lucky to have a great teacher who helped me learn English language in the most amazing way. He taught me in Int’l College in ( Beirut ) Lebanon. On Fridays, each one of the students would have to make desert and bring it. You brought After Eights and made fun of Julius Caesar ‘Et Tu Brute’?
    We wrote poetry sitting idle. We read novels. We had lively discussions. Any you used Elements of Style for correcting our written work.
    My name is Vicken V. I am a cardiologist in Madison, WI. If you are this person, could you call me.

    ( brought tears to my eyes )
    What on earth, or in the ether, is the thread in the weave of the tapestry reaching out to me after 50 yrs? I can’t really say.

    Vicken’s family had been refugees in Beirut from the Ottoman ( Turkish ) Empire: I was a first yr instructor at the College with no formal teacher training. I had just finished living alone in a remote Turkish village for two years.

    I’m absolutely certain you, Pete, Molly have created innumerable portals for innumerable children to live more fulfilling lives.

    Thanks for sharing your fabulous story. It’s a compelling reminder of what the best is in each of us.
    The smiles tell the tale best!

  3. This is awesome. My organization works with traumatized children. I have a background of counseling internally displaced persons victims of political violence in the Rift valley of Kenya. Kindly visit http://www.kimowellnessfoundation.org for more information. We can contact and engage more to support the trauma victims children.
    kind regards