How To Empower Girls


The suitcase that carried all the liquids already weighed 50 pounds on my scale at home. At the last minute, I decided to throw in two bottles of nail polish anyway. One bright pink, one sparkly purple.

But before I move on, there’s something you must know. I really don’t like my nails painted. I prefer my nails cut medium length and I wear them plain, natural. I never use nail files, and I’ve only had two manicures in my life because the intense nail filing irritates my sensory system.

My daughter, on the other hand, loves to paint her nails and everyone else’s nails, so she always asks me “why don’t you paint your nails, mom?” I give all my reasons and I know she just doesn’t understand. I encourage her, maybe she’ll own her own salon someday and she can do nails all day if she pleases!

So the two bottles of nail polish I brought in my suitcase to Haiti belonged to my daughter. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind that I shared. In fact, I’m sure she would’ve loved to be there today as I spent a good third of the day painting girls’ nails. And yes, as I sit here typing, my fingernails are painted bright pink, too.

Let me share this story that’s dear to my heart and moved me to tears more than once today.

It was another beautiful day in Haiti. We loaded the van for another Compassion Child Development Center.

After an amazing, heart-filled gathering with hundreds of children in the worship center, we were divided into small groups. I knew the odds and ends group was for me.

All 23 of us on the trip had brought gifts from home that we could give the children in Haiti. So today was an opportunity to engage children with one of the many fun activities we’d brought, likely something the children had never been exposed to.

It was time to head to the room assigned to odds and ends. A bunch of girls from the Compassion Center grabbed my hands and attached on to one another. At least 10 came alongside as we journeyed to the room where we experienced much joy together.

When bubbles and light up toys appeared and children swarmed, it was pretty clear that I’d prefer to isolate myself in a corner and engage more intimately one-on-one with some girls.

Two nights ago, our group had an opportunity to pool all of our gifts for children at the Compassion Centers. The only two gifts I chose to keep in my backpack were my daughter’s two bottles of nail polish. So nail polish it was!

As soon as I sat down with the two bottles of nail polish and showed the group of girls what it was, they began swarming around me. At home, I often feel overwhelmed with abundance. I become overwhelmed with excess, clutter, too much STUFF. Sometimes I just want to get rid of it all. And here, there was a deep sense of scarcity. The girls were worried there wouldn’t be enough.

I assured the girls they’d get a turn. I promised there would be enough. I created order where there was none.

A sweet soul, Eve, was the first girl to grab ahold of my hand out in the courtyard, and there she was, sitting next to me now for nail painting. So I knew, Eve was first.

I made it clear, before I even started painting Eve’s nails, that I would paint, one by one. Each girl was special, unique. I let them each choose which color they wanted, and asked each girl for a picture after she got her nails painted. And before I started painting, I let the girls know who’d be up next so chaos and that ugly sense of scarcity was minimized, and the predictability of abundance was maximized.

It worked perfectly.

I just kept painting and painting and painting. Each girl was made to feel special. It felt intimate. It was important service and care for these beautiful girls. And before each girl left, I shared a special word of encouragement. “You are beautiful.” “You are going to be a leader.” “You have really beautiful nails.” Whatever felt just right for that girl and what I learned of her while painting her nails is what I said. I’ve learned here in Haiti, these direct words of encouragement are precious to the people.

DSCN6222DSCN6224DSCN6225DSCN6226DSCN6227DSCN6228And then something pretty cool happened. From then on out, the dynamic shifted between me and the girls. See the girl on the top right hand corner of the picture above? She’d been waiting to get her nails done. She’d noticed my camera and was really curious and wanted to see how it worked for herself. She was clearly old enough to handle the camera independently and I felt comfortable letting her hold it and take a picture. So with the direct assistance from a translator, I showed this beautiful girl, step by step, how to turn the camera on, how to take the picture, how to zoom in and out, and how to view the pictures after they’d been taken. 

This is the very first picture she took with a camera.


I empowered her, “If you love to take pictures, you could become a photographer when you grow up. You can take pictures of the beautiful people from Haiti and sell them to earn money for your family. It can be your work.” She smiled and it felt good to share this love of photography. I really wanted her to know this was a possibility. She took several other photos and even taught the other girls a bit. But she was the only one, really, who had a natural inclination towards photography.

I kept on with the painting nails.


The teenage girl who’d been taking pictures hadn’t gotten her nails painted yet, so it was her turn. I painted her nails, and right before I was finished, she told me she wanted to paint MY nails. I nearly broke down in that moment, as I wasn’t there to be served, but to serve. So I didn’t expect anyone to serve me. But our group leader and Compassion representative, Yvonne, had reminded us last night, “remember to be open to receiving as well as giving.” I’ve learned the Haitian people are extraordinarily loving and giving, and I’ve been working on this receiving thing, so I accepted her offer graciously. After she painted my nails, I allowed her to take one of the polishes and start painting others’ nails, which she did with a servant heart.





Edwidge, clearly one of the oldest girls that was in the room with us, had stopped over earlier. She wanted her nails painted with the sparkly purple polish. I told her she was next, so she returned for her turn. I painted her nails and loved on her so much. There was a connection between the two of us I couldn’t measure. While we were engaging, Edwidge told me she creates art and she wanted to get a piece of her art to show me. I empowered her, yes, I would LOVE to see her art! So she left quietly, in search of her art.

I continued to paint nails. The last group of girls to come through was an assortment. Some already had their nails done and wanted to see photographs of themselves. There was one girl who was feisty, another with burns to her face, and other with deformities on her fingers. Their personalities were really shining through, so I continued to encourage them uniquely.







As I was painting the last round of nails, Edwidge returned. She had a black pouch in her hand, she wanted to fix my hair. I took the binder out, continued painting nails, and let Edwidge love me through her service. I thought she might braid my hair or put it up in some cool ponytails or something, but she just kept brushing and brushing and brushing.

Edwidge was showing her love for me, her care for me. I was humbled, moved so deeply, almost to tears, that Edwidge just kept brushing and brushing and brushing. I don’t know how long it’d been since someone just brushed my hair, not just to get the job done, but just to brush it as a loving act of kindness. It was so, so beautiful. Thank you, dear Edwidge.



When I was told it was time to wrap up and go eat lunch, Edwidge was waiting at the front of the room. I asked if she’d found her art. She’d spoken with the Compassion Center Director and the art would be held where we were scheduled to eat.

When I arrived at the location, Edwidge found me and showed me her art work. She was proud. And I was proud of her. She wanted a picture with the two of us and the art she’d made. I thought, based on our communication earlier, she’d intended to give me the art, but realized after she put the piece back on the table, that it had already been sold to another trip member (older students were selling the pieces they’d made to earn money to buy more art supplies).

I engaged others in conversation, and moved to the other end of the room. On my way, I found Carol (a woman on the trip I’ve come to adore – she’s a perfect mix of me, my mom and my mother-in-law, if there ever was such a thing) with Edwidge. Carol was speaking life affirming words directly to Edwidge. She spoke straight to Edwidge’s soul with words like “You are beautiful. Keep making beautiful things.” Carol’s words brought tears to my eyes. Real, big tears. These women I’d grown to love, each in different contexts, had grown to love one another, too.

Edwidge asked if she could sit next to me at lunch. I agreed, I’d love to have her sit next to me. We enjoyed a delicious meal and more time together. “I love you. I am so happy for you,” she said among other beautiful things in those final moments.

How to empower girls?

Love them. Come alongside them. Serve them. Teach them to serve others. Speak life affirming words over their lives. Be completely authentic. Remind them they can do anything. And tell them they are so beautiful, just the way they are.


*This is part of a month-long series about my journey to Haiti. Click here to read all the posts in the series.



  1. Hannah Hinojosa says:

    Beautiful post!! I love how you took photos of each girl after painting her nails!!

  2. Tiffany Femling says:

    The true excitement from first times!!!

  3. Monica Anderson Palmer says:

    Thank you for this encouragement to empower the girls in our lives! LOVED this!!!

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