The Washington Post

Manassas native helps empower women in the slums of Kenya

When Alexandra “Lexi” Hensley was 4, she learned to ski on a glacier in Austria. Her mother, Deborah Hensley, credits the experience with igniting “her passion for learning about other cultures and studying other human experiences.”

Now 27, the Prince William County native works in New York for a nonprofit organization working to empower women in a Kenyan slum. She has a long record of public service, first in her home town of Manassas and later overseas.

“My parents instilled open-mindedness and diversity,” Hensley said. “I definitely got that from my parents, and a sense of ad­ven­ture and giving back.”

In the summer, Hensley graduated from the New York University Center for Global Affairs with a master’s degree in international development and humanitarian assistance, with a specialization in gender studies. Her joint research project on educating girls in the Maasai villages of rural Kenya earned Hensley and fellow student Amy Regan the program’s Best Thesis/Capstone Award.

The years between glacier skiing and graduate school paint a vivid picture of a woman dedicated to learning about and helping others, at home and abroad.

Her deep roots in the community — her father’s family spearheaded various community services at Buckhall United Methodist Church in Manassas, and her grandmother Thelma Hensley was elected commissioner of revenue for the City of Manassas in the 1960s — gave her a foundation on which to build.

As a student at Highland School in Warrenton, Hensley participated in the international relations club, attended Model United Nations, sailed to the Caribbean with the Broadreach summer program and tutored children in English and reading.

After graduating from Highland in 2004, Hensley attended the University of Virginia, where she continued to tutor, graduating in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and Spanish.

Her trip to Haiti in 2010, though, solidified her drive to pursue a master’s degree and a career in humanitarian service. A certified emergency medical technician, Hensley went to Haiti after the earthquake to help with disaster recovery and relief.

“It was tough,” she said. “There was a lot of devastation but also a lot of joy. It was very inspiring and what set me on my career path.”

Two years later, Hensley was in rural Kenya working on a field project through NYU. In addition to conducting research on empowering Maasai women through education, Hensley filmed a documentary with Regan and Kenyan filmmaker Zippy Kimundu, “Warriors of Knowledge: Education for Maasai Girls.”

“We produced the film so we can shine a light on the beautiful culture and make it accessible to the masses,” Hensley said.

Today, Hensley is the director of community and outreach for Shining Hope for Communities, a grass-roots organization focused on improving the lives of women in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum. She just returned from another trip to Kenya, where she oversaw the filming of the PBS documentary, “Half the Sky 2,” a sequel to 2012’s “Half the Sky: Turning Opression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.”

“I am so inspired,” Hensley said. “I think I’m exactly where I need to be professionally.”


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