This Kenyan Lawyer Is Using Learnings from a UN-Inspired edX Course to Help Youth Offenders Get a Second Chance at Life

Alice Ndung’u is living her dream. Every morning, she wakes up ready to fight for justice and equality as a human rights lawyer in her hometown of Nairobi, Kenya. 

A self-described empath, Alice felt a calling to help others from a young age. “I was raised in a middle-class family where I never lacked for anything,” she explains. “However, I knew that was not the case for a lot of people around me. Many couldn’t afford basic necessities such as food or water. I wanted to be in a position where I could create policies to help these individuals. Most laws are created without considering the world’s most vulnerable populations—but we must consider their voices when making decisions that will affect their lives.”

After graduating college (see photo below, with her family), Alice became an associate at a law firm in Kenya’s capital city, where she works on pro-bono cases helping area youth avoid incarceration for petty crimes. The country’s judicial system processes these young offenders as adults; They’re often taken to court and then detained in juvenile homes or prisons.

“Most of these juveniles come from poor families,” she says. “When you talk to them, they say: ‘It’s not that I want to steal. I just don’t have food.’ In one case I worked on, a child had stolen a phone because he hadn’t eaten for a week. But judges or prosecutors should not be dealing with these cases. We as a society have compelled these children to break the law by ignoring their reality. We must find a more compassionate way to help them.”

Seeking to expand her knowledge of human rights issues and find more effective ways to help her young clients, Alice enrolled in the online course Human Rights, Human Wrongs: Challenging Poverty, Vulnerability, and Social Exclusion. Available on the edX platform, the course was developed by SDG Academy, part of a United Nations (UN) initiative focused on global sustainable development. The curriculum gave Alice a new lens through which to look at Kenya’s challenges—and showed her how she could contribute to building a more sustainable and inclusive future for her country.


Making Strides with Self-Paced Learning and World-Class Instruction

SDG Academy’s course marked Alice’s first online learning experience. Beyond the enticing subject matter, the financial assistance she received from edX—which covered 90% of the cost for her verified certificate—was a driving factor in her decision to enroll.

From the beginning, Alice appreciated having the opportunity to learn at her own pace. “I internalized the content better since I could listen to the lectures and complete the required readings on my own schedule,” she says. “It was a big change from my in-person undergraduate experience, which sometimes required completing five readings for just one class in one day!” 

As a working professional, Alice also valued being able to study during nights and weekends. Most schools in Kenya only offer weekday classes during business hours, making it difficult for people with full-time jobs to further their education. “Advancing in your career while simultaneously working in your career is a huge advantage,” she emphasizes. 

Additionally, Alice was eager to learn from the course’s two instructors, Joshua Castellino and Sarah Bradshaw. They’re both professors at London’s Middlesex University and leaders in the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” explains Alice. “The course gave me direct access to global experts in human rights law. I also had the opportunity to interact with peers from all over the world through the course’s group discussion feature, which was woven into the end of each lesson. I vividly remember the insightful conversations I had with other human rights-focused people from Mexico, Ghana, and the United Kingdom.”

Alice sees edX as a strategic path to career growth for herself and others. “The platform is a great tool for exposing yourself to new ideas and expanding your potential,” she says. “And SDG Academy’s course is an excellent choice for anyone looking to broaden their understanding of the world and champion human rights.”


A Lifelong Passion for Helping Nairobi’s Most Vulnerable

Since completing SDG Academy’s course, Alice has increased her engagement with local organizations that support communities in need. One of those groups is the Judiciary of Kenya. 

“I’m applying what I learned in the course to focus our conversations around more progressive concepts in juvenile justice,” she says. “My goal is to help even more of these young people have access to free legal services—and look for ways to integrate alternative justice systems, such as family group conferencing.”

Alice is also strategizing new ways to educate others on the importance of including Kenya’s most vulnerable populations in building the country’s future. 

“My experience with edX has definitely cemented my desire to be in the human rights field, now more than ever,” she concludes.