Graduation 2014

Time to let them go …

“You are seeds, ready to be planted in this world ” declared Caroline Menach, Principal at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School and chief overseer and life mentor to these amazing young ladies. And with those words and many others equally eloquent we prepared to celebrate the graduation of this inaugural group of 42 young ladies from a 7-month preparatory life skills and ICT training program at the Mercy Center in West Pokot and to take the next step into college or university.

Graduation grounds, August 6, 2014

It was a bright day, the sun shining, the tents erected so that students and invited guests alike were shaded. Many parents, their teachers current and former, their former principals along with school leaders from across the county, community leaders, church leaders, World Vision staff and invited guests were gathered all dressed in their finest to honor and witness this milestone occasion. The attendees were ready, the girls (now young ladies) were ready … but was I?

Morphus Girls 1

Morphus Rescue Center, Sept 6, 2009

I was conflicted … really conflicted.   I had met some of the girls initially just 5 years earlier at the Morphus Primary Rescue Center when all they had was a hope and a dream of a better life through education. They had refused their culture and their parent’s wishes to undergo Female Genital Mutilation and be married when they were 12 or 13 years old. There was no secondary school for girls anywhere near at the time.   That first day I was so struck by their immense bravery and thought they must be amongst Kenya’s finest and would become an important part of the fabric of their country’s future one day – we just needed to give them a chance.

Over the succeeding years, St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School was built and St. Catherine Girls Secondary School was created (with only 12 girls in 2010) by the love and support from people in the US and Finland through World Vision.

St. Elizabeth, August 2013

Today there are 300 girls at St. Elizabeth and 225 at St. Catherine in addition to these 42 who had graduated and now completed this preparatory training.   Over these same years, I have come to deeply love and appreciate all of the girls , rescued or not, for their pioneering spirit, love of their God, brightness of their hope, and genuine desire to make a difference not only for themselves but in their community. And now they were at a threshold only imagined 5 years prior … fears swirled in my heart as I looked at them in their graduation gowns and my protective nature kicked in. Would they be safe as they went to college in cities like Eldoret and Nairobi? How would they cope w. the traffic, the pace, city life vs rural living? Who would look after them? How will they manage? How did 5 years go by so quickly?

I mentally tuned back into the speeches and listened as each speaker affirmed what these young ladies had accomplished, but there was something more.   Every speaker also underscored their respective support for each young lady as they took their next step into the world. I began to comprehend the community ‘net’ of love and support that had formed around these remarkable young ladies which would be there for them, if needed, to help. Sister Veronica, the head of the Mercy Center shared their doors would always be open.

Dr. Mary Chepkite Lopokoyit, PhD

Dr. Mary Chepkite Lopokoyit, PhD

The commencement speaker and Honored Guest was Dr. Mary Chepkite Lopokoyit, PhD Agricultural Education and Lecturer at Moi University and Egerton University, Eldoret. Dr. Mary is one of only 3 Pokot women in all of Kenya that has achieved a PhD.   (This shows just how far the Pokot women have to go in terms of (a) living in a different cultural context and (b) receiving equal educational opportunities.)   Her presence and her words were equally important. She spoke of her journey as a Pokot woman to achieve such an esteemed degree and encouraged that each could reach so high and do the same.

Dr. Mary Chepkite Lopokoyit, PhD with Caroline Menach, Principal St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School

Dr. Mary Chepkite Lopokoyit, PhD with Caroline Menach, Principal St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School

She talked about her mentee, the principal Caroline Menach and how Caroline was also pursuing her Masters and going on to achieve a PhD. Here were two exceptionally strong Pokot women standing to show these young ladies that anything is possible in this life. And then Dr. Mary did something remarkable: she offered to mentor and help any of the young ladies at any time, through any situation. The capacity of women such as Dr. Mary and Caroline Menach to strive to achieve, give of themselves for their families and give of themselves to so many others can only be understood in the context of the motivation of God’s love. (Anything other than that surely would cause them to crumble.)

 

I was overcome by peace, knowing all was well and God’s hand was active and over these young ladies as a covering. I realized I needed to just get out of the way, and emotionally let them go … to be all that God had intended them to be.       So we celebrated.Lilian singing (2)Salome leading

DSC_0547       DSC_0435    DSC_0436

What I’d like to say to everyone reading this post:

We're ready

Time to fly!

You are about to experience the amazing gift of the lives of these young ladies – be prepared to be moved to action by the goodness, light, love, innovation, joy, faithfulness and their imagining of what the future can hold. They and the others that will follow are an important part of the fabric of the future of Kenya. If you have the opportunity, come alongside to partner or lend a helping hand. More broadly, be part of their dreams. And most importantly, lift them up in prayer that God’s will for their lives will be fulfilled. God’s speed young ladies.

 

If you’re interested to see more photos from the graduation ceremony including the performances, the beautiful cake and ‘feeding’ etc, here’s a link: http://1drv.ms/1t4u4Lg

For those reading who are existing mentors to one of these young ladies through the Global Giveback Circle, watch for an email from either me or Lizzie Lahey with a link to the individual graduation photos of the mentees.   For those of you interested in becoming a mentor and/or provide financially (and we need you) please visit the Global Giveback Circle website at www.globalgivebackcircle.org to learn more or to submit an application http://www.globalgivebackcircle.org/get-involved/mentor-a-girl/.

Next steps:

This week (Aug 29-31, 2014) Caroline Menach is accompanying them on a bus trip to Nairobi, to meet with the people at the Kenya Community Development Foundation and the Global Giveback Circle to ensure that all is in order for their next steps into college, certificate program or university. For many of the girls, their following step literally starts in September 1st in Eldoret. Many will be going to there to various colleges. For those accepted into the university system, their following step will start September 28th.   As of this writing, about 60% of the young ladies have received confirmation of their ‘posting.’ Over the coming few days and weeks, all will know where they will be attending school.

Posted in Kenya Girls | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tipet: 2 years later

August 5, 2014 – I arrived in Tipet exactly two years to the day since my last visit (see Sept 7, 2012 blog post). The experience to travel there was much the same:  a long and difficult 2 1/2 hr journey over exceptionally rough terrain, traversing dry river beds and steep rocky slopes; hot and dry, with the intense sun brightly shining once again in this semi-arid place; boys herding their camels and goats to find something to eat that day amongst the brush and vegetation.  But that’s where similarities with the previous visit ended … you see, as we got closer, off in the distance amongst the greenery of the brush stood the bright red roof of a large structure – a modern primary school in Tipet!  I could hardly wait to get there.

We arrived in Tipet to the warm welcome of the community, their leaders and many familiar faces we had met two years prior.  Getting out of the vehicle, the feel was different – the children were more confident, the sense of hope and sense of community validation expressed by adults was evident, and the almost-completed school stood gleaming in the sunshine.  The Principal, Selena, greeted us with pride and joy.  Her new school was almost done and she is eagerly awaiting the day when she will bring the children inside to learn under the best available conditions, out of the elements.

Tipet Primary School:  8 classrooms, administration and water tank

Tipet Primary School: 8 classrooms, administration & water tank (under construction and nearly complete)

Our welcome

Our initial welcome (Larger community festivities occurred later in the day)

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRANSFORMATION has taken hold in Tipet

What makes Tipet so special is it’s a community that sought its own transformation, and took concrete steps to begin their transformation years prior (I discuss this in the Sept 7, 2012 blog post).  Their drive to transform is stronger today than ever, and this project and partnership with World Vision and the government is accelerating the change.  First, there are currently 162 children in grades 1-5 routinely attending the existing school under the trees (2 years ago, there were far fewer and the school only educated grades 1-3).

Children walk daily up to 14km EACH WAY, from the second line of mountains in this photos (the lower, darker ones) to attend school.
Children walk daily up to 14km EACH WAY, from the second line of mountains in this photos (the darker ones) to attend school.

More and more parents have come to realize just how important education is for their children, underscored by the beautiful school being constructed and dedicated to their children’s future. It’s hard to convey in our cultural context the massive importance of a quality structure and the impact it carries in a rural cultural setting in Kenya (suffice it to say, it’s very important).  The context for the attendance is remarkable as well: the families in this area are pastoral and therefore nomadic, driven by the abundance or lack of rains and available food for their herds.  This area is experiencing drought, putting pressure on the families to move. Yet some forward-thinking parents sought out willing families to house their children for the school year so they could attend school, as the parents temporarily moved on to find suitable pasture for their herds.  Other children live in the mountains and walk up to 14km each way every day to attend school (28km round trip, 17 miles).  Once the school is complete, the next project will be to construct a dormitory, eliminating the need for children to walk such long distances.  This housing will ease the strain on parents and should bring school attendance to approximately 400 children, the capacity of the school.

Secondly, the West Pokot County government and national government are investing along side World Vision, bringing 3 additional teachers for this school along with health interventions.  World Vision and the Kenyan government are also looking at ways to bring water reliably to the site to support the planned dormitory, either by drilling a bore hole or pumping water from the river (1.5km away) to tanks at the site.  In addition, once the school and associated structures are completed (e.g. dormitory, computer lab), the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, has committed to come to visit.  My understanding is he wants to underscore the effectiveness of the devolved government in Kenya, which provides more direct authority and funds at a county level in order to meet the needs of their people, irrespective of where they live.  His coming certainly will  also drive the county government to prioritize to make the roads to Tipet far more passable prior to his arrival!

Most importantly, this school is providing a concrete alternative to early marriage for girls and Female Genital Mutilation, practiced widely in this part of central Pokot.  Kenya primary school spans Grades 1-8 therefore the new school will allow the girls to stay in school long past Grade 4 or 5, the typical time when girls are taken out of school by their families to learn to become wives, be cut and marry by age 12 or 13.

Girls singing  "Circumciser, Go Away from Us"

Girls singing “Circumciser, Go Away from Us”

The chiefs have agreed to advocate stopping the practice and World Vision is providing advocacy training to community and church leaders to accelerate the groundswell of support.  We are in the early days, but already the school girls sing “Father, don’t marry me early” and “Circumciser, go away from us.”  I also had an opportunity to address the larger community during the day, and I thanked them for taking the step to stop FGM – and all the women erupted in applause.  This is significant, as often the mothers are the ones who drive their daughters to undergo FGM as a prerequisite for marriage.

PICTURES ARE WORTH 1,000 WORDS:  School completion will usher a new era of learning

Selena took the opportunity to show us how the children are learning today, so we could fully appreciate the magnitude of their gratitude and appreciation for the modern classrooms.  Here are a few pictures that tell the story quite well:

Grade 4, nicknamed the 'snake class.'  A snake is known to slither through just this classroom - fortunately, no students have been bitten.

Grade 4, nicknamed the ‘snake class.’ A snake is known to slither through just this classroom – fortunately, no students have been bitten.

Selena demonstrates to Pauline Okumu, Deputy National Director, World Vision Kenya, how the teachers teach in the hot sun, while the students sit in whatever shade provided

Selena demonstrates to Pauline Okumu, Deputy National Director, World Vision Kenya, how the teachers teach in the hot sun, while the students sit in whatever shade provided. As the sun moves, the teacher adjusts the classroom position.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selena demonstrates how children sit on rocks for their chairs, and attempt to write.  She is quick to note she doesn't grade the students on their handwriting

Selena demonstrates how children sit on rocks for their chairs, and attempt to write. She is quick to note she doesn’t grade the students on their handwriting

The blackboards are deteriorating in such harsh conditions outside

The blackboards are deteriorating in such harsh conditions outside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A FEW PHOTOS OF THE SCHOOL

Tipet Primary (merged photos)

Tipet Primary (merged photos)

Principal's office (under construction)

Principal’s office (under construction)

 

Boys VIP Latrine

Boys VIP Latrine (complete)

Girls VIP Latrine

Girls VIP Latrine (update)

 

 

 

 

 

Special appreciation to World Vision and their current contractor: the process to construct a school here is ambitious and fraught with challenges that the World Vision team had to overcome: rough roads and almost inaccessible territory making transport of ready made stone bricks impossible; the 8 hour+ process to transport a large, loaned bricking making machine to the site; the lack of easily accessible water to cure the bricks which slowed the construction process; the crocodile infested waters without proper boats, making navigating the river to bring supplies unfeasible; the remoteness of the area with associated difficulties in keeping workers happy while on the job site.  World Vision has been unwavering in their drive to complete the school is the most effective (and safest) way possible.  They shared with me how amazing their current contractor has been – this project has taken far longer and at a greater expense than bid, yet he has been willing to forego his normal profits because of the mission of this work and the transformation it’s bringing to this community.  Thank you all.

A last word:

We spent almost an entire day in this remarkable community, and learned how they’ve moved from “three darks” to enlightenment about their children and girls, and the power and promise of education as a foundation for change.  We learned more about the principal, Selena, and how she doubles as the health practitioner in this community since she’s trained as a nurse and marveled at her tireless love for and devotion to a community that she did not come from.  We experienced the real dangers the children and adults currently face in accessing water in crocodile infested waters, became educated on the construction challenges noted above, felt the unrelenting heat and imagined windstorms that blow sand making learning outside impossible, and saw the long distances children walk to school making them vulnerable to all kinds of dangers currently.  Most importantly, we saw a resilient community with a vision for a brighter future for all and a willingness to begin to forego the centuries-old cultural practice of Female Genital Mutilation for its girls.

How did she bake and decorate this in such a remote place?  Made it all the more special.

How did she bake and decorate this in such a remote place? Made it all the more special.

And we experienced just how innovative and creative they can be – Selena somehow baked a cake and decorated it in honor of our visit, to express the community’s deep appreciation for World Vision and all of the US donors who have made their own sacrifices to bring something special to them.

If you would like to see more photos of this special day in Tipet, including how they scare off crocodiles, our lunch, and afternoon festivities, you can access them on my OneDrive at this URL:  http://1drv.ms/1ABZfP8   I have provided captions to guide you as well.

Tipet is in the midst of a remarkable transformation and I look forward to seeing how this community progresses in the coming years.

Posted in Child Protection, Kenya Girls | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

In Just Four Short Years

Our visitors we request you to support our education.  As you see, ah we are clever.  We are struggling for a better life.”  September, 2009

Number of Rescued Girls

Number of Rescued Girls

This is the opening line to a song sung to me four years ago by a group of 34 of the bravest girls I have ever met, ages 8-12.  These girls were living in a rescue center because they had refused undergo Female Genital Mutilation in preparation to be married when they were 12 or 13.  They had been ridiculed and beaten and either fled their homes or were rescued as their homes were not safe anymore.  I didn’t feel worthy to be standing on the same ground as they, knowing I wouldn’t have been as brave when I was 8 years old.

Now just four short years later, 14 of these girls are in their last month of secondary school, taking their final exams in order to graduate in less than a month and move forward once again:  forward towards the better life they sang of so profoundly just four short years ago.  And next year, more girls will take the exams and take that same step forward on to a better life – a life of their own choosing.  And on, and on, and on.  The cycle has begun.  Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Four short years ago, the future for the girls in the rescue center was not seen.  There was no evidence anything would change.  There was no girl’s secondary school in the area.  But they had faith.

Change has come to West Pokot in Kenya.  St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School stands as a beacon of transformation.  Today, there are 248 girls at St. Elizabeth, including the 34 brave girls I met just four years ago.  At another girl’s secondary school 25 miles away, the numbers are just as remarkable.  12 girls attended St. Catherine Girls Secondary School in 2010 – now there are 217.  Taken in aggregate, hundreds of families in the area are no longer choosing to marry their girls at 12 years old – rather invest in them through education for their future and the future of their community.

In partnership with World Vision, the Global Giveback Circle http://www.globalgivebackcircle.org/  provides means for women in the developed world to mentor vulnerable secondary school girls in Kenya, including the girls attending St. Elizabeth and St. Catherine, and upon graduation help them move forward to college and university.  There are girls that want to be doctors, and biologists, and civil engineers, and journalists, and teachers, and nurses all because they were given a chance to continue to learn in secondary school.  And now, through the kindness of donor and mentors, they will go on to higher education and graduate with degrees and skills.

But the story is not done here.  You see, as the girls at St. Elizabeth and St. Catherine Girls Secondary School move forward, they are reaching their hands back to help lift up other younger girls, encouraging them to dream of a better life, providing them direction and mentorship.  These girls are role models and they know it and embrace it.  Once they graduate from college, they will come back to their community to live and work and help advance their community forward.

Cultural change is possible in four short years.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  Do you want to be part of this change?  If so, please consider mentoring a girl in Kenya through the Global Giveback Circle.  You, too, will then have a story to tell in just four short years.

Posted in Kenya Girls | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Profound

Profound
This is the word that keeps repeating in my mind as I reflect on this last trip to Kenya.  Tangible, palpable are the other two words.   As I’ve shared my trip experiences over the past few weeks, my hands immediately come together in a grasp or fingers rubbing together trying to express just how much one can feel and touch the change.  It’s real.  It’s taking hold.  It’s profound.
My trips to Kenya are always multifaceted.  This trip was no different – it was full of many experiences however this time, there were four experiences in particular which individually were fantastic, and that collectively combined to become the profound.
The first was during our visit to the Sook ADP in West Pokot.  Sook is a place that was revered in a macabre sense in the Pokot culture – I heard it was known as the place where the ‘best’ Female Genital Mutilation ceremonies were held and they set the standard.  Sook is in the mountains, beautiful, but rough and remote, with villages spread out over vast distances.  World Vision established an ADP in Sook in 2009, and worked in the area for several years prior as a satellite outreach from the Marich Pass ADP when the advocacy work on Female Genital Mutilation was beginning.  Part of the Child Protection through Education program funds World Vision staff to work with leaders so they can go back to their communities and educate and advocate against FGM and offer a new way forward with alternative rights of passage, as well as bring to life the power and promise of girls education.
We had the opportunity to meet with an area advisory council in the Tamugh village.  There were 20 people in attendance who lived in 14 separate villages, each walking long distances to meet with us.  This council was made up of 2/3 men, 1/3 women, a thrilling mix – both men AND women are leading the cultural change.  The look of resolve on their faces were clear.  Just as Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see in this world” – these people are doing just that.  The leader of this council is an Assistant Chief and he touched me deeply.  This man really cares about the girls in his community and fully acknowledges that nothing good comes from FGM.  Now he is on a mission to ensure all in his area understands what he understands, and change their attitudes and practices as a result.  Each person in the council spoke to us, sharing their very personal commitment to drive change and why.  They thanked us for resourcing World Vision to provide the people, education, a meeting place with table and chairs, and a way to bring forward cases where girls were in danger of undergoing the cut.
Area Advisory Council

Area Advisory Council

Most recently, because of this escalation model, one girl was rescued from harm. Two women in the council made a lasting impression on me.   The first is a current midwife.  She is an older woman and shared that her daughters were circumcised years ago before she knew any other way.  I appreciated the solemnity and honesty of the remark.  Now, as a midwife, she told of ‘seeing too much’ … babies stuck in the birth canal because the mother’s scar tissue could not tear wide enough to allow for a suitable opening, resulting in both mother and child dying.  “Too much blood, too many long labors.”  Another woman had a suckling baby, just one month old. As she was feeding her daughter, I asked why she was part of the advisory council and what she hoped for her child.  She replied, so her daughter could be educated and have a better life. Wow.  And, these people are volunteers.  They still have to feed and provide for their families, but are going far above and beyond because this is so important – quite literally at times, life or death important.  The importance of these councils and the people in them cannot be overstated.
My view:  Change has dawned in Sook and the roots of change are becoming well established.
The second experience was once we arrived at St. Catherine Girls Secondary School in Chepnayl village also in Sook.  I visited this school last year and documented my experiences in this blog (See Day 2:  Sook and St. Catherine).  Last year, there were 127 girls at the school (St. Catherine’s was established in 2010, with just 12 girls.)  This year, there are 217 girls, a net increase of 90 girls in just one year … in Sook!  217 girls who are not being married early.  The principal quipped to me during the visit that last year the parents heard my encouragement to send their girls to school, and this year they did.  I know there was much more that has gone into this substantial change!
Members of the school board, officials

Members of the school board, officials

We met with the School Board and they underscored in no uncertain terms that they know ‘this school is real’ and they hold a tremendous responsibility for the education of the girls attending.  School Board seats include the local chief, the county director for roads and public works, one of the longstanding nuns from the nearby catholic church.  The government has just provided 5 new teachers in the last year (up from 1 the previous year), the senator representing West Pokot County sent his assistant to join us for the day to underscore his commitment.
DSC_0481Because of the Child Protection an Education program, there are sufficient funds to welcome back girls who have had babies and had to drop out -they now receive vocational training and sewing machines so they can become seamstress’ to support their families.
Dormitory under construction

Dormitory under construction

The funds are also being used to build additional dormitory facilities so girls can have a safe place to live while pursuing their education.  We had the honor to celebrate 42 girls who are in Form 4 (equivalent of grade 12 in high school) who soon will graduate from St. Catherine’s.
My view:  The change in attitude is real and this school is a beacon of hope and positive outcomes.
The third experience was at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School and at Morphus Primary School, located in Cheparia in the Marich Pass ADP.

Primary School Dorm/Rescue Center

Primary School Dorm/Rescue Center

We had the honor of commissioning two primary school classrooms, see the work progressing on the construction of the expanded primary school girls dormitory and combined rescue center.  At St. Elizabeth’s we laid the cornerstone on the new dining hall, saw the library construction progress,  dedicated the new dormitory at St. Elizabeth’s and dedicated the rescue home on the grounds of St. Elizabeth, (where former rescued girls attending St. Elizabeth will live during holidays when the other girls go home.)  There are currently 30 of the 34 original rescued girls attending St. Elizabeth’s in a variety of grades (whom I first met in 2009), which started this entire faith walk with God … more on the 30 girls later in the ‘fourth experience.’  We also had the honor to celebrate 29 girls in Form 4 who soon will graduate from St. Elizabeth’s (12 from the original rescue center group).

248 Girls at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School

248 Girls at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School

Overall, there are now 248 girls attending St. Elizabeth, up from 154 just one year ago. At the celebration ceremony, there were well over 500 people in attendance – perhaps closer to 700. Dignitaries from the local, county and national government participated.  Boys and girls from four different primary schools and one boy’s secondary school came to perform to add to the celebration.  One group of primary school girls in particular moved me so deeply. These little girls (probably 8 – 12 yrs old) walked from Ortum, a distance of 15km (9 miles) just to perform two songs.  The subject of the two songs?  ‘I will listen to the circumciser no more’and ‘my father (mother), please support me with education.’  Profound. (By the way, they walked back home just as far.)

My view:  This community has hit the tipping point, and has crossed over.  Thousands of girls are singing for their freedom from FGM and early marriage; their parents are beginning to hear and act differently.  Mothers and fathers are sacrificing to invest to send their girls to secondary school rather than receiving a dowry in exchange for their daughter being cut and married by 12 years old. Boys are echoing with their songs of support.
The fourth experience I’ll share is the one most deeply personal to me.  Many of you know that in 2009 I first visited this area and met 34 of the bravest girls I have ever had the honor to meet.  They were living in the Morphus rescue center at the time. These girls, ages 8-12 had refused to be married early and refused to be mutilated.  They had been ridiculed and beaten and in some cases had fled their homes and in other cases were rescued as their homes were not safe anymore.  I didn’t feel worthy to be standing on the same ground as they, knowing I wouldn’t have been so brave when I was 8 years old.   When I heard their stories and looked into their eyes I saw two things:  very brave girls who had deep determination to live a better life, and at the same time the look of girls who longed to be validated that they were important and longed to be loved. The only thing they asked that day was to help them have a better life by supporting their education.  It’s because of these girls that St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School came to be.
This visit I asked to meet with the 30 original rescue center girls now attending St. Elizabeth. In my previous visits over the past 4 years, I’ve never asked to do this.  World Vision had shared it was important that these girls become part of the broader community of girls at St. Elizabeth in order to establish some normalcy. I respected that.  This time, however, some of the girls would be graduating and I desperately wanted the opportunity to talk with all of them once again, find out how they were doing, what their lives were like now, what were their hopes and dreams now.  Walking into the classroom where they were seated, I was overwhelmed in part by how much they had grown up!  As we began to talk together, the magnitude of the impact of having this school for them began to grip my heart. All expressed their deep gratitude for having the opportunity to go to St. Elizabeth’s. One girl started by saying “You’ve allowed us to become people.”  Another girl shared that when she sees her friends who are the same age as she, who were cut and married four years ago and now have 2-3 children, these girls say that their lives are over – at 16 or 17 years old!  Meanwhile, this ‘rescued’girl is just at the dawn of her future, and she knows it.  A different girl said that she doesn’t dwell on her past.  ‘My past is a stepping stone into my future’ she said.  The girls talked of how the people in the community look up to them now.  No one ‘bothers’ them anymore.  (Peer ridicule and coercing is just one form of societal pressure put upon girls to undergo FGM and marry early.)  Another Form 4 girl wants to go on to be a nurse then a doctor.  When you talk to her, you are immediately drawn in by her enthusiasm and vision not only for herself, but how she is going to make this community far better.  In this community there is no a hospital nor access to a clinic nearby with a trained medical professional.  She wants to change all of that.  She is going to become and nurse then a doctor and come back and establish a hospital in this community where she is the lead doctor.  She’s one of the top students at St. Elizabeth, and I believe all she has set out for herself to do, she will do!
These 30 girls have gone from ridicule to honor.  Today, they are confident, bright, self-assured, know they are loved and supported, have hopes and dreams for their lives that they fully intend to have come true.  And they’re growing up.  How profound is this!
My final thoughts:  There were hundreds of details from this trip that I could share, and could correlate many stories from previous trips to even more deeply make the points, but I hope his report provides enough for you to get a true flavor of what the Kenya Child Protection through Education program is all about and the tangible changes it has brought about in so many ways. These were the experiences most profound for me.  The others that traveled with us might have a slightly different set. We visited Matete and they’re doing some great work on early childhood development through this program.  I didn’t talk about the increased access to education through expanding primary schools with classrooms and dormitories, and this factors into the program as well. But these four experiences were the standouts and the fabric that wove a picture for me of profound and transformational change occurring that cannot be stopped.  And together we’re witnesses and contributors to it!
In July this year, Unicef released a groundbreaking report documenting the instances of FGM in 29 countries throughout the world http://www.unicef.org/protection/57929_69881.html.  Kenya was one of the countries.  The report states that 27% of women in Kenya have undergone FGM, a decline from 38% in 1998.   However the declines are attributed mostly to the Kalenjin, Kikuyu and Meru tribes, not the Pokot http://www.nation.co.ke/news/Drop+in+Kenyas+female+cut+says+Unicef/-/1056/1924698/-/37v879/-/index.html.  Kenya strengthened their 2001 ban on FGM for minors in September, 2011 to apply to adult women and added an extraterritoriality clause, extending restrictions to citizens who commit the crime outside the country’s border.  http://www.theguardian.com/society/sarah-boseley-global-health/2011/sep/08/women-africa
The FGM baseline assessment for the Kenya Child Protection through Education project area and subsequent follow up showed self-reported cases of FGM and formally reported cases are declining.  However each is still way too high and far above the national average reported by Unicef. We have much more work to do together with World Vision.  But the more we pour ourselves into this work, the faster the lasting change will come on a wide and scalable basis.
On behalf of the thousands of Kenyan girls that have been helped through this program, a heart-felt thank you.  Without those of you who have chosen to become involved, bringing your love and willingness to provide your resources and talents, none of this would have been possible.   There are a total of 92 adults participating in area advisory councils throughout the project area.  And just like them, YOU are being the change you wish to see in this world.  And I for one and am humbled and grateful to be associated with you in this work.
Posted in Kenya Girls | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

One girl’s story: “I want to succeed so I can help those I left behind”

I continue to be incredibly moved by the courage and bravery of the girls who refuse to undergo genital mutilation in Pokot.  The story below is about one of these girls, and how her life is transforming at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School.  In the telling of this story, I hope it brings you a deeper understanding of the cultural forces around FGM, the power of hope, and the immense importance of access to quality education in transforming a life.  Yet, for as much as this story is about one life transformed forever, it is equally about the greater miracle of those transforming, transforming others and quite literally being an integral part of the solution for cultural change that has now taken hold in Kenya.

Justus Koech works for World Vision in Kenya and has just sent this story about Emily.  I hope it moves you as it has me.

Emily Finds Freedom From FGM at St Elizabeth School, Morpus Rescue Center

North Rift Child Protection Through Education Project – Dec 2012

By Justus Koech

The tone from her mother was firm and clear. “You have no place to live if you are not circumcised!”  Emily Chepingat’s parents from Poroswa village in Pokot are staunch believers in female genital mutilation (FGM).  It was the season for circumcision, usually the December holiday. FGM is usually done with celebration full of drinking and eating. Emily’s parents had been going from home to home enjoying the feasts as other girls get circumcised. Finally the mother decided it was time she hosted a celebration in her home as she demanded Emily get the cut. “ She said it is time I hosted people to my home too for this celebration, ‘why am I only going to other homes?!’- she declared” explained Emily .

In traditional Pokot culture, girls are only good for dowry. FGM is the process by which girls are released into the ‘marriage market’  as it were. The suitor with the highest number of goats and cows, no matter the age, would get the girl.

When Emily resisted the idea, she was warned that she had no place to live. “You cannot rebel against us. Forget about education, that is no business for girls” she was told.  This is the story of nearly all the rescued girls in St Elizabeth Girls secondary and Morpus primary schools.  For Ruth Chepchumba, another rescued girl, the message could not be blunter.  She was told “we need  you married off for cows to educate your younger brothers.”  In other words her value is only dowry and nothing else. This is what girls in Pokot are up against, a future with virtually no hope. A future they have no say in.

Emily at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School

Emily at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School

Fortunately, Emily had the resolve to run away to escape FGM this cycle. One night she took off.  After 2 days of running and evading capture by pretending that she had been sent to a relative in another village, she finally got to Morpus Rescue Center and primary School.  This is where St Elizabeth Girls Secondary School is.  She was welcomed with two arms by the ever helpful head Teacher of Morpus Primary School, Mr. James Lokuk.  That was in 2010. Emily now 17 years and safe from FGM completed primary school and had no worry about her secondary education thanks to St Elizabeth School built by World Vision, through US donors.  She transitioned to grade 9 this year.

Emily now enjoys consistent schooling unlike before at home when she went on and off. “At home I was not allowed to school fully. Because I was the second born in a polygamous home, I was often asked to stay home to take care of my younger siblings. But boys were allowed to school” she said.  But now she has the best schooling environment she could ever imagine. Her dream is to become an electrical technician. She is thankful to WV donors for giving them a chance to further their education to secondary school.  Emily like most rescued girls want to succeed in life and eventually go back to their villages to advocate for other girls who are bound by the oppressive culture of FGM. “I want to succeed so I can help those I left behind, by advocating for their education” she explained.

Posted in Kenya Girls | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Thank you” from the Head Teacher at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School

I received an email from Carolyn Menach, the head teacher  at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School.  Carolyn asked that I send her greetings and her appreciation to everyone who has given their time, talents and treasure to the Kenya Child Protection and Education project.  This blog is one way for me to ensure those that care stay connected to the people and the transformation happening in Kenya.  I decided to post her entire text, so you can ‘hear’ the thank you directly from her. (As you know, St. Elizabeth’s is part of the Kenya Child Protection and Education Program, where the original school is being expanded to accommodate even more girls when the new school year starts next month.  They refer to me ‘mama’ hence the greeting … )

 

Carolyn Menach, Head Teacher

Carolyn Menach, Head Teacher

Jambo Mama, Greetings in Jesus name.  I believe that you are fine with your family.  We are doing fine and we thank God for the gift of life that He has given us.  I wish to thank you sincerely for the sacrifice you are making for the Girl-Child in the third world countries, especially Kenya. The girls have found a Haven in you and am doing my best to ensure that your effort does not go to waste, But for the Girls to invest your efforts in their academics and  be able to give back to the society as better leaders of tomorrow.  May God bless you, Family (for supporting in your good course to lift up the less fortunate) and your Friends too for their continued support. I can’t name each one, but God knows them by their names and am sure He will bless each one of them. Greet them for me, and tell them we appreciate their Love for Our Girls. Thanks. Be blessed Mama

 

I’m sure you hear the responsibility and resolve Carolyn’s email, to ensure the investment being made ‘is not wasted.’  She is really, lovingly, driving the girls to high academic performance and to instill in them a culture of giving back to others as she builds tomorrow’s leaders.  This is so encouraging, and I can attest that each head teacher I’ve met in all of the project areas feels the exact same way.   In this note, Carolyn refers to the school as being a “Haven.”  When we were there in August, she was quite candid in saying (and I quote) “The life of a Pokot girl is hell.  This school is manna from heaven.”  We learned that Carolyn is a Pokot, so knows firsthand what she’s talking about.    Being a Head Teacher of a girls school has been Carolyn’s dream job, and at St. Elizabeth’s she, along with the girls, is realizing her dream.

On behalf of the girls in Kenya and the many adults there that are working tirelessly to make a way for girls to have a better life, THANK YOU!

If you or someone you know is interested in making a year end donation, please visit www.kenyagirls.seeyourimpact.org.

=============

I’m also including two links:  the first are the photos from our August trip to Kenya.  The second are the photos of the trip we took last October.  With these trips, we’ve now visited every area that will be a beneficiary of the Kenya Child Protection and Education project.  I tried to put captions on many photos so you’d know what you’re looking at.

Aug 2012:  Trip to Kenya http://sdrv.ms/VtVSVs (Sook:  St. Catherine’s and Tipet, Marich Pass:  St. Elizabeth, Matete)

Oct 2011:  Trip to Turkana, Kenya  http://sdrv.ms/TyUgYC  (This is where Kalapata and Lokori are, and are truly ‘before’ views)

Posted in Kenya Girls | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Day 2: Sook and St. Catherine’s Secondary School for Girls

This post attempts to bring to life for you the second day of our travels in Kenya, in Sook, to see the World Vision’s work there.

I had been hearing about Sook since May of last year (2011) –  it is only 26 miles from Chepareria (the ‘town’ where World Vision’s Marich Pass Integrated Program Area is based), and the location of St. Elizabeth Secondary School for Girls (our visit here will be the next blog post.)  When the World Vision team talked about Sook, they would do it with a knowing smile and glint in their eyes … imagine hearing “We should take Margo to Sook” and then have that sentence accompanied by that smile and glint.  They would proceed to tell me how arduous it was to travel there – it’s a 26 mile journey via a single-lane, dirt and rock road which traverses a fairly steep mountainous area.  This one lane road at times becomes blocked by mud and rock slides, has no guard rails and no road shoulder to speak of.  

The road to Sook

The drop offs the side of the road are steep and long at some points along the way.  So, the 44km trip can only be made in 4×4 vehicles and takes 2-3 hours.   The Catholic and Lutheran churches have been working in Sook for years (along with the African Gospel Church and I suspect several other churches) however no non-church affiliated NGO was working in the area until World Vision arrived fulltime in 2009.  Sook is inhabited by the Pokot people and female genital mutilation (FGM) and early/forced marriage are prevalent.  I had heard that the FGM ceremonies conducted in Sook were considered by the Pokot as some of the ‘finest.’  And so, when Sook was included as part of the Kenya Child Protection and Education Program, I knew I had to go to learn and understand firsthand what was happening, and how this program would make a difference (and take anyone else along with an adventuresome spirit that wanted the experience as well). 

Introduction and Background

The Sook division covers an area of 745,000 sq km (appx 450,000 sq mi), has a population of just over 22,000 people, and is situated in a beautiful, mountainous area with many hills and valleys.   It has an idyllic quality to it. 

Sook

The majority of the area is rough and lush green, but it also includes some semi-arid terrain along the Ugandan border (including Tipet – see previous post).   However, because it is so remote and difficult to get to, and because the former Kenyan constitution investment model was to invest in those areas where there would be significant return, little government investment had made its way to Sook in previous years.  (The Kenyan constitution changed in 2010 and will now invest in a more distributed way.) 

Map: Sook Division

World Vision began working in Sook as a remote outreach from Marich Pass in the mid 2000’s and established a full time staff and office there in 2009.  World Vision’s Sook Integrated Program Area (IPA) covers 5 locations and has 3 strategic programs:  Nutrition, Health/HIV AIDs, and now the Kenya Child Protection and Education Program.   The World Vision model is to come in to a community for 10 – 15 years, so the Sook program is in its first stages. 

Much has been accomplished in the short time World Vision has been working in Sook.  They have built significant relationships with chiefs, elders, local churches and authorities, and played a key role in bringing the Kenya Department of Education and Department of Health to partner with them to invest more heavily in Sook.   Severe and acute malnutrition is dropping in the area, as World Vision has focused its nutrition programs on children under 5 and lactating and pregnant mothers.  They have established over 200 kitchen vegetable gardens.  Because of the difficult terrain and remoteness of the area, their health initiative includes support for mobile health outreaches with comprehensive services such as curative services, deworming, malaria net distribution and education, breast feeding education and stressing the importance of immunizations.    I share this just to give you a flavor of how basic the work is currently because these communities have been underserved by their government for years. 

Sook Integrated Program Area:  Education improvements from 2009 to today:  As I mentioned, much has been accomplished to form a good foundation for the work now of the Kenya child Protection and Education program.  Here are some education statistics from 2009 to today:

  •       17.6% increase in child enrollment in school  (2012:  9,768 children:  5,107 Boys, 4,571 Girls)
  •       Number of Early Childhood Development centers:  from 39 to 53*
  •       Number of Primary Schools:  from 34 to 49*
  •       Academic performance increase in primary schools:   9% increase (from a mean of 253 to 276)

*It must be noted here, however, while there is an increase in the number of schools and ECD centers, there is a wide variability in the type of structure used, many of which are not conducive to highly effective learning – from classes under trees, to mud and stick classrooms, to a tin roof and four metal poles vs. proper cinder block structures.

The girl-child:  In terms of beginning the process to educate, change attitudes and provide a protective environment for the girl-child, the Sook ADP shared the following statistics when we were there:

  •       In partnership with Kenya Ministry of Education, 303 girls have been taught life skills to say NO to FGM and early marriage 
  •       17 girls have been rescued that were destined for FGM and early marriage and are currently enrolled in school

Now, on to our visit to Sook and St. Catherine’s Secondary School for Girls

After arriving from our visit to Tipet, we spent the night in Chepunyal,  near the World Vision Sook office, in facilities provided by the Catholic church (primarily used by visiting nuns and priests).   They provided us with a lovely dinner and breakfast; the rooms were clean and welcoming, furnished with a twin bed, sink, and a shared toilet and shower area.  

Teapot and cozy

The father and his staff engaged us in a fantastic conversation so we could learn about the area and what it’s like to live there – their hospitality was exceptional.   Right before going to bed, one of the sisters brought me boiling water in the largest teapot I’ve ever seen – it must have been at least 18” in diameter.  The water was to be blended with cold water in the morning for my shower.  The sister placed the hot teapot in a wicker basket outfitted with a tea cozy as insulation against the cold night.   I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more excellent ‘shower’ in my life – the teapot water was a perfect temperature in the morning and I gladly poured it over my head! 

St. Catherine’s is the only secondary school for girls in all of Sook.  Think about it – in a 450,000 sq mile area, it’s the only one.   That said, St. Catherine’s is a shining example of the progress this community is making to change its attitude towards the girl-child with respect to early and/or forced marriage and genital mutilation. 

St. Catherine’s Secondary School for Girls (spliced together photo)

The progress is also a testimony of the long suffering work of the Catholic church in the area (they’ve been working in Chepunyal for about 25 years, promoting as part of its ministry to value children, and girls equally with boys), and of the positive change that are brought about by a strong partnership with World Vision and the various Ministries of the Kenyan government (e.g. Ministry of Education).   The parish father who started the church 25 years ago dreamed of a day when there would be a secondary school for girls, and the current father is a teacher at St. Catherine’s.

The first classroom in 2009 – under a tree

St. Catherine’s Secondary School for Girls was established in 2009 with just 12 girls in Form 1 (equivalent to the US 9th grade), with classes conducted under a tree.  They call these first 12 girls the pioneers and truly they are.  Imagine for a moment being one of those first 12 girls … I’m sure they were excited by the opportunity to be the first ever in the area to go to secondary school – but, as pioneers, they were forging very new ground by not conforming to the centuries-old way for girls.  What bravery!   In 2010, the school population grew to 35 girls, however 40% were pregnant.  But in just two short years, the 2012 enrollment at St. Catherine’s now stands at 121 girls and the pregnancy rate has dropped to just about 1%.   

Providing educational facilities for girls is so powerful – it provides families with an alternative to the centuries-old practice of early/forced marriages and the early pregnancies that result before a girl’s body is truly ready to bear a child.   Attitudes towards girls are indeed changing in Sook! 

Arriving at St. Catherine’s, we were greeted by one of the most joy-filled, energizing welcoming’s I’ve ever experienced!  We all felt like royalty.  The girls of the school, the teachers and community leaders sang and danced their hearts out!  Smiles abounded as we were engulfed by girls and were swept up in their procession towards the school.  Along the way, we stopped and each of us was afforded the honor to plant a tree on the school grounds as an enduring symbol of our visit, and an enduring reminder to the girls that people in foreign lands care about them and their future.  

Planting a tree at St. Catherine’s Secondary School for Girls

The Head Teacher is a strong woman with a vision for the girls and this community.  In a very humble way, she proudly took us on a tour of the school, introduced us to the teachers, school board members and the local authorities. 

Head Teacher at St. Catherine’s Secondary School for Girls

It was easy to see she deeply loves the girls at the school in a protective, motherly kind of way – only wants the best for them and has high expectations with the standards of behavior and performance to match.  She knows she’s a role model for the girls, and in many ways is a pioneer herself.   She shared with us her vision and told of us the new curriculum around nutrition and computer training she was adding to augment the classwork the girls were required to complete.  St. Catherine’s is still a new school and the concept of educating girls past the 4th or 5th grade is still new in the community’s mind.  I’m trying to convey just how special this woman is – living in a culture where women and girls are still very marginalized, it is these early standard-bearers that establish the path for many to come afterwards.   I’m 53 years young, and remember the day when Title 9 became a reality in the US (I had just turned 13).  I have been so grateful through the course of my life and career for all of the women who went before me, that did the really hard work to break through for girls and women’s rights and forged a path for me to subsequently travel.  This head teacher at St. Catherine’s is one of those early leaders in the Kenyan context.  (Note:  unfortunately with all of the excitement and activity I forgot to write the head teacher’s name down!  I’ll get it and post it.)

Are you a circumcised girl? 

We had a fantastic opportunity to spend time with the girls at St. Catherine’s during a sudden and fierce rainstorm that temporarily suspended the community celebration at the school they had planned for us.  So, we all crowded into a single classroom and split ourselves up so we could talk with a small group of girls and get to know them better, learn what their lives were like, what their hopes and aspirations are, and answer any questions they had for us.  It was a treasured time.  Initially, my group of girls was quite reserved, not asking many questions – it must have been daunting to spend time with a foreigner in such a close setting.  So, to get the conversation started, I told them about where I lived, what the weather was like, how we had mountains as tall and even taller than their Mount Kenya.  I talked about having four seasons, comparing our four to their three seasons (short rains, long rains, and dry season).   I live in Seattle, and it was difficult for them to fathom that, during our winter (analogous to their long rains – especially in Seattle J), the average temperature was 7 – 8 degrees Celsius .  They thought I was kidding at first – how could anyone live where it was so cold?  (I didn’t tell them about North Dakota or Greeley, CO!)  As they got comfortable with me, the questions started coming – those that were really on their hearts.  The first question:  “If I go to tertiary school in Kenya, can I get a job in the United States?”   I took this question as a means for the girls seeking validation for how important their current education is and the doors of opportunity are opened if you score well enough to go on to college or university.   We talked about job opportunities in the US along with job opportunities with many international companies in Kenya and elsewhere.   Working at Microsoft, of course I had to ask if any of the girls had ever seen a computer, and to my surprise, some had.   They were excited to learn that we were planning for a computer lab as part of the new project we are raising funds for.  I asked some of the girls what they wanted to do when they grew up and the range of answers surprised me a bit: from doctors and nurses (including one girl who wants to be a pediatrician), to journalists and engineers, from police women to lawyers to policy makers – these girls were not shy about what they dreamed of in life.  As our time progressed, the girls were getting comfortable with me and quite literally the physical space between us continued to shrink.  Girls crowded around to hear and join the conversation; some sat on desks and leaned in over the shoulders of others. 

Then came the zinger question, the question which, to their core, they wanted to ask and finally had the courage and trust to do so:  Are you a circumcised girl?”  The space between us narrowed yet once again and I could feel their yearning to know and the anticipation of my answer. When I answered ‘no,’ many smiles broke out on the faces of these children – validation once again that the path they were on was a good and right one.  I also shared that circumcising girls was not done where I lived and most girls did not marry until they were in their 20’s or 30’s.   They then asked about rape – did that happen where I lived.  Wow, I thought – what lives had these girls lived and what had they seen and experienced?   I had to answer ‘yes’ and augmented that it wasn’t acceptable to rape, and told them of our police and prosecutors whose job it is to find and punish those that rape women and girls. 

With some of the biggest and most serious questions off their minds, the questions went to child-like curiosity – this one really surprised me:  “Do you have pets?”  Pets, I thought!  How did they know to ask about that? 

“I have 2 cats and they live inside my house!”

Anyway, I shared that I have 2 cats as pets and they live inside my house – the girls started laughing in disbelief and the laughter intensified as I added, “and at night, I let them sleep with me!” With that question, the rain had stopped and our time was up – all too soon for every one of us!  I asked if I could take their picture and many girls crowded in – when I turned the camera to show them the image on the LCD screen, squeals of delight and ‘there I am’ erupted!

As I’ve traveled in Kenya, I have experienced such a deep and genuine gratitude for the assistance World Vision, and by extension, we are providing.  Sook is no exception.  The celebration the school and the community held for us was so incredibly joy-filled.  We were treated to a wonderful feast of chapatti bread, beef stew, goat meat, rice, cooked cabbage and carrots, ugali … a type of feast reserved for the most important of guests and did we ever feel like it!  Head teachers, chiefs and assistant chiefs from all of the communities in Sook where World Vision worked, members of the Kenyan Ministry of Education, church leaders all came to celebrate with us, as a show of solidarity and of respect.  Even Evelyn, the head teacher from Tipet traveled to come to Chepunyal to be with us.

We were treated to Pokot traditional dance and song,

Traditional Pokot Dance

and to the St. Catherine girls celebrating their Pokot heritage along with CELEBRATING they were GIRLS and should be counted as equals with boys! 

Celebrating being girls!

The community invited the women in our group to join them in their dance and outfitted us in traditional Pokot ceremonial dress. 

Being adorned!

Adorned and Dancing! (Yes, we ARE jumping :-) )

They presented us with gifts of beaded necklaces and headdresses, jars of raw honey,

and for the men, traditional canes, stools and men’s costumes – all in a show of respect and gratitude for what had been done thusfar to enable them to have the opportunity for a better life.  

All the while, I was intensely mindful of the all people in Finland and in the US who were not there and who have given generously to World Vision in the past specifically for Sook – those who made the initial school, the advocacy against FGM and early marriage, the health interventions, the mosquito nets, the nutrition teaching, and so much more all possible by their giving.  I was also mindful of those that have now given to the Kenya Child Protection and Education Program, some of whom are reading this blog post, knowing this is one of the beneficiary areas.  I knew on that day we were ambassadors for many enablers and in that spirit received the gifts graciously.  I had the opportunity to address the community and the girls, and spoke of the many people who were not with us but that cared deeply for the children and people of Sook.  Everyone clapped in thanks!

What will the new Kenya Child Protection and Education Program fund for St. Catherine’s? 

The Kenya Child Protection and Education program will invest to expand and modernize St. Catherine’s, bringing it to current Kenyan education standards, with construction beginning in October.  Here’s what we’ll be funding:
1.  A new dormitory.  The existing dormitory will be augmented with a new dormitory which will alleviate the current overcrowding and provide a place for more girl-students.  The current dormitory is over capacity and some girls are living in one of the classrooms because there’s just no room for them in the current dorm.   With the new dorm, classroom capacity will be back to acceptable levels for the coming couple of years. 

Bricks for the dormitory drying in the sun

(The community is already contributing, making bricks for the dormitory and science laboratory.)


2.  A science laboratory.  Kenya education standards require physics, chemistry and biology curriculum and laboratory experiments.  Here’s a photo of the current laboratory

Current science lab

– totally insufficient for equipping the students with the necessary working knowledge of the sciences.  You’ll see in the upcoming post about St. Elizabeth’s Secondary School for Girls the twin laboratory we just commissioned as part of the trip and it will bring you hope
3.  A library – these children yearn to learn but don’t have access to the books they need to expand their minds to the possibilities of life. 

Current Library and School Supply Storage

Here’s a photo of the current library that also serves as a school supply room:


4.  A kitchen and dining hall
5.  2 staff houses – in order to attract quality teachers to these exceptionally remote areas, it’s very important to provide them with adequate housing as an incentive to come.
6.  The plan is to augment the current program budget and also install a computer lab so that these children are ready for the 21stcentury and can become significant contributors to their community and Kenya as a nation. 

In addition to the school modernization, this program will fund and focus on the all-important cultural and behavioral change necessary to significantly reduce the incidence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early/forced marriage. Sook is the area in Pokot that is held up by the Pokot people as the center for female genital mutilation.  Their ceremonies are renowned as exceptional.  While the incidence of FGM is dropping in Sook and attitudes are beginning to change about early and forced marriage, Sook in general remains an area strongly holding on to those old ways.  World Vision, the churches, the government leaders and the community leaders have a tremendous amount of work left to do to change culture and establish a safe, protective environment for the girls.   A modern secondary school for girls is a critical way to visually demonstrate to the community that girls are to be honored and held equal to boys.  As I mentioned already, providing families with an alternative to marriage for their older girls and giving them a means to invest in their girls through education is also a key component to providing a protective environment.  That said, while formal education and a proper school and learning environment provides the means for girls to stay in a safe school environment and continue their education, it’s critical to set up the right formal and informal systems that will permanently change behaviors and attitudes away from FGM and early and/or forced marriage.   In addition to the school building, the program will create and improve the channels for reporting abuse, and training will be held for law enforcement personnel, healthcare workers, teachers, and volunteers who handle and refer abuse cases. As this occurs, children and their families will receive the assistance they need, whether protective services, medical attention, legal support, or other aid to recover. Children will have access to psychosocial care and support reintegrating into their communities, including returning to school.  World Vision will also provide the parents in the community with education on the short and long term health risks of FGM and early marriage, teach them with proper parenting skills, create and empower community action committees, engage the local chiefs to support anti FGM and early marriage, teach the children in school their rights and about the dangers of FGM (boys and girls), and engage the local authorities to enforce the law of the land. 

The reality of rural road travel – a story of the CocaCola truck

With the celebration ending, our time in Sook was over and we needed to make the arduous 2-3 hour journey back to Kitale.  We were swept up once again in a procession with the girls back to our vehicles – tears were shed, hugs were given, promises to return were made.  The community, the girls, the amazing World Vision Sook staff firmly planted in our hearts. 

At the end of our time together

Along the way, we were ‘treated’ to a firsthand experience of the struggles of traveling in rural Kenya.  As we were heading down the one lane road, we came upon a CocaCola truck that was stuck, blocking all passage.  People were scurrying about trying to get this truck out.  Many in our traveling party joined in, digging under the tires and placing rocks for traction, unloading the fully loaded Coke truck to reduce the weight.  We were there for over 2 hours trying to help, but nothing was working.  Finally, our World Vision driver had had enough.  He figured out a way to go down and through the bush along the side of the road, past the CocaCola truck and get back onto the road so that we could continue our passage.  It was quite tense yet exciting to see him attempt this feat, and it was successful!  We waved our goodbyes to the people and continued on with our journey, arriving back at our hotel well past 9pm. 

We heard later that it took a full day to get the CocaCola truck out and the road open once again!

The girls at St. Catherine’s know they’ve been given a special chance in life.  They know that many are watching their progress and counting on some of them to be first to go on to college and university and truly demonstrate that the girl-child should be honored and cared for equally with boys.  Our visit firmly cemented this reality for them – I’m certain I don’t have a full appreciation for how encouraged the girls, the teachers, the parents, the church leaders, the government officials and the tribal chiefs were by our visit.  Change has indeed come – the outside world indeed cares.  To those who have given to this project, thank you SO much!  To those considering giving, please know you will be part of something quite special in changing the life and course of a girl in a profound way.

 

Next blog post:  our visit to St. Elizabeth’s Secondary School for Girls and Morphus Primary School – what started it all!

Posted in Kenya Girls | 8 Comments