Through the words of Lilian

Friday night, April 17, 2015 I was honored to be the opening speaker for the World Vision For Every Child conference.  I shared the story of Kenya, how I was called there and all that I’ve been a witness to over the past five years.  But this talk was different from any I have ever done, because World Vision flew two very special people in from Kenya to join me:  Jackie Rioba, World Vision Kenya national office, and Lilian Mnagei.

Morphus Rescue Center Girls

Morphus Rescue Center Girls

Lilian was one of the original girls I met in 2009 and she made a profound impact on me then (and now).  Lilian was the lead singer for the group of rescue girls and you could tell had amazing leadership qualities at such a young age. She was 13 and had been living at the Morphus rescue center since she was 11.

Lilian shares her story

Lilian sharing her story

At the World Vision conference, Lilian shares her story and speaks about being 11 years old, and the decision she made only 3 days before the ritual of Female Genital Mutilation, where she and 6 others were destined to be circumcised in preparation for marriage to much older men in exchange for a dowry.  You’ll see her now, a graduate of St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School and a college student, studying medical health records and first aid.  You’ll see her as a confident young lady full of promise, wanting to make a difference, and so grateful for the support of so many.

I speak for the first 18 minutes, sharing how I was called, how others in the US became donors as well, and what has been built.  Jackie Rioba joins me on stage in minutes 18-30

Jackie Rioba, World Vision Kenya

Jackie Rioba, World Vision Kenya

and shares how the community has transformed away from these retrogressive practices, how the boys and men are supporting this change and the community has formed active community groups, and the alternative rites of passage that are now practiced. It’s a profound thing to hear from a Kenyan how this change is taking place in her own country and from someone who’s been part of it firsthand.  Then Lilian comes on stage at minute 30 to share her story.

I hope you will take 43 minutes out of your day, and be moved by what is being shared.

Here is a link to photos taken during and after our talk at the conference:

A friend of mine wrote the following to me just after viewing this video:

Although I’ve been following this story since its inception in 2008, nothing can compare to seeing and hearing the passion in your voice as well as the voices of Jackie and Lilian. God is truly working through you. And you know I don’t say that lightly.

I also hope you will go back to the event link and also listen to Rich Stearns, President World Vision US Closing Remarks where, in 6 minutes he does a phenomenal job wrapping up the evening and the principal that actions have consequences, so does inaction.

Let’s be people of action!

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


Two weeks ago, the girls at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School learned they improved their mean test scores almost one full point, from 4.862 to 5.725 – an AMAZING accomplishment in one year! Here’s a link to the video of them learning of the achievement!   (can’t post videos into WordPress.)

Girls celebrate as they hear the news!

Girls celebrate as they hear the news!

According to Caroline Menach, Principal St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School, the 2015 Form 4 class has set a minimum bar for themselves of another 1 point mean score improvement at minimum, and are shooting for a mean score of 9! “That’s my vision” she writes “that my girls will all graduate to the universities in the near future!

Grades by number of students (No of Students, and, Points swapped)

Grades by number of students (Points and No of Students swapped)

Kenya Grading System

Kenya Grading System

Mum, in Kenya we have Regular courses sponsored by the Government, mean the fees are affordable for those who meet the cut off grade of B-, 62 points, but for those that score C+ can go to universities of their choice but as self sponsored students, meaning their fees are triple!  If they join universities, then St. Elizabeth will send 11 girls!

This improvement in just one year shows the power that hope can provide, combined with great principals like Caroline Menach, school leaders and their boards, wonderful teachers and engaged parents who help these girls realize their full potential.

Girls 'mob' Caroline Menach in joy!

Girls ‘mob’ Caroline Menach in joy!

The Global Giveback Circle program is such a powerful compliment to the World Vision Child Protection through Education program (that has built St. Elizabeth and St. Catherine Girls Schools in West Pokot and led a significant and sustained advocacy program in the area.) The Global Giveback Circle program provides a way to help fund these deserving girls to go to college or university through contributions and mentorship by women in the US – tangible proof to a benefit that few ever dreamed possible 6 years ago when I first visited.  The girls are working hard and raising their scores because it means something so marvelous to do that!

Coming together in community

Marching and coming together in community

When I was watching the video, I also was struck by just how many girls were in it …. and thought back to the day I was there in 2009 – only God knew what He had in mind for me and now hundreds of girls after that visit. I rejoice to witness ALL He has done through World Vision and the caring adults in this area, how individual lives and the broader culture are changing, and how God’s love is being proclaimed in the area!

For more information about the Global Giveback Circle or to get involved, please visit

Microsoft employees:  Microsoft will match your time mentoring a girl with $25/hour – your time alone will bring a girl the funds needed to go to college – as of this writing, we’re looking for 71 mentors!

Posted in Kenya Girls | Leave a comment

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:

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 to learn more or to submit an application

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










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:   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 , , , , , , , | 4 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  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


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  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  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.
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