International Day of the Girl Child: Brave Enough to Believe in Girls.

On International Day of the Girl Child, I want to highlight a girl who changed my life: Lilian Mnagei. If you’ve been a follower of this blog, you will see her referenced many times over the past 10 years, culminating in my blog about being invited to her wedding to James in December 2018. Meeting Lilian and the 34 girls at the Morphus Rescue Center changed my life in profound ways, and put me on the path to become a philanthropist, an advocate and an ally for gender equality, and to witness firsthand that it IS possible to end child marriage and FGM in a single generation.

I posted this article on LinkedIn today which summarizes the last 10 years – I hope you will take an opportunity to read it and watch the YouTube video and be encouraged by what’s possible:

If you want to join me and make a difference in eliminating child marriage and FGM in Kenya, and empower hope-filled futures, I hope you will check out our new non profit: Mekuno Project

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Changing Culture: Alternative Rite of Passage

Today, February 6th is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation UN International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation  It’s a day where the international community acknowledges and proclaims zero tolerance for female genital mutilation (FGM) – the harmful, discriminating, and violent practice affecting more than 200 million women and girls worldwide.

Here are a few facts to KNOW about FGM:
• FGM is most commonly practiced on girls between birth and age 15.
• FGM leads to long lasting health issues such as chronic urinary tract infections, birth complications and psychological trauma.
• FGM and early child marriage go hand in hand often resulting in girls having children much too soon and never having the opportunity to complete their education.

Societies do not improve, economic status does not increase, extreme poverty does not end until all people have the rights, access, opportunity and voice to realize their full potential. Through training and advocacy World Vision and other organizations are educating girls and boys, women and men to end FGM in their communities.

I have been a vocal advocate for the ending of this practice and a financial partner with World Vision’s Child Protection through Education project; investing to find a way forward to eliminate this retrogressive and brutal cultural practice so that girls hopes and dreams are not crushed and they have the opportunity to live life in its fullest.  One of the impactful program elements is an Alternative Rite of Passage, from childhood to adulthood that does NOT involve the cut.  The data now shows “In current project areas, long-standing beliefs are changing and harmful practices are being dislodged.  According to a 2015 project baseline survey, there is evidence that social norms around FGM are shifting: 92% of survey participants agreed that most people would like to see the practice of FGM/C stopped; and 84% agreed that most members of the community would accept Alternative Rights of Passage for girls instead of FGM.

In early December, I participated in an Alternative Rite of Passage graduation ceremony.  It was thrilling, in part because there were 350 girls AND 100 boys that participated in a week-long training ( Topics ARP, ) which culminated in the graduation ceremony and march.  Parents, teachers, community members, pastors, members of the Pokot tribe Council of Elders, “Papa Culture,” William Lopetakou and “Mama Culture” (my apologies, I don’t have her name) were there and led many of the activities, the area Member of Parliament and West Pokot County administrator and many more were all present as a vibrant demonstration that FGM/C will no longer be acceptable in this area.

We started with the march … to be caught up in the energy of 450 girls and boys, all of whom have found their voice and who are exercising their rights to proclaim that FGM has no place in their lives or in their culture is truly breathtaking!

The March

Next, there were cultural dances and songs, followed by parent and student speeches.  Two boys and two girls spoke.  The first boy (now young man) was so compelling.  He spoke of the students’ promise and the vision they had for themselves.  Part of the promise was this:  “we must go and run against FGM so that the girls have room to read like boys, and together we can transform West Pokot.”  Part of the vision was this:  “We will transform this nation and arise as men of substance and women of substance.”  If you have five minutes, you can list to his speech here:  Boy’s speech
You see, the boys know how important it is to “throw away” the retrogressive parts of their culture so that, as men and women, they can realize a bright future, empowered by education.

It was fantastic to have so many of the Pokot cultural elements incorporated into this last day, as there are so many wonderful aspects of the culture that will remain and thrive: song, dance, poetry, costume, community and so much more!

If you’d like to see all the photos of videos of the ARP Graduation Celebration, please go here:  Margo Photos: Alternative Rite of Passage Dec 2018 

World Vision’s Child Protection Through Education program is changing culture.  The Alternative Rite of Passage is one element of a comprehensive approach – and it’s working.  If you’d like to read more about the ARP, below is an article they wrote describing the ARPs in 2017 – it has vibrant imagery, introduces you to several key players and gives you a sense of the Pokot “ownership” to make this change:
2017 Alternative Rite of Passage

Here are two additional resources to help you understand the comprehensive program and approach:
Child Protection_Kenya_Report FY18 Annual
World Vision helps end FGM/C


Lastly, if you’d like to join me and financially support this project, here’s a link:  Donate: Kenya Child Protection Through Education

Thank you!

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Coming Full Circle

On December 8th, I had the honor to attend Lillian Mnagei’s wedding to Aprinong’ole James. Lilian was one of the girls I met in Kenya in 2009 at the Morphus Rescue Center – Lilian and another girl shared their stories that day, and my life was forever changed.

Lilian’s wedding was spectacular in so many ways: visually stunning; joy-filled every second for the bride and groom, as well as for everyone attending; Lilian and James in love with lives now brimming with the promise of a bright future together.

It was wonderful, however upon reflection the most spectacular aspect of the wedding for me was to witness the vast transformation in Lilian’s life: from an 11 year old girl, refusing and running away FROM an arranged, forced marriage to ‘an old man’ and the prerequisite of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting to now, as a 24 year old woman running TO a man of her own choosing; a man whom she loves and who loves and respects her “just as she is.”   WOWSA!

The photos below are of Lilian in the Morphus Primary Rescue Center in 2009, with an uncertain future; as a graduate of St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School in 2013; and as a new bride in Dec, 2018. I should also note that both James and Lilian have their college degrees, and Lilian has started a business! 😀


The opportunity for a life in all it’s fulness is what World Vision’s Kenya Child Protection through Education project is all about. Here’s living proof of it’s impact – may God be praised!

If you would like to enjoy the photos and a few short videos from Lilian’s wedding, here’s a link:  Lilian’s Wedding Photos and Videos


West Pokot Cultural Transformation:

Cultural transformation has come to a part of West Pokot, Kenya.  There are thousands of girls who are now completing primary school and going on to secondary school, not being forced to undergo FGM/C and an early, forced marriage.  Their lives are ahead of them, full of promise, potential and hope.  That’s what the World Vision Child Protection through Education project is really all about … helping the community transform and eliminate the brutal and harmful practices of FGM/C and early marriage so that girls have the opportunity to live life in it’s fulness.  Just like Lilian.

World Vision’s baseline data shows the progress being made where they do their work:   What a difference in 8 years!   92% of survey participants agreed that most people would like to see the practice of FGM/C stopped; and 84% agreed that most members of the community would accept Alternative Rights of Passage for girls instead of FGM.


West Pokot:  FGM Prevalence & World Vision Project areas

If you’d like to learn more, here is the latest project report, and the concept paper to expand this project to other locations in Kenya:
Child Protection_Kenya_Report FY18 Annual


If you’d like to donate for this project to expand, please click here:  World Vision Kenya Child Protection Project

If you work for Microsoft and would like to donate, please click here:  Microsoft GIVE site for Kenya Project

Thank you!





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My Next Chapter: The Kenya Dream

Today I retired from Microsoft after 17 years, putting a capstone on my high technology career that spanned 34 years.  Microsoft was an incredibly great place for me to work, learn, and grow!  Each of my roles presented significant business potential to unlock and the opportunity to discover unmet customer and partner needs.  I was given the empowerment to ‘dive in’ with all I had to open up new business and grow our existing business, to help customers and partners achieve more, and to make a difference in people’s lives in so many ways.  I will be forever grateful to the many people who I have learned from, for my mentors, for the opportunities I had, and for the blessing beyond measure to work side by side with so many fantastic people.  To all of you on my 34 year career journey, my deepest thank you!   As I reflect, likely the most important thing I learned in my career is this:  alone we can accomplish ‘some,’ but together we can accomplish vastly more – beyond our wildest imagination at times!  What’s required?  A shared vision, a growth mindset, combined with optimism and grit everyday.   I suspect, at some time in the future, I’ll post more about my learnings throughout my career.  But not today.

Today I’d like to share briefly about why I retired and what I’ll be doing.  Since 2009, I have been involved philanthropically with World Vision and the Child Protection through Education program in West Pokot, Kenya.  In the Pokot tribal culture, girls became child brides, married by age 12 or 13 generally to men much older and as a prerequisite for marriage, were subject to the brutal practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.  World Vision has learned that, by providing an alternative to early marriage and FGM/C (specifically by providing access to quality secondary education for girls) combined with community leadership endorsing cultural change along with comprehensive advocacy work with parents and boys, and the establishment of Alternative Rights of Passage, these retrogressive cultural practices can be greatly diminished in less than a generation.  :-)!   Here are a few of the proof points from the West Pokot project:

  • In communities where World Vision has been addressing FGM/C and child marriage, girls have stated that education is beginning to replace FGM/C as their new rite of passage to adulthood.
  • In current project areas, long-standing beliefs are changing and harmful practices are being dislodged: 92% of families believe FGM/C should end; and 84% of families believe in promoting Alternative Rites of Passage.
  • Importantly, community leaders took a stand for children’s rights, which created significant momentum for child protection initiatives across West Pokot.

Note:  Please read more about the specific outcomes for the West Pokot project in the FY18 Kenya Child Protection Semiannual Report posted below – the impacts have been far greater than I ever envisioned in 2009!

Why I retired – the Kenya Dream:  World Vision has a dream to build on the success of the program in West Pokot and take it to other FGM/C and child marriage hot spots in Kenya where they work to ultimately end these retrogressive practices so that every child, girl and boy, can live life in all it’s fullness.  I want to lean in to help them do just that.  It’s why I retired.

Consider this excerpt from the World Vision Kenya Project Concept paper:  Kenya Project Concept Final 

Together,  World Vision and the people of Kenya believe that every girl deserves a hopeful future, free of abuse, violence, and the harmful practices of female genital cutting (FGM/C) and child marriage. We have an ambitious vision: to create a sustainable, growing, ground-level movement leading to the end of FGM/C and child marriage in all of the Kenyan communities where we work. We see a future where educated girls and boys graduate onward and economically thrive, helping break the intergenerational cycle of poverty in their families.

Building on powerful and transforming successes achieved in the West Pokot region of Kenya, we will significantly expand our program to other FGM/C and child marriage hotspots. Working closely with community leaders and affected families, we will develop a foundation of proven results and, with the right partners, take our work country-wide. The direction in which this work leads has, as a further horizon, an end to FGM/C and child marriage in Kenya and beyond. 

How large could this project be?  The map below represents, in orange, the first phase of communities in which World Vision plans to bring the new integrated program to end FGM/C and child marriage. Their initial focus will be the communities of Sook, Orwa, Kegonga Ntimaru, Ilramatak, and Lorroki. The communities of Osiligi and Soin are included in this first phase as ‘stretch goals’, based on their relative need and state of preparedness. Other areas marked in gray are future sites waiting for funding during a country-wide scale-up.

The Kenya Map

What will I be doing in my retirement?  All of this takes financial support.  I’ve committed to World Vision to be a volunteer ‘ambassador’ to help them raise funds for this expanded project.  In transparency, I’ve made a substantial financial commitment because I believe in what World Vision is doing, the outcomes being delivered and the lives they’re changing.  To help World Vision raise funds, I’ll travel throughout the US to share the story at events and meetings,  and host webcasts reflecting on the transformation I’ve witnessed over the past 8 years (I’ve traveled to Kenya 11 times) as well as talk about what’s happening in the new communities where the work is beginning.  I suspect I’ll co-host trips to Kenya with donors and prospective donors so that people can see and experience firsthand the good, the difficulties, and the heart-breaking and meet the people involved driving to the change.  I’ll also keep this blog current, likely “tweet” and do other social media things (with the help of some friends!) 

How can you learn more? Please take a look at the full World Vision Kenya Project concept paper:  Kenya Project Concept Final  In addition, I posted the FY18 Semiannual report for the current project in West Pokot as well as the full FY17 report so you can review the numbers for yourself at the end of this post.

Also, follow me on this site or check back for updates!

What if I’d like to start financially giving now?  I’ve set up a giving site here:

  • Microsoft employees:  please note, there’s a special giving link for you on this site

In conclusion:  I am excited beyond words about this next chapter in my life.  I have put my life in God’s hands and am looking forward to continuing to walk where He leads!

Continue reading

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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