Fasten your seatbelts – the first impressions from Kenya!

Hi, everyone: I’m back in Nairobi after 4 fantastic days with World Vision in the field. I’ve thought long and hard about how to approach this first blog post, as there is SO much to share with you both factually and experientially. So, I’ve decided as my first post to share with you my real-time writing the second night I was out in the field with World Vision. There are one or two funny moments in this recounting, but more importantly I thought I would start with giving you a sense of how I experienced the experience so that you could get a real taste for life here. In a subsequent post or two, I’ll share more facts and information over the weekend and into early next week. I will also share photos, but I forgot the cord that connects my camera to my PC and my Samsung PC doesn’t have an SD slot, so I’ll have to share photos when I’m back in the US.  So, sit back, relax and enjoy this first post.

Before jumping into the actual post, let me briefly share where we were, and you can Bing

Where we traveled

map it and see the area for yourself. We flew into Lodwar, which is in Turkana, Kenya. It is about 300 miles north of Nairobi in the Rift Valley. We visited Lodwar, the Loima area, Kalapata, Lokichar and Lokori the first two days there. This is an area of the Turkana people. The Turkana people do not practice Female Genital Mutilation, but they widely practice early marriage. The next two days we spent in the Pokot area – the Pokot people do practice Female Genital Mutilation and early marriage. None of this post will talk about our visit to Pokot, so stay tuned for that and a lot more! So, here we go!

Written after supper, Oct 11th

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow … where do I start? The phrase “please come and see for yourself” simply does not do this experience justice. I will try to put my impressions and some of my feelings thusfar into words, but then please amplify your reaction to this at least 5-fold and it will come close to the impact of the experience.

Describing Turkana, the area we’re visiting, as dry is an understatement – it is a punishingly hot, semi-arid part of Kenya (yet this is one of the ‘cool’ times of the year.) It is comparable to our desert southwest … I kept thinking of Phoenix, Tucson (and the land in between them) and New Mexico today on a couple of dimensions: the first in terms of the climate and terrain and second in terms of how similar the hardness of life it today for Turkana people and how similar it possibly was for the earliest settlers in our semi-arid desert places in AZ and NM – struggling to find water, struggling to find some grazing land for their livestock and the conflicts amongst people that resulted. The World Vision staff described this area as the next frontier in Kenya. Another World Vision staff commented that she felt this area was more like Sudan than Kenya. There are camels here – yes camels! And they’re highly prized by the people.

We have driven long distances today, taking many hours over very rough dirt roads – my back certainly feels it!  I am exceptionally impressed with Charles, our driver. The “road” is super deep sandy in some places (we almost got stuck a time or two), deeply rutted in others. We’ve driven through dry gullies and riverbeds and over so many rocks. So far, we’ve had a flat tire each day! Leaving out of Lodwar, there was a tarmac road, however it was mostly crumbling so we spent our time driving on the rutted dirt, avoiding the crumbling asphalt where it was once placed :-). Charles is an amazing, skilled driver and at all times I felt safe while traveling.

As I write this, I am sitting on a single bed, leaning up against a concrete wall under the mosquito net over my bed, concrete floors underneath. I am SO thankful for the solar-powered electricity that is powering the light (created by a solar generator), sweating my face off because it is so hot and stifling, and fully knowing that this is a palace compared to how the people live in this area. At supper this evening, I drank a glass full of clean bottled water. As I held the full glass up to the light, the liquid shimmered. I then realized that what I was really holding was a glass full of gold. Water is so precious here, and there is so little of it. What does exist is sourced from dry riverbeds, where women and children dig down many feet to where the water ultimately seeps in. They collect it in a cup, poor it into jersey cans and then carry that dirty, untreated water in those containers, weighing 30–45 lbs many kilometers home. As we drove by one such dry riverbed, I saw a boy, probably 12-13 years old in one of these holes scooping out water – I could only see him from the mid-chest up to his head as he stood to pour the brown water into the container.

On one dimension, I have loved every minute of today – I feel so very alive and engaged to make a difference in the lives of the girls who live here. On another dimension, I am absolutely floored by the prevalence of early marriage in Turkana.

Often, girls are “booked” at the age of 10 to their future husband. Sometimes, the dowry payments start when the girl is 6 years old! She is married at 12 or 13. Girls/women age very quickly and die long before their time. They have children before their bodies are really ready, do not receive any professional prenatal care and are supported by traditional midwives. I heard one story where a midwife told a woman not to eat so she would have a physically smaller baby and therefore an easy pregnancy! There is so much illiteracy here, and so few schools and so few health facilities.  When there’s a complication due to pregnancy, the closest district hospital (which is OK but not great) is well over 50km away, so the girl/woman is essentially on her own.

We met with one of the communities in Kalapata today … I’d guess there were about 200 people there. We walked across a dry riverbed to get to this meeting and I got a firsthand feel for the sandy nature of the ground. Anyway, the meeting was held under a few trees on the bank of the dry riverbed. The community wanted to perform a dance and sing for us before we were to ‘meet,’ so the first performance was the men – and they invited the men in our group to join them. It was so fun to see them stomp in the dusty ground and dance with the men dancers. Then the women performed … and as they danced, they invited the women in our group to join (specifically it was me, and Carolyne Sigunda from World Vision who, by the way, is a real JEWEL!). The women surrounded us and the next thing I knew, these women were trying to pick me up. Physically. Off the ground. And they succeeded! So, there I was being literally carried around by these women who had my feet so that my legs were parallel to the ground, holding me up by my hind end and supporting my back – it was like I was sitting upright on their arms, while they were dancing and moving around. Never had anything like THAT happen before! I’m no small woman, and these women are not very tall, have zero fat because life is so hard, and as they were holding me up and I was balancing myself by holding them, I could feel their super strong, sinewy muscles. There are photos 🙂 and I will share them once I get them from the World Vision team.

World Vision is beginning to start up an effort to work in Kalapata over the long term. During the community meeting, one of the elder women spoke to us. She looked us in the eye and quite seriously talked about the difficulties the girls/women have during pregnancy, the lack of clean water and sustainable food and the lack of access to education. It was sobering – and then she asked for World Vision’s help for her community. She had heard of what World Vision had done in a neighboring area, Lokori, and she wanted that for her community too. Scenes like this give me hope and firm resolve that transformation of the lives of children and the community is absolutely possible through education and other interventions such as drilling bore holes for clean water.

Speaking of World Vision, I am massively impressed with the World Vision team that works in these areas. They make huge personal sacrifices to be away from their families to do their work in this region – and they do it because they feel called to do it. The Kalapata sub district is impossibly remote – there are 2 households for every 1sq kilometer. In this land of 1984sq km, there are over 23,000 people living here. Please don’t let the term ‘household’ confuse you into believing there is anything even remotely similar to the US definition of a house.  They live in huts, constructed of branches that are curved, so the entire structure at times looks like a giant softball with some stitching that runs right through the circumference. Some ‘houses’ have little a little ‘tip’ at the top – have no idea what that is for. When it rains, sometimes the people make mud and spread it over their huts – it then simply bakes in the sun and hardens the walls.

We visited a mixed primary school today and gave them some of the school supplies the team in the West Region SMS&P collected.  We talked with government and community officials.  We learned about the Laibon (I think the spelling is correct) – essentially a witch doctor in the community …. but, I can hardly keep my eyes open, so it’s time to sign off – I’ll write more on these experiences later … what a day!

About margoday

Making a difference in people’s lives at home and internationally is central to who I am. I have been deeply involved in funding the building secondary schools for vulnerable girls in Kenya and took a one-year personal leave of absence from Microsoft to focus my energies on raising funds and awareness for the Kenya Child Protection and Education Project, partnering with World Vision. This project is positively affecting 17,000 children in four areas in the North Rift Valley of Kenya by providing access to quality education, building schools, deepening community advocacy for the education of the girl child, and transforming community attitudes toward early marriage and harmful cultural practices. I've held posts as the former national co-chair for the World Vision National Leadership Council for Child Protection, Board of Advisors President for the Renton/Skyway Boys & Girls Club and past founding board member of SeeYourImpact.org. Professionally, I am vice president of U.S. Education for Microsoft Corp. I lead a team responsible for the U.S. Education strategy and sales to K–12 and higher education customers across the U.S. Through partnerships, programs and technology, Microsoft plays a significant role in helping institutions and educators transform learning that makes a real impact on educational outcomes and helps students realize their full potential. I have more than 31 years of experience in high-technology software sales, marketing, business development, and partner and channel management, and at Microsoft for the past 14 years holding previous roles of Vice President, West Region SMS&P and Vice President, US Partners. I was honored with the 2014 Circle of Excellence, Platinum Club Founders award , 2006 Microsoft Most Inspirational Woman award, and in 2012 was nominated for the Anita Borg Women of Vision Social Impact Award. I live in the Seattle area and enjoy backpacking, boating, cycling, scuba diving, skiing, golf, adventure travel and, when it’s rainy outside, attending concerts and theater as well as enjoying a great glass of wine.
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