Education as the way forward: Part one – my resolve

So let’s talk about education.  As I spent time with the World Vision team in Turkana and Pokot last week, and had the opportunity to hear the current state of affairs shared by local government leaders and chiefs, education kept being discussed as a top priority.  In particular, all emphasized to need to educate ‘the girl-child.’  From my previous post, I shared the plight of the ‘girl-child’:  subject to early marriage (and pregnancy well before they’re ready) due to the dowry system that enriches the father, and female genital mutilation (FGM – Pokot specifically).  Honestly, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I thanked God a couple of times during this trip for sparing me from being born in this area.  (And, as a side comment, I’ve previously thanked Him for sparing me from being born prior to the mid 1900’s in the US 🙂 ).  And I also must admit that, while I was there
to see the education opportunities that we could fund, in the face of seeing the daily struggles for food and water of any kind by the people in Turkana, I started to question myself as to whether I had my priorities right and whether I should be more focused on the famine relief situation.

This this post is kind of a ‘mash up’ about what I learned , how I’ve processed it and whether I’m more less resolved to do all I can to spread the word about and raise funds for the Kenya Vulnerable Girls Education Project than when I boarded the flight to Kenya a couple of weeks ago.

Where we traveled

During our first day on the ground in Lodwar, the World Vision Regional team listed the
top priorities for Turkana in this order in our briefing:

  1. Education
  2. Food Security
  3. Water
  4. Health

I was initially surprised that education made the top of the list, as I saw the drought and heard of the famine relief in Kalapata and parts of Lokori. I was thinking education would be maybe #3 or #4.  But that’s why visits like this are so important: to really begin to understand and experience the complexities of poverty and have an open mind and heart to learn and see and discuss the issues with those that are on the ground in order to begin to glimpse what it takes for transformational change in lives of children.  As I’ve made my way home over the last 3 days, I’ve had quite a bit of time to reflect on my visit, whether sitting on two an airplane flights from Nairobi to London, and London to Boston for 10 and 9 hours respectively, or on my 6 hour flight from Boston back to Seattle.  Or waking up at odd hours of the night, many nights due to all the time zone changes – thinking,  thinking, processing, and thinking some more.  In a word, I’ve been able to ‘steep’ in the experience.  And I think I now understand at a deeper level why education is the way forward and why education of the girl-child is so critical and is rightfully prioritized so high.

There is a lot of existing research that shows the benefits when girls are educated in poor areas.  I’m trying to keep this blog reasonably short, so would encourage you to Bing “benefits of educating girls” to learn more – there’s some great resources.  For example,  The World Bank has a great site devoted to girls education:  http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTEDUCATION/0,,contentMDK:20298916~menuPK:617572~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:282386,00.html
and they offer the following assessment:    “The World Bank has recognized that there is no investment more effective for achieving development goals than educating girls.”  From a white paper on that site entitled ‘Getting to Equal:  Promoting Gender Equality through Human Development’, I share the following quote:  “Well-documented evidence shows that educating girls and women also yields significant social and health benefits. Educated women are more likely to send their daughters to school. Countries with higher levels of female secondary-school enrollment have lower infant mortality rates, lower fertility, lower rates of HIV and AIDS, and better child nutrition. More education reduces the rate of violence against women, enables them to leave abusive relationships, and empowers them to reject adverse cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation.”  Our  experience with St. Elizabeth’s Secondary School for Girls is certainly proving this true!

Here’s what I’ve now internalized based on all my thinking and processing from the experiences on this trip …. Bottom line – it’s about sustainable transformation now and over time.  It’s an investment for now and the future.

So first, I thought a lot about food insecurity and water and came to internalize the crucial role education plays … so much of Turkana and Pokot are still bound to retrogressive cultural practices (including early marriage and FGM which I touched on during my previous post).  In addition, 60% of Turkana is purely pastoral.  Livestock is everything to a pastoralist.  And just like in our “old west’, unfortunately the practice of rustling (literally) is alive and well.  Competing tribes will raid neighboring areas to steal their livestock, and at times killing heads of households trying to defend their herds from being taken.   It’s not a stretch to see why rustling attacks increase during periods of significant drought and famine, in order to replace precious livestock lost during current or previous droughts.  I’m conjecturing, but I also wonder if it’s also a way to add to their herds so they have more to offer by way of a dowry in the marriage arrangement for the girl-child.  Anyway, during part of the trip, we had a security escort as a precaution.  There were roads we would not travel on because attacks had been reported in previous days.  This insecurity is real.  Upwards of 300 men can be involved in a livestock rustling attack.  Taking away livestock means taking away milk, taking away meat from a family and
communities and if the head of the household is killed, it is devastating to the wives and children.

In addition to rustling, another reason for food insecurity is because the people hold on to a purely pastoral livelihood.  Through education, people could be taught to augment their pastoral practices to incorporate a little agriculture to supplement food stores.  Beyond boring wells and the larger water projects that divert a portion of river water to irrigate agricultural acreage, there is potential to educate in the use of simple water catchment techniques (e.g. capturing rainwater when the short or long rain comes), properly storing it and then efficiently using it to irrigate and grow drought resistant crops (like sorghum).
This simple application would empower more people to better feed themselves during times of drought.  (I’ve decided to do a separate blog post on drought vis-à-vis famine and some of the interventions World Vision has done in the large irrigation and water projects
in Turkana and Pokot that are amazing and show tremendous transformation.  If you’d like to get a head start on the read, please go here, http://www.wvafrica.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=472&Itemid=286 and read about the Morulem Irrigation Scheme in Lokori, Turkana.  We visited this, and it’s impressive!)

What about health?  During the trip, we talked about the health issues that result from poor sanitary practices and drinking dirty water – children and adults are just not educated on what to do differently.  For example, few boil the dirty water to kill viruses (like Typhoid or cholera) before consuming it.  96% of the households in Turkana do
not have a toilet, so people ‘go’ in the bush.  96%!  During the rains, human and animal excrement leech into the river and water sources, bringing and spreading disease in the
untreated water.  Boiling the water kills all that.  Here’s another one:  embracing the simple act of washing hands and faces.  For example, trachoma is very
prevalent in Turkana – totally preventable yet very evident.  The spread is due in large measure to poor personal hygiene and sanitation.  There is a lack of education on how easily the disease is spread from child to child, for example, through ocular discharges. Check out Wikipedia and search on Trachoma.  You’ll see the following paragraph:
Blinding endemic trachoma occurs in areas with poor personal and family hygiene. Many factors are indirectly linked to the presence of trachoma including lack of water, absence of latrines or toilets, poverty in general, flies, close proximity to cattle, crowding and so forth.[2][3] However, the final common pathway seems to be the presence of dirty faces in children that facilitates the frequent exchange of infected ocular discharge from one child’s face to another.   Without the educational awareness, what reason would you have to take the effort to wash hands and faces?  We saw children with trachoma and adults going blind from it.  It is so straightforward and commonplace to educate children in school about health and hygiene.  Additionally I talked a little bit in my first  post
about the health issues faced during pregnancy by the very young future mothers, and the prenatal ‘advice’ given from illiterate mid wives holding to ancient practices.  (The advice
given:  don’t eat much during pregnancy – that way, your baby will be small and you’ll have an easier birth … another example of the lack of education.)

I don’t want to come across as an expert, because I’m not.  But, we asked a ton of questions on this trip and my trip in May, and I listened intently to the discussions:  patterns became clear to me.  I must have taken over 20 pages of notes and have gone back and read and reread them a number of times before ever attempting this post. And now I’ve formed some HO’s (‘humble opinions’ for those that don’t know me well 🙂 ).

And what’s now clear to me is that the school is the beacon of education.  Education opens minds to new possibilities, it gives the skills for proper reasoning and problem solving, it provides practical knowledge that can be applied and it equips them with the knowledge and skills they need to realize their potential and to protect themselves from harm.  The children here need to go to school and be taught the basic skills like reading, math and the sciences so they can better prosper in the management of the resources they have as they grow, and find new income sources.  They need to be taught the basic knowledge of life skills, health and hygiene.  In school, they are!  They need to be taught how to problem solve and reason together.  Children, girls and boys, need to be taught the risks of early marriage and FGM and given the confidence to say “not now.”  They need to be exposed to new and different possibilities; of agriculture, of water management, of financial literacy to run a small business, of proper nutrition.  And they need to be allowed to stay in school
to just grow up and mature. These same schools can be leveraged to help educate
adults alike to build their capacity and capability  (in combination with community advocacy), and to address the portion of children that are right now growing up illiterate.  It’s just not feasible for an 11-year-old to start class 1 (first grade), so the classrooms can be used to provide basic adult literacy to ‘older’ kids outside of their daily duties.

Building schools will not alleviate the burdens of this area overnight; short-term food
distribution and nutritional supplementation will need to remain to address the
issues of famine today.  But education is a foundational and transformational element and as education takes hold, with the right level of deep advocacy in the community, combined with integrated interventions like water and sanitation initiatives and health education (e.g. bore holes for wells, diverting portions of rivers to irrigate crops, teaching water catchment practices, teaching basic hygiene, discussing alternative rights of passage into womanhood, teaching the health risks of FGM and Early Marriage), the community will evolve and with it the lives of children will transform.

There is a FANTASTIC video from the Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect – it powerfully
describes the role of education in the life of a 12-year-old girl – please take a look:  http://thegirleffect.org/video

And we can start now, to make a difference in the life of a girl, now.  There are children now that are hungry to learn.  There are parents now, challenging the cultural practices and sending their children to school.   With education firmly rooted, over time, the
community will evolve.  But, as you will see in the next post, the school environment and facilities have to be built or upgraded, more skilled and certified teachers need to come and teach, and alternatives to children walking 10+km a day, one way to school have to be put in place in order to provide the right environment for real learning to occur.

I’m more resolved than ever 🙂 .

(Next post:  Part 2, on to the practicalities)

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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2 Responses to Education as the way forward: Part one – my resolve

  1. David Yunger says:

    Awesome stuff, Margo! Thank you for sharing your adventures and for encouraging so many back home who are thrilled to see how God is using you in Kenya!
    -David

  2. Bill Davis says:

    My Friend, Margo, just got back from Kenya where she is devoting her energies…interest, skills, abilites…in the furtherance of a project for common good. Please take the time to read, compare it to your interest, skills, abilities…and then…and than…
    Livestrong & ARFF
    Bill

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