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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
What I’d like to say to everyone reading this post:
You are about to experience the amazing gift of the lives of these young ladies – be prepared to be moved to action by the goodness, light, love, innovation, joy, faithfulness and their imagining of what the future can hold. They and the others that will follow are an important part of the fabric of the future of Kenya. If you have the opportunity, come alongside to partner or lend a helping hand. More broadly, be part of their dreams. And most importantly, lift them up in prayer that God’s will for their lives will be fulfilled. God’s speed young ladies.
If you’re interested to see more photos from the graduation ceremony including the performances, the beautiful cake and ‘feeding’ etc, here’s a link: http://1drv.ms/1t4u4Lg
For those reading who are existing mentors to one of these young ladies through the Global Giveback Circle, watch for an email from either me or Lizzie Lahey with a link to the individual graduation photos of the mentees. For those of you interested in becoming a mentor and/or provide financially (and we need you) please visit the Global Giveback Circle website at www.globalgivebackcircle.org to learn more or to submit an application http://www.globalgivebackcircle.org/get-involved/mentor-a-girl/.
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.