“Thank you” from the Head Teacher at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School

I received an email from Carolyn Menach, the head teacher  at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School.  Carolyn asked that I send her greetings and her appreciation to everyone who has given their time, talents and treasure to the Kenya Child Protection and Education project.  This blog is one way for me to ensure those that care stay connected to the people and the transformation happening in Kenya.  I decided to post her entire text, so you can ‘hear’ the thank you directly from her. (As you know, St. Elizabeth’s is part of the Kenya Child Protection and Education Program, where the original school is being expanded to accommodate even more girls when the new school year starts next month.  They refer to me ‘mama’ hence the greeting … )

 

Carolyn Menach, Head Teacher

Carolyn Menach, Head Teacher

Jambo Mama, Greetings in Jesus name.  I believe that you are fine with your family.  We are doing fine and we thank God for the gift of life that He has given us.  I wish to thank you sincerely for the sacrifice you are making for the Girl-Child in the third world countries, especially Kenya. The girls have found a Haven in you and am doing my best to ensure that your effort does not go to waste, But for the Girls to invest your efforts in their academics and  be able to give back to the society as better leaders of tomorrow.  May God bless you, Family (for supporting in your good course to lift up the less fortunate) and your Friends too for their continued support. I can’t name each one, but God knows them by their names and am sure He will bless each one of them. Greet them for me, and tell them we appreciate their Love for Our Girls. Thanks. Be blessed Mama

 

I’m sure you hear the responsibility and resolve Carolyn’s email, to ensure the investment being made ‘is not wasted.’  She is really, lovingly, driving the girls to high academic performance and to instill in them a culture of giving back to others as she builds tomorrow’s leaders.  This is so encouraging, and I can attest that each head teacher I’ve met in all of the project areas feels the exact same way.   In this note, Carolyn refers to the school as being a “Haven.”  When we were there in August, she was quite candid in saying (and I quote) “The life of a Pokot girl is hell.  This school is manna from heaven.”  We learned that Carolyn is a Pokot, so knows firsthand what she’s talking about.    Being a Head Teacher of a girls school has been Carolyn’s dream job, and at St. Elizabeth’s she, along with the girls, is realizing her dream.

On behalf of the girls in Kenya and the many adults there that are working tirelessly to make a way for girls to have a better life, THANK YOU!

If you or someone you know is interested in making a year end donation, please visit www.kenyagirls.seeyourimpact.org.

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I’m also including two links:  the first are the photos from our August trip to Kenya.  The second are the photos of the trip we took last October.  With these trips, we’ve now visited every area that will be a beneficiary of the Kenya Child Protection and Education project.  I tried to put captions on many photos so you’d know what you’re looking at.

Aug 2012:  Trip to Kenya http://sdrv.ms/VtVSVs (Sook:  St. Catherine’s and Tipet, Marich Pass:  St. Elizabeth, Matete)

Oct 2011:  Trip to Turkana, Kenya  http://sdrv.ms/TyUgYC  (This is where Kalapata and Lokori are, and are truly ‘before’ views)

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Day 2: Sook and St. Catherine’s Secondary School for Girls

This post attempts to bring to life for you the second day of our travels in Kenya, in Sook, to see the World Vision’s work there.

I had been hearing about Sook since May of last year (2011) –  it is only 26 miles from Chepareria (the ‘town’ where World Vision’s Marich Pass Integrated Program Area is based), and the location of St. Elizabeth Secondary School for Girls (our visit here will be the next blog post.)  When the World Vision team talked about Sook, they would do it with a knowing smile and glint in their eyes … imagine hearing “We should take Margo to Sook” and then have that sentence accompanied by that smile and glint.  They would proceed to tell me how arduous it was to travel there – it’s a 26 mile journey via a single-lane, dirt and rock road which traverses a fairly steep mountainous area.  This one lane road at times becomes blocked by mud and rock slides, has no guard rails and no road shoulder to speak of.  

The road to Sook

The drop offs the side of the road are steep and long at some points along the way.  So, the 44km trip can only be made in 4×4 vehicles and takes 2-3 hours.   The Catholic and Lutheran churches have been working in Sook for years (along with the African Gospel Church and I suspect several other churches) however no non-church affiliated NGO was working in the area until World Vision arrived fulltime in 2009.  Sook is inhabited by the Pokot people and female genital mutilation (FGM) and early/forced marriage are prevalent.  I had heard that the FGM ceremonies conducted in Sook were considered by the Pokot as some of the ‘finest.’  And so, when Sook was included as part of the Kenya Child Protection and Education Program, I knew I had to go to learn and understand firsthand what was happening, and how this program would make a difference (and take anyone else along with an adventuresome spirit that wanted the experience as well). 

Introduction and Background

The Sook division covers an area of 745,000 sq km (appx 450,000 sq mi), has a population of just over 22,000 people, and is situated in a beautiful, mountainous area with many hills and valleys.   It has an idyllic quality to it. 

Sook

The majority of the area is rough and lush green, but it also includes some semi-arid terrain along the Ugandan border (including Tipet – see previous post).   However, because it is so remote and difficult to get to, and because the former Kenyan constitution investment model was to invest in those areas where there would be significant return, little government investment had made its way to Sook in previous years.  (The Kenyan constitution changed in 2010 and will now invest in a more distributed way.) 

Map: Sook Division

World Vision began working in Sook as a remote outreach from Marich Pass in the mid 2000’s and established a full time staff and office there in 2009.  World Vision’s Sook Integrated Program Area (IPA) covers 5 locations and has 3 strategic programs:  Nutrition, Health/HIV AIDs, and now the Kenya Child Protection and Education Program.   The World Vision model is to come in to a community for 10 – 15 years, so the Sook program is in its first stages. 

Much has been accomplished in the short time World Vision has been working in Sook.  They have built significant relationships with chiefs, elders, local churches and authorities, and played a key role in bringing the Kenya Department of Education and Department of Health to partner with them to invest more heavily in Sook.   Severe and acute malnutrition is dropping in the area, as World Vision has focused its nutrition programs on children under 5 and lactating and pregnant mothers.  They have established over 200 kitchen vegetable gardens.  Because of the difficult terrain and remoteness of the area, their health initiative includes support for mobile health outreaches with comprehensive services such as curative services, deworming, malaria net distribution and education, breast feeding education and stressing the importance of immunizations.    I share this just to give you a flavor of how basic the work is currently because these communities have been underserved by their government for years. 

Sook Integrated Program Area:  Education improvements from 2009 to today:  As I mentioned, much has been accomplished to form a good foundation for the work now of the Kenya child Protection and Education program.  Here are some education statistics from 2009 to today:

  •       17.6% increase in child enrollment in school  (2012:  9,768 children:  5,107 Boys, 4,571 Girls)
  •       Number of Early Childhood Development centers:  from 39 to 53*
  •       Number of Primary Schools:  from 34 to 49*
  •       Academic performance increase in primary schools:   9% increase (from a mean of 253 to 276)

*It must be noted here, however, while there is an increase in the number of schools and ECD centers, there is a wide variability in the type of structure used, many of which are not conducive to highly effective learning – from classes under trees, to mud and stick classrooms, to a tin roof and four metal poles vs. proper cinder block structures.

The girl-child:  In terms of beginning the process to educate, change attitudes and provide a protective environment for the girl-child, the Sook ADP shared the following statistics when we were there:

  •       In partnership with Kenya Ministry of Education, 303 girls have been taught life skills to say NO to FGM and early marriage 
  •       17 girls have been rescued that were destined for FGM and early marriage and are currently enrolled in school

Now, on to our visit to Sook and St. Catherine’s Secondary School for Girls

After arriving from our visit to Tipet, we spent the night in Chepunyal,  near the World Vision Sook office, in facilities provided by the Catholic church (primarily used by visiting nuns and priests).   They provided us with a lovely dinner and breakfast; the rooms were clean and welcoming, furnished with a twin bed, sink, and a shared toilet and shower area.  

Teapot and cozy

The father and his staff engaged us in a fantastic conversation so we could learn about the area and what it’s like to live there – their hospitality was exceptional.   Right before going to bed, one of the sisters brought me boiling water in the largest teapot I’ve ever seen – it must have been at least 18” in diameter.  The water was to be blended with cold water in the morning for my shower.  The sister placed the hot teapot in a wicker basket outfitted with a tea cozy as insulation against the cold night.   I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more excellent ‘shower’ in my life – the teapot water was a perfect temperature in the morning and I gladly poured it over my head! 

St. Catherine’s is the only secondary school for girls in all of Sook.  Think about it – in a 450,000 sq mile area, it’s the only one.   That said, St. Catherine’s is a shining example of the progress this community is making to change its attitude towards the girl-child with respect to early and/or forced marriage and genital mutilation. 

St. Catherine’s Secondary School for Girls (spliced together photo)

The progress is also a testimony of the long suffering work of the Catholic church in the area (they’ve been working in Chepunyal for about 25 years, promoting as part of its ministry to value children, and girls equally with boys), and of the positive change that are brought about by a strong partnership with World Vision and the various Ministries of the Kenyan government (e.g. Ministry of Education).   The parish father who started the church 25 years ago dreamed of a day when there would be a secondary school for girls, and the current father is a teacher at St. Catherine’s.

The first classroom in 2009 – under a tree

St. Catherine’s Secondary School for Girls was established in 2009 with just 12 girls in Form 1 (equivalent to the US 9th grade), with classes conducted under a tree.  They call these first 12 girls the pioneers and truly they are.  Imagine for a moment being one of those first 12 girls … I’m sure they were excited by the opportunity to be the first ever in the area to go to secondary school – but, as pioneers, they were forging very new ground by not conforming to the centuries-old way for girls.  What bravery!   In 2010, the school population grew to 35 girls, however 40% were pregnant.  But in just two short years, the 2012 enrollment at St. Catherine’s now stands at 121 girls and the pregnancy rate has dropped to just about 1%.   

Providing educational facilities for girls is so powerful – it provides families with an alternative to the centuries-old practice of early/forced marriages and the early pregnancies that result before a girl’s body is truly ready to bear a child.   Attitudes towards girls are indeed changing in Sook! 

Arriving at St. Catherine’s, we were greeted by one of the most joy-filled, energizing welcoming’s I’ve ever experienced!  We all felt like royalty.  The girls of the school, the teachers and community leaders sang and danced their hearts out!  Smiles abounded as we were engulfed by girls and were swept up in their procession towards the school.  Along the way, we stopped and each of us was afforded the honor to plant a tree on the school grounds as an enduring symbol of our visit, and an enduring reminder to the girls that people in foreign lands care about them and their future.  

Planting a tree at St. Catherine’s Secondary School for Girls

The Head Teacher is a strong woman with a vision for the girls and this community.  In a very humble way, she proudly took us on a tour of the school, introduced us to the teachers, school board members and the local authorities. 

Head Teacher at St. Catherine’s Secondary School for Girls

It was easy to see she deeply loves the girls at the school in a protective, motherly kind of way – only wants the best for them and has high expectations with the standards of behavior and performance to match.  She knows she’s a role model for the girls, and in many ways is a pioneer herself.   She shared with us her vision and told of us the new curriculum around nutrition and computer training she was adding to augment the classwork the girls were required to complete.  St. Catherine’s is still a new school and the concept of educating girls past the 4th or 5th grade is still new in the community’s mind.  I’m trying to convey just how special this woman is – living in a culture where women and girls are still very marginalized, it is these early standard-bearers that establish the path for many to come afterwards.   I’m 53 years young, and remember the day when Title 9 became a reality in the US (I had just turned 13).  I have been so grateful through the course of my life and career for all of the women who went before me, that did the really hard work to break through for girls and women’s rights and forged a path for me to subsequently travel.  This head teacher at St. Catherine’s is one of those early leaders in the Kenyan context.  (Note:  unfortunately with all of the excitement and activity I forgot to write the head teacher’s name down!  I’ll get it and post it.)

Are you a circumcised girl? 

We had a fantastic opportunity to spend time with the girls at St. Catherine’s during a sudden and fierce rainstorm that temporarily suspended the community celebration at the school they had planned for us.  So, we all crowded into a single classroom and split ourselves up so we could talk with a small group of girls and get to know them better, learn what their lives were like, what their hopes and aspirations are, and answer any questions they had for us.  It was a treasured time.  Initially, my group of girls was quite reserved, not asking many questions – it must have been daunting to spend time with a foreigner in such a close setting.  So, to get the conversation started, I told them about where I lived, what the weather was like, how we had mountains as tall and even taller than their Mount Kenya.  I talked about having four seasons, comparing our four to their three seasons (short rains, long rains, and dry season).   I live in Seattle, and it was difficult for them to fathom that, during our winter (analogous to their long rains – especially in Seattle J), the average temperature was 7 – 8 degrees Celsius .  They thought I was kidding at first – how could anyone live where it was so cold?  (I didn’t tell them about North Dakota or Greeley, CO!)  As they got comfortable with me, the questions started coming – those that were really on their hearts.  The first question:  “If I go to tertiary school in Kenya, can I get a job in the United States?”   I took this question as a means for the girls seeking validation for how important their current education is and the doors of opportunity are opened if you score well enough to go on to college or university.   We talked about job opportunities in the US along with job opportunities with many international companies in Kenya and elsewhere.   Working at Microsoft, of course I had to ask if any of the girls had ever seen a computer, and to my surprise, some had.   They were excited to learn that we were planning for a computer lab as part of the new project we are raising funds for.  I asked some of the girls what they wanted to do when they grew up and the range of answers surprised me a bit: from doctors and nurses (including one girl who wants to be a pediatrician), to journalists and engineers, from police women to lawyers to policy makers – these girls were not shy about what they dreamed of in life.  As our time progressed, the girls were getting comfortable with me and quite literally the physical space between us continued to shrink.  Girls crowded around to hear and join the conversation; some sat on desks and leaned in over the shoulders of others. 

Then came the zinger question, the question which, to their core, they wanted to ask and finally had the courage and trust to do so:  Are you a circumcised girl?”  The space between us narrowed yet once again and I could feel their yearning to know and the anticipation of my answer. When I answered ‘no,’ many smiles broke out on the faces of these children – validation once again that the path they were on was a good and right one.  I also shared that circumcising girls was not done where I lived and most girls did not marry until they were in their 20’s or 30’s.   They then asked about rape – did that happen where I lived.  Wow, I thought – what lives had these girls lived and what had they seen and experienced?   I had to answer ‘yes’ and augmented that it wasn’t acceptable to rape, and told them of our police and prosecutors whose job it is to find and punish those that rape women and girls. 

With some of the biggest and most serious questions off their minds, the questions went to child-like curiosity – this one really surprised me:  “Do you have pets?”  Pets, I thought!  How did they know to ask about that? 

“I have 2 cats and they live inside my house!”

Anyway, I shared that I have 2 cats as pets and they live inside my house – the girls started laughing in disbelief and the laughter intensified as I added, “and at night, I let them sleep with me!” With that question, the rain had stopped and our time was up – all too soon for every one of us!  I asked if I could take their picture and many girls crowded in – when I turned the camera to show them the image on the LCD screen, squeals of delight and ‘there I am’ erupted!

As I’ve traveled in Kenya, I have experienced such a deep and genuine gratitude for the assistance World Vision, and by extension, we are providing.  Sook is no exception.  The celebration the school and the community held for us was so incredibly joy-filled.  We were treated to a wonderful feast of chapatti bread, beef stew, goat meat, rice, cooked cabbage and carrots, ugali … a type of feast reserved for the most important of guests and did we ever feel like it!  Head teachers, chiefs and assistant chiefs from all of the communities in Sook where World Vision worked, members of the Kenyan Ministry of Education, church leaders all came to celebrate with us, as a show of solidarity and of respect.  Even Evelyn, the head teacher from Tipet traveled to come to Chepunyal to be with us.

We were treated to Pokot traditional dance and song,

Traditional Pokot Dance

and to the St. Catherine girls celebrating their Pokot heritage along with CELEBRATING they were GIRLS and should be counted as equals with boys! 

Celebrating being girls!

The community invited the women in our group to join them in their dance and outfitted us in traditional Pokot ceremonial dress. 

Being adorned!

Adorned and Dancing! (Yes, we ARE jumping 🙂 )

They presented us with gifts of beaded necklaces and headdresses, jars of raw honey,

and for the men, traditional canes, stools and men’s costumes – all in a show of respect and gratitude for what had been done thusfar to enable them to have the opportunity for a better life.  

All the while, I was intensely mindful of the all people in Finland and in the US who were not there and who have given generously to World Vision in the past specifically for Sook – those who made the initial school, the advocacy against FGM and early marriage, the health interventions, the mosquito nets, the nutrition teaching, and so much more all possible by their giving.  I was also mindful of those that have now given to the Kenya Child Protection and Education Program, some of whom are reading this blog post, knowing this is one of the beneficiary areas.  I knew on that day we were ambassadors for many enablers and in that spirit received the gifts graciously.  I had the opportunity to address the community and the girls, and spoke of the many people who were not with us but that cared deeply for the children and people of Sook.  Everyone clapped in thanks!

What will the new Kenya Child Protection and Education Program fund for St. Catherine’s? 

The Kenya Child Protection and Education program will invest to expand and modernize St. Catherine’s, bringing it to current Kenyan education standards, with construction beginning in October.  Here’s what we’ll be funding:
1.  A new dormitory.  The existing dormitory will be augmented with a new dormitory which will alleviate the current overcrowding and provide a place for more girl-students.  The current dormitory is over capacity and some girls are living in one of the classrooms because there’s just no room for them in the current dorm.   With the new dorm, classroom capacity will be back to acceptable levels for the coming couple of years. 

Bricks for the dormitory drying in the sun

(The community is already contributing, making bricks for the dormitory and science laboratory.)


2.  A science laboratory.  Kenya education standards require physics, chemistry and biology curriculum and laboratory experiments.  Here’s a photo of the current laboratory

Current science lab

– totally insufficient for equipping the students with the necessary working knowledge of the sciences.  You’ll see in the upcoming post about St. Elizabeth’s Secondary School for Girls the twin laboratory we just commissioned as part of the trip and it will bring you hope
3.  A library – these children yearn to learn but don’t have access to the books they need to expand their minds to the possibilities of life. 

Current Library and School Supply Storage

Here’s a photo of the current library that also serves as a school supply room:


4.  A kitchen and dining hall
5.  2 staff houses – in order to attract quality teachers to these exceptionally remote areas, it’s very important to provide them with adequate housing as an incentive to come.
6.  The plan is to augment the current program budget and also install a computer lab so that these children are ready for the 21stcentury and can become significant contributors to their community and Kenya as a nation. 

In addition to the school modernization, this program will fund and focus on the all-important cultural and behavioral change necessary to significantly reduce the incidence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early/forced marriage. Sook is the area in Pokot that is held up by the Pokot people as the center for female genital mutilation.  Their ceremonies are renowned as exceptional.  While the incidence of FGM is dropping in Sook and attitudes are beginning to change about early and forced marriage, Sook in general remains an area strongly holding on to those old ways.  World Vision, the churches, the government leaders and the community leaders have a tremendous amount of work left to do to change culture and establish a safe, protective environment for the girls.   A modern secondary school for girls is a critical way to visually demonstrate to the community that girls are to be honored and held equal to boys.  As I mentioned already, providing families with an alternative to marriage for their older girls and giving them a means to invest in their girls through education is also a key component to providing a protective environment.  That said, while formal education and a proper school and learning environment provides the means for girls to stay in a safe school environment and continue their education, it’s critical to set up the right formal and informal systems that will permanently change behaviors and attitudes away from FGM and early and/or forced marriage.   In addition to the school building, the program will create and improve the channels for reporting abuse, and training will be held for law enforcement personnel, healthcare workers, teachers, and volunteers who handle and refer abuse cases. As this occurs, children and their families will receive the assistance they need, whether protective services, medical attention, legal support, or other aid to recover. Children will have access to psychosocial care and support reintegrating into their communities, including returning to school.  World Vision will also provide the parents in the community with education on the short and long term health risks of FGM and early marriage, teach them with proper parenting skills, create and empower community action committees, engage the local chiefs to support anti FGM and early marriage, teach the children in school their rights and about the dangers of FGM (boys and girls), and engage the local authorities to enforce the law of the land. 

The reality of rural road travel – a story of the CocaCola truck

With the celebration ending, our time in Sook was over and we needed to make the arduous 2-3 hour journey back to Kitale.  We were swept up once again in a procession with the girls back to our vehicles – tears were shed, hugs were given, promises to return were made.  The community, the girls, the amazing World Vision Sook staff firmly planted in our hearts. 

At the end of our time together

Along the way, we were ‘treated’ to a firsthand experience of the struggles of traveling in rural Kenya.  As we were heading down the one lane road, we came upon a CocaCola truck that was stuck, blocking all passage.  People were scurrying about trying to get this truck out.  Many in our traveling party joined in, digging under the tires and placing rocks for traction, unloading the fully loaded Coke truck to reduce the weight.  We were there for over 2 hours trying to help, but nothing was working.  Finally, our World Vision driver had had enough.  He figured out a way to go down and through the bush along the side of the road, past the CocaCola truck and get back onto the road so that we could continue our passage.  It was quite tense yet exciting to see him attempt this feat, and it was successful!  We waved our goodbyes to the people and continued on with our journey, arriving back at our hotel well past 9pm. 

We heard later that it took a full day to get the CocaCola truck out and the road open once again!

The girls at St. Catherine’s know they’ve been given a special chance in life.  They know that many are watching their progress and counting on some of them to be first to go on to college and university and truly demonstrate that the girl-child should be honored and cared for equally with boys.  Our visit firmly cemented this reality for them – I’m certain I don’t have a full appreciation for how encouraged the girls, the teachers, the parents, the church leaders, the government officials and the tribal chiefs were by our visit.  Change has indeed come – the outside world indeed cares.  To those who have given to this project, thank you SO much!  To those considering giving, please know you will be part of something quite special in changing the life and course of a girl in a profound way.

 

Next blog post:  our visit to St. Elizabeth’s Secondary School for Girls and Morphus Primary School – what started it all!

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“Our dreams are now starting” A story of Tipet, Kenya

This is my first blog post of my first day in the field with World Vision in Kenya, to Tipet, a village in the Sook division, on Sunday August 5th.   This post is a little long, but I hope you take the time to read it – I believe you’ll be inspired by the people there and by the work we’re funding as part of the Kenya Child Protection and Education Program.  I certainly was touched and changed by my experience there!

Our dreams are now starting

Tipet is a story about people who waited for no one, about people who had a vision of a future better than their current-day reality, about a community that began on that journey before anyone came alongside to help.   It is a story of determination, innovation, and of some women going far above and beyond what anyone might expect in this harsh place, in order to make a difference.  Tipet is about community leadership open to exploring change, and now about how World Vision, the Kenyan government and the churches are coming along side to help bring a better life.

Here’s what I’ve learned about Tipet in the Sook division of Kenya.  First, by all measures, it was a forgotten place;  forgotten by the Kenyan government and virtually unknown by the outside world – a place where no roads led in to or out of the community.  Tipet had no school or trained teacher;  where none of the most basic modern services exists and, because of its isolation, where  some thought the current president was the man that held that office 10 years prior.   Tipet faced many challenges, one of the most significant of which was malaria that would claim many children’s lives.  When a chlld dies, they talk in terms of taking that child ‘to the bush.’  I heard, while there, that the people in Tipet had taken close to half of their children ‘to the bush’ before World Vision came*.   There are many crocodiles in the river waters just beyond the community.  I saw a photo of one crocodile the community had killed because the croc had killed and partially eaten one of their children.   They wanted to show me where they had taken that child ‘to the bush.’  Fortunately I was spared that sight by a World Vision team member who led me away.  Tipet was a place where less than 2 years ago, children (and most adults) had never seen a car.   In fact, the children used to run away in fear of the vehicle after ever so cautiously touching it!

Map of the approximate location of Tipet

I was in Tipet on Sunday, August 5th 2012, and was also the first white person who had ever visited them*.   What an honor and an experience!

*This blog is of my recollections of Tipet.  It is about what I learned during one day being there.   This blog post is, therefore, incomplete and is certain to have some inaccuracies although I’ve tried my best to learn about and clarify what I heard and saw.  And in this post, I can only scratch this surface of what it’s really like to live there. 

Background

World Vision started working in Tipet less than two years ago, and in the broader Sook division full time 4 years ago.  (I will write more about the World Vision’s work in Sook in my next blog post.)   Their work to date is nothing short of amazing.  After beginning to work in the town of Chepunyal (Sook Division) the World Vision team had heard of a community deep in the bush and they sought to find them.  The road leading to where the community was thought to be is a grueling 2 1/2 hour trek/drive over an exceptionally rough ground.  Then the road ended.  But that didn’t matter, as the World Vision team walked the remaining 5 km in this hot, difficult, semi-arid land and they found the community of Tipet.  It took some time to build a trusting relationship with the tribal chief and community leaders, and World Vision trekked there weekly – ultimately, they succeeded.  World Vision sat with the leaders and heard their issues and hopes for their future.  One of the first major issues was the prevalence of malaria.  Tipet is situated on a river approximately 20km upstream from the Turkwel Dam which was built in the 1980’s.  When the rain and waters are high, the water backs up from the dam and causes the river behind the dam to grow significantly, spreading out and swamping Tipet’s crops … and bringing with it high mosquito infestation.  One of the first interventions World Vision did for this community was to provide treated mosquito nets.  The people gladly accepted the nets and have reported the incidence of malaria and malaria-related deaths have dropped to virtually zero.  They’re thrilled!   World Vision has just done a story on this malaria intervention that I will post for you to read.

World Vision also brought and introduced the Kenyan Department of Education and the Department of Health to this community.  Because of the trust World Vision had developed, the community received them, and In partnership, they all began to work together and partnering with the churches to begin delivering on the agreed-to development plan.  For example, just less than 3 months ago, people received their first-ever deworming and immunizations!

In an astounding act, the community cleared a roadway by hand over 5km to link the established ‘road’ with a track so that vehicles could travel directly into the community.  Being there, I couldn’t believe how much work they did by hand,  In my mind it is demonstrable of the partnership and the desire to transform.

On to the visit, Sunday August 5th

The World Vision team was excited to take me to Tipet to visit this unique community, and so we set off on the roughest drive I’ve ever had in my life (and I’ve been on some rough ones!).  2 ½ hours of bouncing over rocks, descending into dry river beds and then up the other side (always in the lowest of gears), driving over rough ground, around trees and bushes.   Candidly, I loved it – it was a great adventure!

The Roads to Tipet

We arrived in the community to an enormous celebration.  The occasion was to dedicate a single classroom that World Vision had just completed building – more on that and how the child protection and education program will augment this first classroom block in a few paragraphs.  World Vision had prepared the community the week before, sharing with them that a white woman would be joining the celebration, and had spoken with the children so they wouldn’t be afraid to see such a sight.  That said, the children were tentative, and I did my best to smile at all times and the children warmed up a bit as the visit progressed J.

I’ve written all of the previous text to give you a flavor of this place and would like to use it now to underscore the work of two remarkable, remarkable women and of a community that is embracing change, and may I daresay proactively driving for it, in a place that has been so isolated for such a long time.

Please allow me to introduce to you Evelyn.  Evelyn is a true visionary.  She is the most educated woman in the community – she has completed the third grade.

Evelyn – a true visionary and first teacher at Tipet

What Evelyn lacked in formal education she made up for and more with a tremendous vision, passion and perseverance to bring education to the forgotten place of Tipet.  Evelyn petitioned the chiefs and community leaders to allow her to teach the children there.  Evelyn knew education would ultimately bring prosperity and a better life for her community.   So, she began teaching the children under a tree – not equipped and not trained to do so, but if not her, who?  This is a hot, semi-arid place so as the sun moved, so did the ‘classroom’, seeking the shady side of the tree.   The children’s seats were rocks.  Evelyn taught the children to the best of her ability, and knew there had to be a better way and more should be made available to them.

Current Primary School and ECD Classrooms

More and more children were coming to go to school.  Once introduced to the Department of Education authorities by World Vision, Evelyn and the tribal chief and leaders requested the government provide a certified teacher to lead the children’s education – and they agreed.   Additionally, World Vision agreed to construct an initial single classroom block in order to get the youngest children out of the sun and elements and into a proper learning environment.

Single classroom block constructed by World Vision Kenya, commissioned August 5, 2012

World Vision also knew that Tipet would become one of the communities that would  benefit from the World Vision Kenya Child Protection and Education Program … more on this in a bit.

The construction of the single classroom began and a new head teacher was posted by the government.  Her name is Selena.  I have no idea what must have been running through Selena’s mind as she traveled to such a remote place, but what I have found is that personal sacrifice by many head teachers in Kenya is common.  These head teachers are incredible people and Selena is no exception.  She is a natural leader and she embodies the phrase ‘teaching is more than a job – it’s a calling.’  When Selena arrived in the community, the only home she was provided was the classroom World Vision was constructing.  Imagine arriving to find an unfinished classroom with only walls, no door, no roof and that would be your temporary home.  Evelyn decided she had to be strong, otherwise she would be known as weak and fall prey to any number of dangers.  So she decided, in her words, “to walk like a man.”

Selena – an amazing woman, strong leader and head teacher at Tipet
Selena’s new house!

The classroom was completed and the women in the community proactively decided to build Selena a house of her own.  She was excited to show me her home and as we approached, she exclaimed “I love my new house!”   While the school was being constructed, her house was used to store the few school supplies they had.

Selena also brought new thoughts and innovations which would help the broader community learn new agricultural techniques and discover the crops that would grow best in the soils there.  Tipet is mostly pastoral, relying heavily on their livestock.   Growing suitable crops would reduce their reliance on just their livestock and address issues of food security in the bad times that surely come.  Selena established an experimental garden, growing sorghum, maize, pumpkin and a whole variety of different foods and vegetables – it’s so great to see innovation and creativity at work!   She uses this garden to teach agriculture to the children in school, all the while experimenting to see what works best – she also teaches the community – true shared learning!

Experimental gardens: mazie, sorghum, pumpkin, all kinds of vegetables
Let’s see what grows the best in these soils

Does the visitor eat camel?

When we arrived on August 5, the community was eagerly awaiting our arrival and the arrival of a number of other dignitaries from the government and churches – this was a big deal and I suspect was the largest gathering of ‘outsiders’ the community had ever experienced.  Several hundred community members came for the commissioning ceremony.

Community gathering

World Vision had consulted with community leaders in for the various commissioning ceremony and celebration preparations, and at one point the excitement was running so high that the leaders decided they would slaughter a camel for the celebration.  (A huge honor – camels are highly prized and very expensive.)    Then came the inevitable question, knowing there would be a white woman attending the ceremony:  ‘Does the visitor eat camel?’  Not knowing the answer, they decided to slaughter a cow instead J (which is still a high honor and demonstrates the importance the community placed on the classroom)!

 

Before you came there was only darkness, now there’s light

There was so much joy and happiness as Thomas Okollah, the World Vision Rift Valley Sub Branch Manager officially opened the classroom, and then announced that World Vision would construct an additional 8 classrooms, an admin building and 6 latrines.  (This is the hardware investment of the Kenya Child Protection and Education program).

Thomas Okollah, World Vision Sub Branch Manager, Rift Valley commissioning the first classroom block for the Tipet community

WOW – Tipet is now getting a proper primary school, the government is promising to provide additional certified teachers, the church is adding some structures and some additional support.  This means that all of the children will have a proper learning environment!   Currently there are 240 children attending the bush primary school, with many more to come.   The leaders of the community were very proactive to comment that before World Vision came “there was only darkness – now there’s light!’  The light of education, the light of mosquito nets, the light of health.

But more light is destined to come to this community.   This goes far beyond just building a proper school for children – you see, the people in Tipet are of the Pokot tribe and culturally embrace the practices of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Early (and sometimes forced) Marriage.    While formal education and a proper school and learning environment provides the means for girls to stay in a safe school environment and continue their education, it’s critical to set up the right formal and informal systems that will permanently change behaviors and attitudes away from FGM and Early Marriage – to bring this topic to “light” vs. having it buried as one of the community’s secrets.  As part of the Kenya Child Protection and Education Program, in addition to the school building, World Vision will also provide the parents in the community with education on the long term health risks of FGM and early marriage, provide them with proper parenting skills, create and empower community action committees, engage the local chiefs to support anti FGM and early marriage, teach the children in school their rights and about the dangers of FGM (boys and girls), and engage the local authorities to enforce the law of the land.

During the ceremony, the chief and leaders all said they were against FGM and early marriage, however actions speak louder than words, and their actions will be the bell weather for how far this community will change in their attitude towards the girl-child in the coming months and years.  Behavior change takes time, however the World Vision staff is very bullish that over the next 3 years, this community will undergo significant change for the good.

After our sumptuous meal, were treated to a wonderful traditional dance and singing celebration by the children of the school.  While I didn’t understand much of it, the joy and purpose was evident.  That said, one of the songs the girls sang was to the fathers of the community and it had the following them:  “Father, please don’t marry me early.”  The children clearly are already finding their voice!

TIpet children singing “Father, please don’t marry me early”

I brought with me about 50 lbs of school supplies and solar-powered lanterns and lamps that we presented to the community, which also underscored that light is coming to this place.

Bringing school supplies and solar-powered lanterns and flashlights

In one final expression of gratitude, Winnie (the World Vision ADP Manager) and I were quite literally dressed by the community in traditional Pokot celebration costume.  It’s an amazing experience to be taken into a private room and be surrounded by many women who proceed to dress and adorn you  – here’s the result!

Adorned by the community in an expression of gratitude

I so look forward to returning to Tipet next year to meet again with the chief, leaders, Evelyn and Selena and witness the changes that have already taken place.

(Coming post:  Sook and St. Catherine’s Secondary School)

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Trip to Kenya – Quick Brief

Hi, everyone!  As many of you know, I’ve spent the last 10 days in Kenya, arriving August 1st and departing this morning (Aug 10).  Tonight is the first I’ve had internet access in a week, so thought I’d write a quick post to give you a flavor of our trip.  It’s been an amazing time, and I’ve had little sleep so I’ll be brief now (time to head to bed :-)), and I’ll blog in more detail and include pictures over the coming days as I have internet access and a few moments (I’m still in Africa, Zambia tonight).

We’ve had an absolutely outstanding, fantastic, great, wonderful trip to Kenya.  Everyone who went has been touched so profoundly by the children we’ve met, the communities we’ve interacted with, and the hearts of the World Vision staff in country.  We’ve danced, sang, laughed and cried for joy, driven on MANY rough dirt roads, stayed up late, gotten up way too early and wouldn’t have changed a moment.  We brought many school supplies and solar-powered lanterns, were showered with gifts from communities when they could ill afford to do so, but the heart and generosity of the people of Kenya is so huge and they love to express their gratitude.  We participated in commissioning beautiful new classrooms in two different schools, commissioned the brand new science lab and computer lab at St. Elizabeth’s all with great celebration – and conversely in another location spent time with 78 children under 5 years old sitting on a floor smeared with a mixture of cow dung and dirt so that the jiggers couldn’t get through and burrow into their feet and legs.  This classroom was in a mud and branch walled school structure with a leaking roof made from used tin (this is one of the places we will construct a 2 modern classroom Early Childhood Development center in the next 6 months).   We’ve seen communities rejoice over new latrines and have heard of people walking over 5km to use them!  I have over 700 photos and a bunch of video, so will pull out the ‘best of the best’ and share those as well.

I also am so excited to also share my outstanding visit with the World Vision Kenya National Office on Thursday Aug 2nd in Nairobi.  the very best part of that day was the wonderful lunch meeting I had with the World Vision Kenya Deputy Country Director, Pauline. Pauline was sharing with me how personally excited she is about the Kenya Child Protection and Education program for two reasons: the first beause of how transformational it will be for 17,000 children in the North Rift Valley of Kenya. The second is the reason I couldn’t sleep that night and was up past 3am I was so excited … World Vision Kenya has a strategic goal to bring education to 2 million of the most vulnerable children in Kenya. This project will play an important role as World Vision Kenya seeks to partner with other commercial partners, other NGOs, and the government to fulfill that broad vision. This project gives World Vision something to bring to the table as a demonstration of their investment and seriousness of their goal, as they ask other partners for appropriate resources in order to achieve the 2 million vulnerable children education goal. I’m still just getting my mind wrapped around this one, but clearly this is a huge testimony for the work we’re part of funding!  Also on that day, I had a very productive conversation with the Kenyan National Child Rights Specialist and her supervisor, who also looks after education, health, nutrition, HIV/AIDs – it’s amazing how well integrated this program is with other work World Vision is doing – WV Kenya really has put some fantastic thought in to the child protection aspect as a great compliment to the school building/expansion.

So, much more to share about our experiences on the trip, where we went and what we experienced in more detail, but for now, i hope this brings you a bit of the joy we felt and encourages you that we are part of something quite wonderful that is so impactful and transformational for the children in the North Rift Valley of Kenya!

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The Next Chapter Has Begun!

…  and we’re on our way to making a significant difference for 17,000 children in Kenya’s North Rift Valley!   World Vision is expanding the Kenya Child Protection and Education Program to 5 areas in the North Rift Valley of Kenya, with a goal to significantly reduce the incidence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and/or Early Marriage which are prevalent.  Because education is at the core of this transformation, World Vision has decided to forward fund all the money necessary to begin all primary and secondary school classroom and facility construction.   That’s over $2 million dollars!  As a result, ground is being broken right now, in July and August in Marich Pass, Sook, Lokori, and Kalapata.  The construction for the early childhood development centers in Matete will begin in FY 2014.   (See charts below for areas and construction plans)

Program Summary:

The Kenya Child Protection and Education Program is about transformation and hope for  17,000 children in Kenya’s North Rift Valley.  Education is at the center of this transformation. Through the program 38 classrooms, 5 dormitories, 4 libraries, 8 teacher/staff houses, 1 science lab, 5 dining halls, 12 latrines, 3 admin blocks and 1 leadership hall will be built to expand access to quality education from early childhood development through secondary school and equip government ministries, parents, civil society groups, local and international organizations.   The education component will be complimented by extensive systems work to transform attitudes and practices to reduce the incidence of FGM and early marriage, improve girl-child completion rates for primary and secondary school and expand restorative care when children have been abused, and community members to fulfill obligations to keep children safe and cared for.   In cases where girls have already been sexually abused, our interventions will create access to psychosocial support for them to recover. The program also will help children receive legal services to support them following serious cases of child abuse. The Kenya Child Protection Program will invest in school dormitories to provide safe access to school for girls highly vulnerable to abuse in their home environment.  At the core, the program’s aim is to transform communities and build a protective environment for children so the practices of female genital mutilation and early marriage are prevented and abused children are restored to family and community life.

Funding needed (total):  $4.8 million over 4 years

Below is a chart of the construction plans, by area and school:

Along with several other donors, I will be visiting Marich Pass, Sook, and Matete August 4-9th!  I will be posting my trip reports and experiences throughout August.

If you’d like to read, in detail, the program proposal, you’ll find it here:  http://sdrv.ms/MtQ099   (There’s a 17 page detailed proposal and a 2 page executive summary)

If you’d like to join to make a difference, please consider making a donation at the following site:  www.kenyagirls.seeyourimpact.org.  Or, if you work at Microsoft, you may use the tool at http://give.  Please designate World Vision International as the charity, and type “Kenya Girls” in the Purpose field.

I look forward to updating you on my travels with my next post from Kenya!

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Thank goodness for sweat!

Thank goodness for sweat!

I was at indoor cycling class the other day – it is a fantastic and challenging workout taught by Janelle, a terrific instructor, who is both incredibly encouraging yet tough at the same time.  In her class, you achieve more than you ever dreamed possible and, as a result, are motivated to train harder.  One of her favorite expressions goes something like this:  “if you have any pain in your joints, take care of your body … if you don’t, then it’s time to get to work!”   She’s serious, but says it with a smile.  Her classes are always full because people respect who she is and how she teaches, and flock to work out with her. Hopefully, this gives you a sense of what it’s like in her class.

So, it’s Friday morning and we’ve been working out, hard, for 40 minutes.  I’m almost spent, and now it’s time for the hardest ‘climb’ of the day – a 6 minute, exceptionally steep hill climb with no breaks and the occasional extra ‘push.’  An instrumental remix of the chorus in “Life in a northern town” starts to play.  Many of you know it … “Ah hey oh ma ma ma hey, Ah hey oh ma ma ma hey.”  The steel drums are playing in this rendition – the performers are harmonizing the chorus beautifully, “ah hey oh ma ma hey …”   Janelle is encouraging us – asking us to celebrate the fact we’re healthy enough to work hard like this; reminding us there are people who would exchange places with us in a heartbeat, if they could only be as healthy.  Sweat is pouring off my face, I’m so in the moment.  I hear the steel drums and the beautiful singing … and suddenly I’m transported in my mind to Africa – to Kenya.  I hear the girls at St. Elizabeth Secondary School singing, celebrating they have a REAL chance at a better life, celebrating they already are in a position to make a difference in their community and with girls younger than they … celebrating life, celebrating hope!  Tears of joy start running down my face “Ah hey oh ma ma ma heh. ”  I am overcome and am rejoicing with the girls, rejoicing in their hope!  Then I realize I’m back in indoor cycling class, my tears mixing with the sweat pouring down my face – we’re at the top of the climb – the class is over.  I’ve just had the most surreal private moment of joy in the midst of 30 other people working out.  Truthfully, I’m a bit embarrassed that I was crying in class (:-)) and am at once thankful for my sweat – no one knew.

I love these moments of pure joy – to reflect on the amazing opportunity we have to make a difference and be part of something wonderful in someone else’s life. It’s all so humbling, and so fantastic.

(By the end of the week, I’ll post more details on the project in Kenya – stay tuned, there’s some great news!)

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St. Elizabeth Secondary School for Girls now has 165 students!

Hi, everyone! Just a quick update on St. Elizabeth Secondary School for Girls … I was thrilled to have been invited to join an impromptu phonecall on Tuesday morning with the principle at St. Elizabeth Secondary School and the World Vision US Country Program Manager. We were calling to say ‘hello,’ check in on the girls and just to encourage the principle. The GREAT news is that, as of the new school year starting in January, there are now 165 girls at St. Elizabeth’s Secondary School!!! As you remember, last school year St. Elizabeth’s had opened for girls in Form 1 and 2 (think grades 9 and 10 in US taxonomy) and had 74 girls (21 from the rescue center, 53 from the community) – this year, they have opened to Form 3 (equivalent to grade 11 here), and with the new group of Form 1 students (9th graders) coming in this new school year they have 165 girls. WOW. Next January they will open Form 4 and then have all grades represented in the secondary school. In addition, the computer lab is now installed and up and running! So COOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL. (Just as a side note, the call we made was the first call that the principle had ever received from the US in her life – she was tickled.)

I’m meeting with World Vision tomorrow and am looking forward to receiving the next set of specifics with respect to the vulnerable girls education project – expansion of St. Elizabeth’s is part of the project as they will be out of capacity to effectively open Form 4 next year without some additional classrooms … stay tuned.

Thank you for all of your efforts to make a difference in the lives of the girls in Kenya through the fundraising, advocacy, thoughts and prayers you have for them. What we are doing together is truly miraculous!

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