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The Advocacy Project (AP) recruits students to help marginalized communities tell their story and claim their rights.

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Who are the “rescued” girls?

Charlotte Bourdillon | Posted July 10th, 2011 | Africa

Miriam gets emotional while telling her story. Rescued from circumcision and marriage at age 13, she is now setting an example for the many younger girls also coming through Counselor Caroline's doors.
Miriam gets emotional while telling her story. Rescued from circumcision and marriage at age 13, she is now setting an example for the many younger girls also coming through Counselor Caroline's doors.

Miriam comes across more like any lively, athletic American sixteen year old than any other girl I’ve met here in rural Kenya, yet she bears the burden of a difficult journey to becoming the confident person she is today. She is one of the over 50 “rescued” girls, as they are known, for whom Counselor Caroline cares. She is also one of the 9 I met on Thursday while they were home with their surrogate mother, Counselor Caro, for half-term break from school (as I mentioned, they desperately need a proper rescue centre…).

In December 2008 Miriam passed her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination with the strong marks of a B+, and wanted to continue on to high school, but her parents had other plans for her during the school holiday. That December she fled her village of Shartuka in the Transmara West District, hoping to escape the female circumcision and marriage her parents were about to force upon her. She had watched her older sister be married as a young teen, yet she “wondered why they wanted to marry me when I was still very young” and had not yet finished school.

While scared of both FGM and early marriage, Miriam says she ran away first and foremost from the marriage, because marriage means a girl has no other future.

First she ran to a district officer (head of area law enforcement), but he had already communicated with her father and knew she was coming. He told her “don’t come to me,” so she ran even further, to Kilgoris. There, she approached the district commissioner, who in turn called Counselor Caro, a woman well known for rescuing girls.

Three years later, Miriam is in form 3 at Socio High School in Kilgoris, the same high school Kakenya Ntaiya herself attended. Her school fees are paid (most of the time) by money that Counselor Caroline procures from the County Counsel. Counselor Caroline also takes care of her on holidays, and supplements the money from county counsel with anything else she needs, out of her own pocket.

These days Miriam is not in contact with her parents; they would have liked the opportunity to use her to accumulate property, so they now consider her a “complete waste.” She is in occasional contact with her older brother, who gives her some emotional (but not financial) support. She misses her family intensely and is clearly deeply saddened by the rejection she has, in a way, brought upon herself.

For now, the girls that continue to flow in to Caroline’s care have become a family of their own, sisters who support each other in a way that no one else can. Miriam was one of the earliest arrivals, so she feels a pride in being able to help orient new girls who have more recently gone through the trauma of escaping similar fates. Ranging from age 11 to 17, some of the escaped girls I spoke to at Caroline’s had no idea that female circumcision or forced early marriage were illegal until they were rescued and spoken to by child rights officers. None of the girls had known about other girls having run away before themselves, and all were surprised by the fact that so many other girls were in the same situation.

Miriam tells me her story with strength both in her muscular posture and in her face, as she grits her teeth, holds back tears, and seems to use her ability to control how she tells her story to hold herself together. Gesticulating dramatically forward, Miriam explains that some day in the future, after she attends university, she has faith that her parents will see the sense in her decision. Miriam would like to be a lawyer so that she too can help girls escape the oppression of custom.

Counselor Caro and some of her rescued girls - Miriam is in the pink on the far right.
Counselor Caro and some of her rescued girls - Miriam is in the pink on the far right.

I firmly believe that supporting girls like Miriam, and making a resource and rescue centre available in rural areas, would be an effective way to empower girls in a community where so few know their rights and so few have someone to whom they can run. Rescuing girls might be a role well suited for the Kakenya’s Dream organization, and many of us are hoping to see the organization be able to offer support to girls like Miriam in the future.

Counselor Caroline’s crusade to rescue girls

Charlotte Bourdillon | Posted July 8th, 2011 | Africa

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Counselor Caroline flips through the photo album she keeps of all the girls she has rescued, as some of the rescued girls (at home for half term break) look on.
Counselor Caroline flips through the photo album she keeps of all the girls she has rescued, as some of the rescued girls (at home for half term break) look on.

Last week I visited St. Josephs girls’ primary boarding school, which also doubles as the only Kilgoris area “rescue centre” for girls (currently 53) who have run away from their families to escape early marriage and circumcision. The rescued girls are brought to the school’s gates by 4 different organizations, and one incredible woman named Caroline Nangeya Ramet brings over a third of them. I knew I had to meet this woman, so I tracked her down to find out more about her work.

Counselor Caro, as she is known, is currently providing a safe house for a total of over 50 rescued girls, who she places in 5 different primary and secondary boarding schools. To do this, she petitions to the council (to which she is one of four representatives for the Lolgorian Division) for funds to cover as much of the school fees as possible. In addition to making sure the girls are enrolled in school, Caroline clothes, houses and feeds them on the school holidays, when the girls cannot stay at school.

“We sleep here, down there, and on every one of these chairs,” she explains, pointing to the floor and around the tiny sitting room of the house she rents in Kilgoris. They desperately need a proper rescue centre for these girls to have a permanent home.

Despite being married as the third wife to a man of her parent’s choosing immediately after finishing high school, she believes her drive and work ethic have allowed her to get where she is today. “In our culture, you are supposed to sit and be silent at home,” explains Caroline.
Despite being married as the third wife to a man of her parent’s choosing immediately after finishing high school, she believes her drive and work ethic have allowed her to get where she is today. “In our culture, you are supposed to sit and be silent at home,” explains Caroline.

At the age of 13, Caroline underwent genital cutting, and was placed in a year of isolation in preparation for marriage. “My father was not ready for my education,” she says. She was in class 4 at the time. On the final day before she was due to be married, Caro whispered a plea to her cousin, who in turn told her aunt. That aunt helped Caro escape and continue with her schooling. “What drives me to do this? I was cut, and through this I understand the pain of other girls.”

The first runaway girl, so young she was only in second grade at the time she had to run away, landed in Caro’s care in 2004. By 2009 she was helping 12 girls. Now, because she has become known as a resource for rescued girls in an area where there aren’t many other resources, chiefs, police, and district officers from all over send her girls in similar situations, and the number has quickly risen above 50.

To handle the project, Caroline has registered an organization called the Naserian Girls Rescue Initiative, and has a network of 7 volunteers spread in different locations to help her if there is a report of a girl who needs to be rescued. When a report comes in or a girl shows up, Caroline or one of her volunteers goes with the area chief and a children’s rights officer to the girl’s home to intervene.

While the council helps her financially, she points out that “if a girl comes to me and she needs help, maybe she doesn’t even have panties, what am I going to do? Of course I’m not going to wait for the council to show up with money.”

How does her husband, a well to do beer distributor in Kilgoris, feel about this use of resources? Astonishingly, two of the girls that Caro has taken in are his own daughters from one of his other wives. “Well what is a girl going to do after getting an education?” he scoffs. Because Counselor Caro has her own income from the farm she keeps in Lolgorian, she can manage without his support and sell her own cow to support her program when the need arises. She also rents a separate house from his in Kilgoris, so that he and the girls never have to be in the same house with her.

Her deeds are not always popular, and she has become hardened to being called names of the most ugly kind by parents and families of the girls she rescues. Sometimes they say that she has made their daughters useless, and their biggest complaint is that she has denied them taking beer or cows of the celebratory sort they would enjoy during negotiations to marry off their daughters. 13 of the girls have such bitter and angry family members that Caroline sends them to the St. Patricia’s boarding school in the neighboring Nyanza province so that they are a safe distance from potential danger.

For contact information, have a look at the Naserian Girls Rescue Initiative webpage (although it desperately needs to be updated!).

Here is a photo of the girls she was working with in 2009. The girl in the far right, in the blue skirt, was the first girl she rescued.
Here is a photo of the girls she was working with in 2009. The girl in the far right, in the blue skirt, was the first girl she rescued.

Counselor Caro shows off the enormous pots she uses when they are cooking for all 50 girls together, when they come home during school holidays.
Counselor Caro shows off the enormous pots she uses when they are cooking for all 50 girls together, when they come home during school holidays.

Mwalimu Masake and MEPERI: Teacher vs. Tradition

Charlotte Bourdillon | Posted June 30th, 2011 | Africa

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Mwalimu (teacher) Simon K. Masake, MEPERI founder
Mwalimu (teacher) Simon K. Masake, MEPERI founder
This week Cleia and I were fortunate enough to accidentally meet the subject of this profile, Simon K. Masake. No one had yet mentioned him during my investigations into who are the real loudmouths or leaders in criticizing FGM, but as the head teacher at Nkararo Primary public school he is a community leader and staunch advocate for changing the oppressive Maasai traditions towards girls. During an impromptu visit to his school, a conversation about cultural threats to young girls led to the revelation that actually he also had an NGO on the side. As a founder of the recently formed MEPERI (Menno Peace and Reconciliation Initiative), he is making some of the first “anti-FGM inroads” in Enoosaen’s neighboring Nkararo division.

Founded in the end of 2010, MEPERI’s mission is to “facilitate communities’ efforts to desist from unnecessary practices through education, preventative health, peace building initiatives and engagment in sustainable economic activities,” with the objectives of economically empowering the poor (especially women), “advocating against repugnant cultural practices,” and promoting peace and reconciliation. Simon’s initial motivation was a reaction to female circumcision and early marriage, but he wants to take a holistic approach, empowering women from every angle. He even trains women about the dangers of predatory lenders, as certain women’s microloan companies seem to be causing a lot of strife for some poorly prepared female loan recipients. MEPERI will operate in 5 districts: Transmara West, Kuria East, Nyando, Kisumu, and Nandi South.

Women in the community praise MEPERI for having been the first organization to actually come to the grassroots level in Nkararo, and for having hosted the first seminars in Nkararo for local women about women’s issues, including FGM. The brainchild of Mr. Masake, MEPERI has already held three seminars, reaching over 30 opinion leaders and 200 women in the first half of 2011 alone, and they plan to host more this year. In a lovely serendipitous twist, Mr. Masake dropped all this information into our conversation in a matter-of-fact manner as we dropped in for a quiet and brief observational visit to his school.

MEPERI came about over the course of two years of talking and planning. As a head teacher watching young Maasai girls steadily drop out of school for their rite to womanhood and subsequent marriage, Simon says he saw the need for someone to take action in his community. He began reaching out to likeminded community members he knew so they could join forces. Over a number of cups of Chai, and another 6-8 months of bureaucratic obstacle courses, the idea was born and the NGO registered.

Class 2 at Nkararo Primary School. With over 70 students, how are they supposed to learn?
Class 2 at Nkararo Primary School. With over 70 students, how are they supposed to learn?

Class 8 at Nkararo Primary School. Comparing this to the younger classes (with up to 70 or 80 students in one class), it's not hard to see why drop out rates concerned Mr. Masake.
Class 8 at Nkararo Primary School. Comparing this to the younger classes (with up to 70 or 80 students in one class), it's not hard to see why drop out rates concerned Mr. Masake.

MEPERI is currently composed of six members, of whom two are women, and the members are based in Nkararo, Nairobi, and Kisumu. For now they operate without an office space, a small grouping of motivated individuals working with a hodgepodge of small funds from one German NGO and one Nairobi-based NGO.

In February 2011, they hosted a two day retreat for chiefs, assistant chiefs, head teachers, and village elders in Kisumu. The target of that meeting was to sensitize male leaders about the issues and consequences of FGM and early marriage, notably including the consequences on the sexual relationship between a man and woman. In April, MEPERI hosted two gatherings of local women in Nkararo and a neighboring isolated community, Enemasi. Although they only sent out 30 invitation letters and anticipated the same number for each of their seminars, the invited women brought others, and the others brought more, and ultimately around 100 women attended each of the two seminars. What better way could these women signal how eager they are to learn and incorporate new ideas into their lives?

Another impressive thing about these seminars is that they included 9 women known within the community as the traditional circumcisers. Simon says they managed to draw these women in not by directly targeting them, but by inviting them along with other women for a seminar they billed as a general “women’s issues” training. Yet Simon recognizes the importance of not just cutting off the supply, but also the demand. That is why he hopes to host another seminar for youth (both boys and girls) by the end of the year – this is where he feels he can build demand to stop the practice. “Boys can stand for themselves,” he explains, “but if girls complete school, who is going to marry them if the boys don’t complete?”

Women at MEPERI training. The attentive woman in a shuka at the front also happens to be a traditional circumciser in Nkararo. Photo by Simon K. Masake
Women at MEPERI training. The attentive woman in a shuka at the front also happens to be a traditional circumciser in Nkararo. Photo by Simon K. Masake

I asked Simon if he had considered the context of other NGOs in the area as he designed his. Yes, he said, he had but he didn’t have their contacts, so instead he just considered them based on hearsay and observation.

So, when I asked if he would like to be connected to other likeminded groups, he was over the moon. He loves the idea of exchanging ideas and experiences, and in this part of the world having someone to call in a town/hill or two away is almost a necessity to get things done. Walking around town with him, I commented that he seemed to know everybody. His response was a dually proud and embarrassed acknowledgement that many people come to him with problems and concerns, especially about female children – and he has become known for taking a ferocious stance against cases of forced marriage and abuses of female students in the area. I would like to see him equally connected to other FGC critics in the area, and to host some sort of networking for him and other agents of change like him. How great would it be if we could host monthly or quarterly gatherings of this network of people in our someday-soon-to-be-community centre?

MEPERI does not yet have a website up, but I will post the link as soon as they do.

Tapping into tribalism?

Charlotte Bourdillon | Posted June 26th, 2011 | Africa

There are several common reasons people present for why FGM is “bad”: girls tend to get less education because they leave school to get married too early; it is dangerous (especially because of HIV); it is frowned upon by the church; it is outdated. But another simultaneously fascinating and slightly disturbing trend is poking its head. I routinely hear things such as the following:

“We are falling behind others because our women are not educated.” (re: the fact that FGM traditionally also signals a girl will leave school)

“We are holding ourselves back. How can we keep up with other tribes if we are wasting our women?”

“Our boys are marrying women from other tribes because they are more sexual.”

“Our educated boys want to marry educated women so they are marrying outside of the tribe.”

One woman I interviewed, anti-FGM trainer Hellen Rotich, told me that one of the ways she conveys the importance of rejecting FGM to men is by pointing out:

“Our daughters are going things that others are not going through, and maybe it is outdated. I was giving various examples of other communities you know like in Kenya, the Luyas, the Luos, the women they don’t go through that, it has been their culture, that way for their women. So I was telling them you see they’re so more educated, they’re the ones taking care of us in hospitals and now that we’re educating [our men], they end up coming up with other tribes’ women because they want people who have gotten education. So that is letting down our community because our girls will remain not married because now the educated boys will want educated girls.”

Essentially, tribalism seems to be not only part of the dialogue about FGM, but one of the most powerful tools for fighting it. It is persuasive. It brings people into the discussion by capitalizing on issues that people already care about, i.e. the status of the tribe and pride in being Maasai. Then it frames the continued practice of female cutting as something that threatens the tribe and the community’s power.

This trend is particularly interesting because it seems to be a “homegrown” argument against FGM. There is always the concern that the West is putting words in the mouths of those who practice FGM, creating false and outsider arguments against the practice. I would have difficulty believing that the “drop cutting because to keep up with other tribes” argument originated with NGOs. Thus, in a way, this sort of indigenous reasoning against FGM is a little comforting in that it proves that FGM criticism isn’t entirely based on foreign pressure.

But it is also worrying. Tribalism continues to produce a somewhat volatile political environment here in Kenya. Although the Maasai aren’t particularly implicated in the ongoing incidents of violence and hate speech here in Kenya, tribalism among any tribe propagates the same mental framework of us versus other along tribal lines.

Yet it seems to be the most compelling reason to several people as to why the community ought to shed this oppressive and abusive tradition. And to its credit, this argument recognizes the wisdom in other tribe’s choices to eschew the practice and to place more value in women and in educating girls.

I asked a friend of mine who works in politics and development here what he thought of this. He was truly nonchalant about his response; “tribalism is always going to be a part of development [here].” He was referring to the fact that in this part of the world (i.e. the rural, Kenyan part), people have no “others” to compare themselves to other than other tribes, who occasionally meld into the otherwise tribally demarcated communities. People in this area have no real basis of comparison to say “we should be more like the developed world” or more like “that educated person” because they are not really exposed to many highly educated people or outsiders (and surprisingly foreign TV is almost non-existant in the area I am working). Therefore, forcing people to recognize the value in a different tribe’s successful professional female workforce is the most persuasive way to convey the idea that “there is a better way.”

Do you know of any other instances in which an argument against a negative traditional practice is also negative or dangerous itself? In such situations, which is trump?

Hazards of Birth with FGM in Transmara

Charlotte Bourdillon | Posted June 26th, 2011 | Africa

The maternity wards where the genital scarring from the cut can obstruct a birth, and inflict even further pain. It is a little dark, but the women weren't eager to be individually photographed, which is partly why I chose to share this photo in which they're not identifiable.
The maternity wards where the genital scarring from the cut can obstruct a birth, and inflict even further pain. It is a little dark, but the women weren't eager to be individually photographed, which is partly why I chose to share this photo in which they're not identifiable.

Giving birth in Africa is already a dark experience for most of the continent. In an area where FGM is almost ubiquitous, birth is an even more cruel and unforgiving obstacle in the life of a woman. Circumcision often leaves a women with a mass of scar tissue around her vagina. That scar tissue can obstruct the vaginal outlet such that that giving birth without proper medical attention becomes a perverse second act for the physical violence that female circumcision inflicts. Delivery becomes even more risky, and the maternity wards become a place where the excruciating circumcision of years earlier can inflict even further pain.

In this area, there is now a push to have women give birth in hospitals. Yet past campaigns to train and increase the use of trained TBAs (Traditional Birth Attendants), makes it all the more challenging to go back to the community and convince women from the bush of the value of giving birth in a hospital. Birthing problems related to FGM are further exacerbated by TBA’s (traditional birth attendants) who are untrained in the particular problems relating to FGM-obstructed birth. Although these TBAs actually used to be promoted by the government, the Ministry of Health has now changed tack and promotes hospital deliveries.

Woman and child in post natal wards.
Woman and child in post natal wards.

In the Transmara District, Elinore estimates that 50-60% of births now take place in a hospital or clinic. I haven’t found any reliable source of information on this, so this may be no more than a guess, and women I have spoken to in Enoosaen seem to think that number is much lower.

Women who deliver at home often end up with severe hemorrhaging, serious tears, or even obstetric fistulas. By the time such women arrive at the hospital, if ever, their unborn child is distressed and the they are in delayed labor, often resulting in the loss of the baby. Giving birth in the hospital means that obstructed labor is much more quickly identified and rectified. It also means that a woman is unlikely to have a severely delayed labor just because of her scar tissue – instead, the attending staff are forced to give such women extra large episiotomies (a cut to widen the vaginal opening during delivery).

Although Elinore didn’t mention hazards other than delayed labor and the occasional fistula, it is worth mentioning here that FGM is associated with a variety of significantly increased risks during delivery, and this world health organization study shows that even for women who give birth in health centers, FGM increases the chance of postpartum hemmorrage, needing a C-section, and extended hospitalization (although this varies according to the type of cut the woman experienced).

I thought this poster of the Maternity Ward prices was quite interesting. For those of you doing the calculations, the conversion rate is around 80 Kenyan shillings to the U.S. dollar. Note the ambulance prices!
I thought this poster of the Maternity Ward prices was quite interesting. For those of you doing the calculations, the conversion rate is around 80 Kenyan shillings to the U.S. dollar. Note the ambulance prices!

Nurses behind the knife

Charlotte Bourdillon | Posted June 16th, 2011 | Africa

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The more people I talk to, the more complex is the tale about how the culture of FGM pervades and persists in the Transmara area of Kenya. One facet of this story that intrigues and disgusts is the fact that some health professionals, and specifically nurses, are now going underground to perform these illegal procedures.

This week I went to Elinore,* a high ranking nurse at the district hospital, to try to unearth information about the health concerns related to FGM in this district, and to ask her about the role of health professionals in the battle against FGM.

Elinore has spent 20 years in the nursing profession, working at two separate institutions in Kilgoris. With a mother who was a nurse and a father who was a public health officer, it was a natural choice for her. Because her parents were progressive and educated, she herself was not expected to undergo the cut, but as a Maasai from a village near Kilgoris called Oloiborsoito, she has still seen the range of Maasai girls’ experiences with pregnancy, circumcision, early marriage, and birth complications. Her 20 years in the health profession span a time period during which it would seem that FGM has been shed as a cultural practice more rapidly than ever, yet simultaneously shoved underground due to the fact that it became illegal in 2003.

Elinore explains nurses who inflict FGM
Elinore explains nurses who inflict FGM

So, what does she think is the role of the health professional in preventing and reducing the impact of this negative cultural practice?

Elinore says that often she and the other nurses try to dispel the myths about sexuality and the benefits of FGM. “Sometimes,” she says, “when you work in health, you have to take an extra step.” Many parents, and “especially men” still believe that the clitoris, because it is a sexual organ, is what makes a girl “loose.” Because it is a woman’s sexual organ, it is somehow inherently dirty. When a young girl comes into the care of Elinore and her colleagues, they often try to bring up FGM in conversation. Especially when a girl proclaims her desire to be cut, they take the liberty of dispelling such myths, and informing girls about the health risks involved. This is a choice that the nurses make on their own – there is no sort of government program or directive to its health employees to take this measure, and some people might even think of it as invasive on the part of a health care professional.

When asked if this is something her employer, the government, or the hospital promotes, she says no. But because health professionals have more knowledge, she says, sometimes you have to go beyond your normal responsibilities. What is the role of the health professional? To offer safe cuts? To keep quiet? No, says Elinore. The role is simply to tell as many people as possible about “the disadvantages of FGM.”

Yet like I said, one of the most disturbing things about the changing landscape of female genital cutting here in the Transmara is that health professionals are increasingly implicated in the cut’s persistence.

This is partly a sinister byproduct of health campaigns that have sensitized people to the risks of HIV and other infectious diseases, so “people feared the traditional way with HIV.” These are legitimate concerns, as people used to use one knife for a whole cohort of girls. They wouldn’t use gloves, and if they were to have a pair, the wouldn’t change them between girls. Several people have the vague idea that FGM poses some kind of health risk, and thus they have the instinct to seek out someone who can ostensibly perform a safer version of the cut. I spoke to a mother yesterday, however, who despite going on about the importance of now having a “doctor” perform the cut, couldn’t pinpoint any specific health issue about which she is concerned. But it is this fear that makes it profitable to be a nurse who is willing to cut off a few extra genitals on the side.

Elinore is a very high ranking nurse, and is deeply conflicted about the prospect of one of her staff participating in this sort of thing. Yet she sighs, smiles and says that she feels lucky she has never heard of one of their staff participating in this sort of thing. One wonders if this is indeed true or if the administration is perhaps not interested in finding out and having to deal with such a problem. She thinks the nurses who do that sort of thing come from Kisii, a city located an hour an a half north of Kilgoris.

The health professionals performing the cut range from subordinate staff to nurses in retirement, and performing the cut can serve as a large source of supplementary income (perhaps earning you an additional 20,000 Kenya shillings ($250.00) or more during the December “cutting season”). Sure, more salary might curb this behavior on the part of employed health professionals, but even that isn’t much of a solution. Firstly, that wouldn’t address the issue of retired nurses. Secondly, there is always someone else around the corner who is willing to do the cut for extra income, and in lieu of a health professional, families who want to cut their daughters will most likely be willing to settle for just about anyone else.

After speaking to Elinore in her office, I stopped by the Medical Superintendant to ask permission to have a peek at the wards, and we headed over to the maternity wards.

During delivery and even in the maternity wards of the best hospital, the cut can obstruct a birth, and inflict even further pain. More on this next time…

Wards at the Kilgoris District Hospital
Wards at the Kilgoris District Hospital

*Elinore specifically requested that I refrain from identifying her by name, because she was concerned about speaking on record as a hospital employee. For this reason I also excluded her face in the photo.

First in the Division

Charlotte Bourdillon | Posted June 8th, 2011 | Africa

In April, at the end of term 1 (the school system here runs on a year round schedule of trimesters), our sixth graders competed in division wide exams.

Eager to excel, the girls pour over the newly released results booklet
Eager to excel, the girls pour over the newly released results booklet

So, the results comparing our school to 25 other public schools in the division are finally in…and we’re number one!

The tests included sections for maths, English, Kiswahili, science, and social studies. Not only was our combined mean score high enough to rank us as number one in the division, but get this: out of the top five overall performing sixth graders in the whole division, four came from the Enkakenya Centre for Excellence! Congratulations to Angeline (#1), Vivian (#3), Juliet (#4) and Tasimi (#5)! Out of these four, two are orphans for whom the Kakenya’s Dream organization fully supports their education. Interestingly, the girl who ranked #2 for the division also has an Enkakenya Centre connection as she attended our leadership camp in April.

from left: Vivian, Tasimi, Juliet, and Angeline
from left: Vivian, Tasimi, Juliet, and Angeline

Top girls!
Top girls!

Having a little fun in a photo shoot directed by Cleia
Having a little fun in a photo shoot directed by Cleia

Congratulations are definitely also in order for Juliet for coming in at #1 in Kiswahili for the division, as well as Angeline for being the division’s #1 maths student the second year in a row, and for Yiamat for ranking #2 in maths!

I am thrilled, but it is important to be cognizant of what we are up against in the bigger picture – that is, in terms of whether or not our girls will have the best chances for higher education in Kenya. I don’t mean to be a downer, but the school needs to keep in mind that this division isn’t a great basis of comparison if the school is to strive for excellence. Our #1 mean score was a total of 309.94 points out of 500, where as in average to above average performing districts, the #1 mean score would be more like 360.00, according to the Assistant Area Education Officer who explained the results to me.

Finally, please consider: this exam was co-ed.

Isn’t it phenomenal is it that all of the division’s top five sixth graders were girls?

Rwanda, Nairobi, and a new Peace Fellow

Charlotte Bourdillon | Posted June 7th, 2011 | Africa

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Over the past week I have been absent from the blog and from Enoosaen because I took some time off to visit Rwanda (Kigali and Gisenyi) and Nairobi. I got another unexpected stamp in my passport due to an unplanned overnight layover outside of Kampala, Uganda. Thanks to my dear friends Helaina Stein (see her blog about living in Kigali) and Rachel Brown (who runs the brilliant organization Sisi Ni Amani) for taking me in and showing me a good time, a hot shower, and where to eat ethiopian food, succulent whole fresh grilled tilapia, strawberry tarts, and crusty fresh bread and bagels! As you might imagine, this has been a week of culinary bliss.

One of the reasons I was in Nairobi is to welcome a new Advocacy Project Peace Fellow to Kenya. I’ve just returned to Enoosaen with Cleia Noia, who will be joining me on the project for ten weeks. Looking forward to the company!

I leave you with a passage I have encountered  that really resonates with what I feel on the eve of the end of my travels this week, and as I plan further adventures in East Africa:

“The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos. Only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say “Africa.” In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exist.”  - Ryszard Kapuściński

What we do in 60 seconds!

Charlotte Bourdillon | Posted June 7th, 2011 | Africa

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Thanks to some high(er) speed internet in Nairobi, I was finally able to post some videos that I had started preparing ages ago but thought I might never be able to upload!

Here is one that we prepared as a promotional video that had to be under 60 seconds. It is sort of a quick introduction to the mission of the school.

Students from the Mara – video

Charlotte Bourdillon | Posted June 7th, 2011 | Africa

Had some great internet in Nairobi, so I was able to upload this footage to youtube. I thought it might be interesting to see Perenai and Ryle, the girls about whom I have written a couple of times. Here is the interview I took with them on video, before I had visited their hometown of Pusanki. The quality isn’t great and it is a little long, and you’ll need to turn up the volume to hear the girls’ voices (although mine is blaring). I basically have no great photos of them but wanted to share a visual. Do notice how shy and quiet they are taught to be.

Fellow: Charlotte Bourdillon

The Kakenya Center for Excellence


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