A Voice For the Voiceless

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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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“If You Educate One Girl-Child, You Educate a Whole Community”


Megan Orr | Posted August 1st, 2012 | Africa

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The saying that it takes a village to raise a child has never proven to be so true until my recent visit with four orphan girls (ages 11-13) who are beneficiaries of the Kakenya Dream Organization’s (KDO) financial support and mentorship.

Within Maasai culture, men are typically the bearers of money, land, cattle, property, and are permitted to take more than one wife. It is often common for a child to have several stepmothers and stepsiblings. In some instances, a father may be gone for several weeks or months, while he fathers the children of his other wives. Often, these polygamous relations can result in husbands and fathers abandoning their other wives and children. An “orphan” as we know it in Western society therefore takes on a different meaning in Kenya. It often means paternal abandonment, despite other family members being a part of the child’s life.

My recent visit to one of our girls home brought reality to what girls go through to achieve their education.

“Thank you for helping me,” 13 year-old Nelly says after wiping away her tears in an hour-long interview I was conducting. Nelly is one of several KDO beneficiaries. She receives guidance and financial support to supplement what her family members are unable to provide. Nelly’s parents divorced when she was born. She has three sisters and one brother. She is the second to last child. Nelly is from Sikawa, about an hours drive south of Enoosaen. She lives with her youngest sister and her older brother. Her other two sisters live with her father and have been forced to undergo female genital cutting (FGC).

Nelly lives with her mother, younger sister and older brother
Nelly lives with her mother, younger sister and older brother

I have repeatedly heard teachers and parents say, “A woman never forgets where she comes from. If you educate one girl-child, you educate a whole community.” This saying has been fixed in my mind throughout my fellowship. Its truth can be best understood by speaking to those who benefit the most from the support of KDO. I was able to stay with Nelly at her home during the half-term break as a part of a series of interviews I was conducting with some of the KCE girls.

Just five minutes from the main swampy road, a small community river intersects with a narrow muddy path where KCE teacher, Francis Kisulu, and I walked to the quaint clay home of Nelly’s family.

“Nelly!” Francis called out. No more than a few seconds passed before Nelly’s little sister, Nashipai, a two-foot tall girl in a bright yellow-topped dress, stood at the doorway entrance of their mother’s home. Not yet fazed by the shyness of older girls, Nashipai ran up to greet us.

She bowed her head as the traditional Maasai greeting. “Takweya,” I say as I touch the top of her head, Francis quickly did the same.

Their mother had just walked up to the neighboring field to milk cows. We were given small stools, underneath the shade of a tree near their home, as we prepared to interview Nelly. With the help of Francis to translate from Kiswahili to English, I was able to freely interview her.

In her own words we were able to capture a glimpse of Nelly’s life:

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I say.

“I want to be a police.”

“Why?”

“I want to maintain order and peace in our country.”

“Have you always wanted to be a policewoman?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have a good relationship with your mom?” I ask.

“Yes…She likes me, and she likes to support me in my education,” Nelly says quickly and softly.

“Has she always supported your education?”

“Yes.”

“What about your father?”

The mentioning of her father alone triggered tears in her eyes. She clasped her hands together and held them in front of her face.

“He doesn’t support me…,” Nelly whispers under her choked up breath.

I wait for her to breath. Nashipai innocently watches her sister hunched over crying. Her brother, Gideon approaches her and asks if she is okay. She giggles and clears her throat out of embarrassment.

Nelly's brother consoling her while she cries after talking about their father
Nelly's brother consoling her while she cries after talking about their father

“Why doesn’t he support you? Is it against his value system?” Girl’s education in Maasai culture is typically not favored by the male figures of a girl’s family.

“Yes…he dislikes me,” Nelly replies in a soft voice.

Nelly tells us that her father feels resentful since his divorce with her mother. Unlike her father, Nelly’s mother has been very supportive of Nelly’s educational pursuits. We also learned that it was her brother who encouraged her to apply to KCE. Since her enrollment in KCE she has been able to focus on her studies.

“In boarding school I can learn at night,” Nelly says.

“Do you feel you are getting a lot of support that you did not have in Sikawa primary?”

Nelly is silent for a minute before she answers, “At Enkakenya I can go to ask the teacher questions I don’t know.”

“How has going to Enkakenya changed your life?”

She answers in Kiswahili; her hands cover her mouth while she sobs and talks. Francis says to me, “She says that they pay for her school fees and provide her with the school uniform.” At that moment I hugged her and said, “You are very brave and strong…thank you.”

In higher spirits Nelly quietly ponders over our interview
In higher spirits Nelly quietly ponders over our interview

This is one interview in a series that profile the impact that the Kakenya’s Dream Organization has made in these young silenced lives. Young girls such as Nelly have been given the opportunity to focus on their education, avoid FGC and being married off. A girl-child without a father often becomes a financial burden to other family members who have their own daily challenges.

Though difficult to change, KCE works to reshape Maasai culture by nurturing its young women through the use of the same tools it does their boys. Girls are thus given an opportunity to participate in the human capital of their communities. In my experience here so far, I have learned that KCE has become more and more a prominent part of this village working to raise its children and in doing so, foster a healthy future especially for those less fortunate.

***The children’s names have been change to protect their identity***

 

 

 

 

5 Responses to ““If You Educate One Girl-Child, You Educate a Whole Community””

  1. Natasha says:

    Hi Megan,
    Thank you for sharing Nelly’s words with us – it only shows how important KCE is for this community. As a new intern at AP, I am so impressed by the work you are doing in Kenya!

  2. Sonya says:

    It is great to hear of the great work continuing at Kakenya! My Zonta Club, Zonta Club of Washington, DC, financially supported the center. I hope you are enjoying your fellowship and gaining much educationally and personally from your experience.

  3. Karin Orr says:

    This is an excellent example of the opportunities KCE provides these girls. The idea of an orphan as someone who may still have a living mother is fascinating. It demonstrates the value placed on fathers as the core parental figure. Great work Meg!

  4. Laura says:

    You did a great job of capturing emotion through the verbal and nonverbal elements of this interview! I was particularly touched by Nelly’s motivation to learn and grow despite experiencing the pain of abandonment. It is sobering to think that even though Nelly has been given the opportunity to make her own choices and pursue education, her other sisters and so many others like them may never have this chance.

  5. Thomas says:

    It is good to hear that KCE was able to help this girl. Although it sounds weird, it almost seems like she got lucky that her mom and dad got divorced. Does KCE have a program to help fathers understand, that their daughters should also go to school?

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Ink and Color: Maasai Girls’ Lives Expressed Through Writing and Art


Megan Orr | Posted June 27th, 2012 | Africa

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At the age of 11, what would you write if you were asked to tell your life story? You’re young enough to remember very early childhood but not old enough to know that your lifestyle may be different from how others live, and therefore unique. For the past couple weeks, the KCE girls have filled the room with the fragrance of fruit-scented markers as they fervently draw their personal stories.

Other than the occasional giggle, soft jazz and classical tunes set a tranquil mood for these young artists to express themselves.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been facilitating art workshops to 32 students from class 6, ages 11 to 13 years old. I’ve specifically designed the workshops so that the girls have a safe space to talk about their lives and celebrate the un-harmful aspects of Maasai culture.

Several girls drew themselves being taught how to milk cows. Netaya drew her mother teaching her how to cook. Naomi drew her dream to build a hospital.

Naomi can't help but giggle while she shares with me her autobiography drawing and dream to build hospitals
Naomi can't help but giggle while she shares with me her autobiography drawing and dream to build hospitals

I begin the exercise by asking the girls to shout out specific memories, life obstacles, life lessons, and the responsibilities expected of them. “Just shout them out,” I say as I write them in lime green on the chalkboard. “Milking cows…beading…taking care of my sisters and brothers, learning how to cook, collecting firewood…helping my mom clean…going to school…taking the cows to graze…” We continued like this until the entire board was covered in notes.

As I peered over shoulders in the writing session, I saw the following:

“I was taught in Enkakenya how to protect myself and my life. I was taught to say no to F.G.M., parents who circumsise girls are [being caught]. I was taught about early marriages girls are not supposed to be marriage early,” Christine, 12 yrs old wrote in her autobiography.

Damaris, 11 yrs old wrote, “I told my mother that F.G.M. is not good circumcision she told me I will be circumcised you I told her that girls “say no to F.G.M.” they taught us in camp.”

Class 6 girls calmly create their autobiography drawings
Class 6 girls calmly create their autobiography drawings

Many of the girls’ stories focused on saying no to FGM to their parents. Typically when a girl reaches adolescence she is expected to undergo circumcision in preparation for marriage. Saying no to FGM is a very bold move and a few years ago was typically unheard of in Maasai culture. However, as the KCE girls have expressed, finding the ability to say no to a deeply embedded cultural practice, such as FGM, is working to dislodge the notion that culture can’t be changed. Through their writings and drawings the girls have expressed their desire to change this paradigm within the community.

In addition, many of their stories highlight the importance of learning how to milk cows, cook, bead, and look after their siblings while their mothers are taking care of the shamba (garden).

Nemashon proudly holds up her entire autobiography depicted in drawings
Nemashon proudly holds up her entire autobiography depicted in drawings

Nemashon was one of many that drew themselves milking
Nemashon was one of many that drew themselves milking

“I like milking because it is a Maasai culture. Very early in the morning I wake up and go to the homestead of the cows and start milking,” Nasieku , 13 yrs old wrote.

Naserian, 13 yrs old wrote, “I learn to bead in the age of eleven years. In every bead I make I put a white colour, because in our country a white colour means peace. Also because my name is peace in our culture.”

All girls have learned very early on that FGM, early-marriage, and taking over their mother’s roles, as caretakers of the children and home, are respected within Maasai culture. Through the convergence of art and writing in the KCE curriculum, the girls have become stronger communicators, more able to narrow down their personal goals and better express their emotions. In addition, they are better able to articulate relevant memories that they may otherwise not feel comfortable sharing. To an outsider the girls may appear very shy, but in art class they make up a collage of strong young women who are working to create their own destinies.

8 Responses to “Ink and Color: Maasai Girls’ Lives Expressed Through Writing and Art”

  1. Jason says:

    I was happy to read your blog and your inspirational work.

  2. Thomas says:

    What a great idea to ask children in that age about their life story – and what an interesting outcome! It would be cool to do this every once in a while and see how stories change, ideas develop and maybe dreams start to come true.

    It is good, that the children are educated about FGM and also talk to their parents about it. Do you know about the effects it has. I mean, it is usually the parent’s decision to have this procedure done for the girl, does educating the girls also educate the parents? I hope it does, that would be a great success!

  3. Nicole Orr says:

    Wow Megan that is beautiful, sounds like you are creating a wonderful experience for these girls and they are giving it right back to you with their open and hopeful stories and their colorful drawings! Thanks for sharing your experience:)

  4. iain says:

    Another very sweet description of the girls! It’s always interesting to see how art helps people to express their real feelings, and this is further proof. Interesting how many of them bring it back to FGM. One question: Is there any evidence that art helps girls to do better in class and get better grades? If you could show this, it might encourage the government to integrate art into the curriculum. How would you start?

  5. Christine says:

    Such an amazing perspective. Thank-you so much for sharing your experience.
    It is so warming to hear the girls thoughts. What a precious thing.

    Xxx

  6. Mary Alice Copp says:

    Wonderful work, Megan. You are so brave and good hearted. Those students will remember you forever. What a life changing experience for all of you. We look forward to your return and hearing about it all in person.

  7. Annette Scarpitta says:

    Thank you for empowering these girls through art, Megan! I’m happy to read about the girls’ comfort in opening up with you and their peers.

  8. Wallace says:

    1. Giggles with such big smiling faces, 2. The fruity smell of markers with soft jazz in the air. 3. Stories and art!
    Wish I had been there!

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OneVoice Meets Many at KCE


Megan Orr | Posted June 13th, 2012 | Africa

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Giggles of excitement filled the room moments after the recorder instrument lesson started. After a consistent chorus of toots, squeaks and laughs, the girls were finally able to play a simple melody. “Now we can sing with it!” Class 4 student Naanyu exclaimed joyfully after playing a note on her recorder.

KCE girls sing and dance together any chance they can get. This inclination toward music became even more apparent last week when the DC-based non-profit OneVoice visited the Enoosaen community. OneVoice aims to encourage peace and to connect and empower children worldwide through music, singing and art. The organization has worked with schools in Tanzania and Uganda, and now has come to our school in Kenya as well.

KCE girls thirst for outlets for their musical creativity and artistic expression. They never seem to get enough of it! Perfectly suited to this love of art and music, this past week, four guitarists, two singers, and one visual artist came to KCE prepared to musically invigorate the girls.

When KCE girls sing together their soprano voices unite to form one striking sound. The entire school immediately grew fond of the quirky and fun OneVoice team after learning and singing several songs and strumming on the musicians’ guitars. The girls were thrilled by their newfound ability to play, sing and dance to the new tunes.

KCE girls happily learn to sing "Lala Love" by OneVoice members, Eddy Marshall and David Reynolds
KCE girls happily learn to sing "Lala Love" by OneVoice members, Eddy Marshall and David Reynolds

In the singing workshops the girls learned several new songs, some of which incorporated dance moves, like the hokey pokey. The girls quickly caught on and even shared a few traditional Maasai songs and dances with OneVoice. The OneVoice team didn’t hesitate to jump in and dance alongside the girls.

OneVoice Founder and Director, Robbie Schaefer teaches and records the strong voices of girls as they sing "Lala Love"
OneVoice Founder and Director, Robbie Schaefer teaches and records the strong voices of girls as they sing "Lala Love"

Simultaneously, the other classrooms were filled with girls using paint for the first time. The girls had never seen such vibrant colors before: royal blue, forest green, teal and neon red, just to name a few. They were hardly able to keep themselves from dipping into the paint before instructions were given. I assisted the art instructor, Jolene Hemeon, in teaching this half of the girls about color schemes and artistic techniques.

Painting your hearts desire takes concentration and silence
Painting your hearts desire takes concentration and silence

We started off by asking the girls to write down their dreams and their “heart’s desire”. Each of the girls designed a heart with their biggest desire imprinted on it. The finished pieces are to be exhibited in Washington, DC in December 2012. The exhibition will be used to fundraise money for Kenyan children suffering from heart disease. The idea is to raise funds through a tangible and creative “heart to heart”.

Class 7 student, Elizabeth Yiamat, wrote, “My hearts desire is to travel to another country, to help the needy, to build more hospitals and to have a good life in the future.” As I went around the classroom passing out paint, I noticed that most girls wrote that their dreams were to become doctors, lawyers, and teachers, as well as help to their families and their communities. I wondered if perhaps after this workshop some girls would want to pursue music, the arts, or dance. Although the arts are present within the school curriculum, they often aren’t considered to be a viable career path for young people.  The girls tend to aspire to career paths that are more widely spoken of, or looked up to, such as medicine. Yet music holds an important role in these young girls lives and is often an inspirational tool for communication, particularly communication about taboo issues. What better way to give voice to the voiceless than through song and dance? This past weekend allowed KCE girls to not only find their voices, but also to raise them together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Responses to “OneVoice Meets Many at KCE”

  1. This is truly a touching gesture by OneVoice to stike a chord with the girls through the inspiration of music and art. But one point that slightly concerns me is the absence of boys from this event. I don’t refer to the topic of gender discrimination here but would’nt it be a great move to include the boy child in this noble cause ?

  2. iain says:

    A very nice, gentle blog, which reminds us how wonderfully expressive children are – no matter where they live.

  3. Kristen says:

    I think it is super interesting that you mention the role and importance of the arts in advocacy among these girls. What a good point! Of course doctors, hospitals and other insitutions are necessary but so are local advocates with srong voices and awareness about the type of change needed. Funny, how music lessons might be the link.

  4. Thomas says:

    I am really impressed that the girls biggest “heart’s desires” are to HELP other people by becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers or building hospitals!

    It is great that with your help, Kakenya’s Dream is giving them the opportunity to actually make those dreams come true.

  5. Lauren says:

    She dreams of building HOSPITALS?? Quick, somebody hand that little girl a diploma and a place ticket! We need more people in the world like her, not to mention a whole lotta people like you, Megan. So proud of you, your work, your vision, the little struggles you overcome each day to get out of bed and into the world to do the inspiring work you do. Keep it coming!

  6. Karin Orr says:

    Meg, love the way you describe the girls finding a unified voice. I imagine that much of what KCE aims to achieve is to foster solidarity amongst the girls, such as this. What were some of the songs that were sung and taught(Onevoice to KCE)? I also think the idea of getting the girls to support heart disease through their own “hearts desire” is a creative approach to a difficult issue that often excludes the participation of young people in working to resolve it. Look forward to more.

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KCE Girls Design their Dream Uniform


Megan Orr | Posted May 26th, 2012 | Africa

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“This is how we iron our uniforms since we don’t have an iron,” young KCE student, Joy, age 13, humbly explains to me while she pulls one end of her skirt and her friend pulls the other end until it’s as straight as a ruler, carefully folding the skirt at each pleat. Joy then lifts her mattress to carefully place it underneath. This ensures that the uniform will be flat as a board by the following morning, when it is time to get dressed for school. But it doesn’t stop there.

Joy reaches for her black shoe polish and begins to tirelessly polish her formal school shoes. Some may consider this uniform maintenance a burden while others take it as a fun part of their routine that reaffirms their participation in school.

In Enoosaen school uniforms are a part of a young person’s identity. Uniforms distinguish he or she as both a student and by which school he or she attends. Girls are required to wear a one-piece dress or skirt with a blouse and pullover. Boys must wear shorts or pants with a shirt and pullover. Though each school varies in uniform accessories, every student studying in school is required to wear one.

In 2003, primary public education fees in Kenya were waived but uniforms remained mandatory. The need for uniformity put pressure on parents to purchase uniforms, ranging $20-30 per outfit. When 50% of the population is living under the poverty line, you can imagine the impact that this expense has had on families. The cost still undoubtedly prevents some economically disadvantaged children from attending school. The purpose of school uniforms is to obscure any social or class differences amongst students, which might be evidenced by their apparel or hairstyle. Owning two uniforms is often a privilege, owning one is a challenge.

Therefore KCE students proudly care for their uniforms everyway that they can. KCE girls told me that they enjoy wearing their uniforms because they are bright in color and are unique. The plaid plum red skirt and white shirt topped by a bright magenta sweater is considered unique in design and fashion outside of school hours.

KCE girls often play jump string after school, a game similar to Chinese jump rope
KCE girls often play jump string after school, a game similar to Chinese jump rope

Unfortunately, these school uniforms are made from cheap fabric and aren’t designed to withstand the yearly wear and tear of a young girls life. After 365 washes, a uniform’s vibrancy is lost, the seams are weak, colors faded and one hole quickly leads to many.

Everyday at 5:30PM the girls wash their uniforms
Everyday at 5:30PM the girls wash their uniforms

KCE parents and students (classes 6 and 7) were recently given a chance to analyze the durability of their uniforms like never before. They were asked several questions about the pros and cons of the uniform. This analysis was spurred by a visit from eight members from Nike Inc. and two from the Nike Foundation, who help to sponsor KCE.

Kakenya facilitates the Nike Inc. and Nike Foundation team discussion about KCE uniforms with classes 6 & 7 mothers
Kakenya facilitates the Nike Inc. and Nike Foundation team discussion about KCE uniforms with classes 6 & 7 mothers

This week they visited Enoosaen with the intention of creating a uniform design that is more cost-effective, durable, fashionable, and will enable a local tailor to reduce waste and increase productivity.

Stephen owns a tailor shop right down the road from KCE, this is where KCE uniforms are sewn
Stephen owns a tailor shop right down the road from KCE, this is where KCE uniforms are sewn

The girls’ parents were more than enthused to participate in such a process, given they had never before been consulted on their kids uniforms before. This was also a special opportunity for the girls because it allowed them to participate in their design by collaborating with professionals to make it a reality.

Girls having a great time drawing and piecing together their paper dolls
Girls having a great time drawing and piecing together their paper dolls

This exercise concluded that the girls want uniforms made of high quality fabric, bright in color, sharp in pattern and appropriate to fashion outside of school. Thanks to Nike Inc. & Foundation the girls will be given a chance to wear their dream uniforms that they participated in designing. Their new uniforms will surely be treasured and well taken care of.

The girls taped their paper dolls up on the chalkboard to compare their dream uniforms
The girls taped their paper dolls up on the chalkboard to compare their dream uniforms

 

 

4 Responses to “KCE Girls Design their Dream Uniform”

  1. Wallace says:

    It seems a good sign to me that the girls drew designs that looked very much like the present uniform they wear. Shows how they embrace the look of their school and my guess is they are indeed proud to be wearing them. Still, it is a very fun and important exercise to take on!

  2. Thomas says:

    Fascinating how inventive the girls are and how they make the best out of the situation! Can’t wait to read the next entry.

  3. Sarah Craven says:

    Megan – Great blog. The photos are terrific. Exciting to allow the girls the opportunity to have a say in what they want to wear- universal desire of adolescent girls? Will be interested to see what the end product looks like.

  4. iain says:

    Great story! Love the idea of the girls designing their own uniforms, and you do a great job of explaining how uniforms help to obscure class etc. Photographs are wonderful.

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Self-Defense Workshops Kick Camp into Motion


Megan Orr | Posted May 13th, 2012 | Africa

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Back elbow to the throat, front kick to the groin, bottom palm to the chest! These are just few of the self defense moves our KCE camp participants learned in this year’s workshops.

The Nairobi-based self-defense organization, I am Worth Defending kicked off this year’s camp.  “Screaming is a sign of fear, whereas yelling is a sign of courage and confidence,” workshop facilitator, Alfred Makabira, tells the thirty beaming faces. The I am Worth Defending workshop slogan is, “Your security is your responsibility.”

One aspect of the workshop involved teaching the girls to shout, “I love my body. I will protect my body. I say NO to FGM!” Throughout the entire week the girls recited this message. The all-day workshop taught the girls how to be effective communicators by denouncing sexual harassment and unwanted attention as it occurs. They were taught to use their voices as tools of self-defense by yelling the specific violation in order to humiliate the attacker and notify those around the premises of their misconduct. This tactic demonstrated a shared responsibility for girls’ protection within the community.

The palm strike was the first physical self-defense move the girls were taught
The palm strike was the first physical self-defense move the girls were taught

The workshop ended with the facilitation of physical self-defense techniques aimed at primary targets on the human body. At first, most of the girls were too shy to try the moves. They covered their mouths and giggled with embarrassment, but by the end they were kicking, punching and exercising their ability to say, “No!”

Volunteers practice the front kick to the groin, their peers watch in amazement
Volunteers practice the front kick to the groin, their peers watch in amazement

After we all worked up a sweat, the day concluded with a question and answer period where the girls (ages 9 to 16) could anonymously write about their own exposure to some of the issues discussed that day. The exercise created a safe space for the girls to ask questions about sexual and reproductive health, self-protection, and those queries that adolescence often forces us to ask. Although the workshop’s slogan specifically puts the responsibility of protection on the girls, it also fostered a spirit of self-worth, reinforcing the belief that “I am worth defending.”

The knee kick to the groin is one technique the girls really mastered
The knee kick to the groin is one technique the girls really mastered

 

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“I Love My Body, I Say No to FGM!”


Megan Orr | Posted May 10th, 2012 | Africa

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This is one of the slogans repeated by participants of the KCE Health and Leadership camp, a six-day seminar focused on girls’ empowerment, encouraging them to pursue their educational goals and to say no to the harmful traditional practices in their community. The Camp is hosted by the Kakenya’s Dream Organization and held at the Kakenya Center for Excellence school. Through a series of workshops and group activities, the camp aims to boost the girls’ self-esteem by teaching them to take ownership of their bodies and protect themselves from violence.

Last year we invited  sixty girls to take part in two camp session, one in April and another in December. This year, our goal was to double the number of participants in each session. As the Camp Coordinator, I invited twenty-six different schools within the Keyian Division to select two girls from grades 6 and 7 to attend. We ended up with 105 girls at our April camp from over 24 schools!

This year we doubled the amount of attendees, reaching out to as many girls as possible
This year we doubled the amount of attendees, reaching out to as many girls as possible

Often Maasai girls are socialized to acknowledge the needs of others over their own, leading to an absence of self-prioritization. Being outspoken, particularly on issues of sexual violence or harassment, is not typically a part of a girl’s upbringing.  Because of this, there is a critical need for these types of workshops in the region. In addition, it is through the workshops that many of the girls are taught about sexual and reproductive health for the first time, as it is traditionally a taboo subject the home.

One volunteer from each Menstruation and Hygiene workshop was asked to perform a sanitary napkin demonstration
One volunteer from each Menstruation and Hygiene workshop was asked to perform a sanitary napkin demonstration

 In a discussion with Mama Kakenya and her daughter, Naserian, I was told that when a girl in Keyian District experiences sexual abuse, the tradition is to bathe her in healing herbs while the perpetrator is punished through a communal beating and the confiscation of his largest cow. When I asked if the man is ostracized from the community after his public humiliation, I was told that the victim is the one who is humiliated. The humiliation experienced by the victim prevents exposure of the abuses. After the incident of sexual abuse, she is considered impure as an adult. Although there is a local court and police station (the closest is an hour away), these matters aren’t typically resolved through the legal structure.

Beatrice Wanyonyi, a teacher at a neighboring primary school, facilitates the Communication and Life-Skills workshop
Beatrice Wanyonyi, a teacher at a neighboring primary school, facilitates the Communication and Life-Skills workshop

Throughout the camp the girls are taught how to love and protect their bodies from FGM, sexual violence, and the contraction of HIV and STDs. The camp is a unique opportunity for girls to learn about puberty, hygiene, substance abuse, self-awareness and women’s health. Most of the health topics covered in the workshops are still taboo for a majority of the communities in the Keyian Division. The issue of self-protection is clearly very important, given the lack of a legal structure that actively prosecutes perpetrators of violence and pegs the responsibility on the victims. The KCE’s Health and Leadership Camp is responding to these needs and is one of the first of its kind.  Its unique approach pairs its message of self-protection with girls’ empowerment through education and leadership. View a slideshow of the questions anonymously asked by camp participants at the end of the six day workshops.

This is one of many questions anonymously asked and answered on the last day of camp
This is one of many questions anonymously asked and answered on the last day of camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Responses to ““I Love My Body, I Say No to FGM!””

  1. Kristen Jespersen says:

    What a powerful post, Megan. Unfortunately, I think women in societies across the globe struggle with many of the same core issues about self-ownership. We should all take this class. Thanks.

  2. Kristen Jespersen says:

    What a powerful post, Megan. Oddly, many of these core issues about female self-ownership are still very acute throughout the world. Even here in the U.S. We should all take this class. Thanks.

  3. Jessica Orr says:

    This post exposes the incredibly crucial role of sexual education to adolescents, and the difficulties in providing the ‘right answer’ to those with very different understandings of reproductive health.
    Thank you once again for sharing with us!

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Volleyball Victory: KCE Girls’ Win the District Championships


Megan Orr | Posted April 14th, 2012 | Africa

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“Sports.” The word in and of itself stimulates a dozen smiles by the KCE girls’ volleyball team. Having won the District Championships for the West Transmara District, Keyian Division last month, the girls only had two more games to win to qualify for the County Championships.

The KCE volleyball team has defeated dozens of teams in order to get to the District level. Just to give a little context, school sports teams begin their seasons playing in a zone, winners go to the sub-zone and then up to the division level and on to the district, county and finally the national. Thus, they were competing against the following divisions from separate districts: Pirar, Loligorian and Kilgoris.

KCE girls' volleyball team is the first all girls' team to represent the Keyian Division at the District Championships
KCE girls' volleyball team is the first all girls' team to represent the Keyian Division at the District Championships

In Kenya, school sports work a bit differently than they do in the US. When a team wins a game, they recruit the best players from another school’s team, giving rise to a team made of star players from many different schools. This was actually not the case for KCE’s team. All of the girls representing the Keyian Division during the district championships were from KCE, which made their victory all the more exciting for their local community.

KCE girls watch in amazement as their peers win the Championships
KCE girls watch in amazement as their peers win the Championships

“Concentrate, concentrate,” Mr. Bett the athletics teacher says time and again during their championship play against the Loligorian Division. The importance of the game was worn on their faces, some quite stern, others nervous. While watching these girls practice under the direction of Mr. Bett, I had taken notice of their speed, agility and the seriousness in which they play. Though these girls are small in size compared to most of their opponents, they play strategically and with an energy and enthusiasm that has enabled them to win. The confidence that these girls emit is one that many KCE girls possess in a culture where girls’ sports competition is relatively new and therefore significantly lacking in resources.

Athletics teacher Mr. Bett coaching the girls after school
Athletics teacher Mr. Bett coaching the girls after school

For example, the same day as the girl’s competition, the boys District Championships were taking place at the neighboring Secondary Boys High School. The boys’ team appeared very professional, they had thousands of attendees, sports commentators on microphones, numerous food stands, and the equivalent of box office seats for those highly respected of the audience members.

Fans gathered around the volleyball court
Fans gathered around the volleyball court

The girls’ District Championships took place at Enoosaen Secondary High School. The game was delayed for sometime, few chairs were placed outside, and the audience was sparse. There were more whispers than cheering.

KCE volleyball team warming up before their big win
KCE volleyball team warming up before their big win

Though our audience was fewer in numbers than the boys, those that trickled in said they were there just to watch KCE play. I also didn’t hear any complaints about these differences from the team. Rather they were pleased to have received second place against the Kilgoris Division, eager to continue competing, determined to play their way to the top.

 

 

 

One Response to “Volleyball Victory: KCE Girls’ Win the District Championships”

  1. iain says:

    Go team. Wonderful photos and cool uniforms! Love the idea of the girls doing well against superior teams, and without fuss.

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A Visit to a Healing Ministry


Megan Orr | Posted April 8th, 2012 | Africa

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As the only foreigner for miles, it is often easy to feel like an outsider. It isn’t that I am devoid of attention, quite on the contrary, but upon my arrival making true connections has been more challenging than I had anticipated. After the first few weeks of constant stares but few hellos, I realized that it was up to me to make an effort to overcome the differences that weren’t going to change.

Mama Kakenya and her sister Juliana Chengetich have been my outlets to the Massai culture and to a broader social circle that might have otherwise been impossible. It is through Mama Kakenya that I have learned how to plant maize, make ugali and establish friendships and working relationships within the community. She has introduced me to teachers, students and pastors. She also introduced me to a family friend Loice, who taught me how to milk cows.

On average Loice milks thirteen cows a day
On average Loice milks thirteen cows a day

Juliana has taught me several Kiswahili words while preparing meals, like mboga (vegetable), moto (fire) and maji (water). In an effort to spend the pastime as the locals do, I earnestly accepted when Juliana invited me to Outreach Ministry in Kisii for mass last Saturday. Although I don’t consider myself Christian, I was intrigued by Juliana’s stories of the two pastors who are notorious for their ability to heal the sick.

Loice took a snapshot of me milking one evening after I taught her how to use my camera
Loice took a snapshot of me milking one evening after I taught her how to use my camera

One night while washing dishes with Juliana, she shared with me her personal story of healing at her Ministry. A few years ago Juliana was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Some of her friends had claimed that they were healed through the pastors at the Ministry. These stories inspired Juliana to attend mass despite the two hours walk from Enoosaen to seek a spiritual remedy. Juliana claims that it was after this mass that she had regained her strength and was no longer showing signs of her illness.

In both a state of awe and disbelief of her story, I continued to listen intently as she told me other similar healing stories. She claimed that one woman had been cured of AIDS, while another woman’s disabled son had regained the ability to walk. While attempting to overcome my skepticism and the imminent potential danger in some of these beliefs, I was anxious to meet these women who had these alleged miracles bestowed upon them.

Juliana walks a two hour walk to Kisii every Saturday
Juliana walks a two hour walk to Kisii every Saturday

That Saturday, we walked up steep, narrow, rocky paths and crossed small rivers. The land of Kisii is tropical and home to primarily tea, coffee and sugarcane plantations. Houses and crops are nestled together leaving just enough grass around each home for their cattle to graze.

Upon arrival, I was welcomed with great warmth and many cups of tea by the community of Kisii and Massai peoples. Unlike the decadent stained glass windows and altar I was used to, the mass took place in a small dim mud hut with a few long benches. Pastor Reuben preached the words of God in Kiswahili and his brother Alphaeus translated them for me. An hour and a half later, after much singing and praise Pastor Reuben opened up the floor for people to be healed and blessed. One woman was to be baptized that same afternoon at the local river.

Outreach Ministry Preacher Alphaeus Okeyo baptizes Zippaa Mokeira
Outreach Ministry Preacher Alphaeus Okeyo baptizes Zippaa Mokeira

I was also invited to be blessed. A bit nervous and emotionally torn at the prospect, but determined to embrace the experience, I reluctantly walked up to the Pastor. He looked into my eyes, paused, and then cradled my head with his hands.

 Juliana is excited for me to take a photo in celebration of Zippaa's baptism
Juliana is excited for me to take a photo in celebration of Zippaa's baptism

He closed his eyes and in a deep reverberant voice he called out to Lord to bless me. Juliana and the other twelve adults and children in the room had their hands raised and their eyes closed, they all sent me their blessings and asked God to protect me.

Pastor Reuben Momanti talks with member Mliika Obonyo whose crippled son is claimed to have regained the ability to walk
Pastor Reuben Momanti talks with member Mliika Obonyo whose crippled son is claimed to have regained the ability to walk

I felt a strong sense of gratitude at the feeling of acceptance, particularly by this fairly remote community that has had little to no exposure to foreigners.

Outreach Ministry community
Outreach Ministry community

I do not consider myself a devout Catholic, Christian or an atheist, but growing up I was brought to church every Sunday. In all of those Sunday masses I had attended, I had never really felt the same spiritual connection to those around me as I had at this Ministry. I wondered if it was because of the context in which I was attending, the comfort I found in the familiarity of the church space, or perhaps the feeling of being invited into this communal ritual. Nonetheless, the exposure that the mass had highlighted for me was both the importance of Christianity in Massai and Kisii cultures as well as it being a safe space of togetherness and acceptance.

I don’t think this will necessarily change my religious beliefs when getting home, but it certainly opened the door for more friendships and trust by the community.

 

 

 

4 Responses to “A Visit to a Healing Ministry”

  1. iain says:

    Very nice description of an intense experience in a strange setting, among real believers. Maybe it was religious for you as well, for just those reasons?

  2. John says:

    I really like reading articles like this from open-minded but not empty-headed people who aree trying to do good. Bravo.

  3. Christine says:

    Megan,
    Thank-you for sharing this amazing experience. You truly are blessed.

    Xxx

  4. chat rooms uk says:

    Hello There. I discovered your weblog the usage of msn. This is a very neatly written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and come back to read extra of your useful information. Thank you for the post. I will certainly comeback.

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T-y-p-i-n-g Together One Sentence at a Time


Megan Orr | Posted March 22nd, 2012 | Africa

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“If you can hear me clap twice. A few students clap. “If you can hear me clap three times.”  With most eyes and ears tuned in I ask class four, “Now class what is our computers first and last name (username and password), everyone this time?”

“Administrator and admin!”

Welcome to one of my computer classes at KCE. For the past two weeks I have been teaching all classes, four through seven. We have covered what computers are used for, its hardware components, how to log on, how to maneuver on the desktop using the mouse and we recently began a lesson on typing.

First week of computer classes and three questions to introduce the days lesson
First week of computer classes and three questions to introduce the days lesson

My class four has thirty-nine students, class five has twenty-eight, class six has thirty-two and class seven has twenty-two. There are sixteen HP PC computers, thanks to a donation in 2011 made by Hewlett Packard. Computer classes aren’t only a lesson on IT, but also on the nature of sharing. The girls must take turns using the mouse and keyboard.

Class seven girls taking turns typing
Class seven girls taking turns typing

Typing was the most challenging yet most exciting activity so far. For each class I split the girls into groups and had them vote on who they wanted to write a letter to. Of course aunts, sisters and grandmothers were some of the people mentioned but each class wanted to really write to Cleia Noia, Charlotte Bourdillon, Antonia Piccone and Kakenya Ntaiya. It was a pleasure to help these girls write to past AP Peace Fellows, both of which taught computer classes.

Class four girls excited to write a letter
Class four girls excited to write a letter

After some time the majority of the girls began to understand and recall how and when to use the spacebar and enter key.

Nine to a computer station can be tough but they manage by helping each other
Nine to a computer station can be tough but they manage by helping each other

I was impressed by how well the girls worked together. For instance, when in need of a question mark, a partner would demonstrate how to hold down the shift key. Indeed finding the correct letter on the keyboard was always a challenge. I have yet to introduce how to use both hands when typing, the index finger tends to do all of the work.

Some of the things the girls wrote were very sweet and touching. Here is an example of a letter class seven wrote to Kakenya:

“I hope you are fine and healthy.”- Nampayio Olosimba

“We are fine and hard working.”- Jackline Kantai

“We are doing well in our studies.”- Peyiai Kortom

“Goodbye, may God be with you.”- Gladys Ntoror

Once each group finished I read the letters out loud. The girls got a kick out of hearing how each of their individual sentences came together to form one uniform letter. That was a unique and rewarding part of the exercise that I believe they were not expecting.

Class seven girls typing a letter in Microsoft Word
Class seven girls typing a letter in Microsoft Word

Recently a few girls from my computer class five stayed after dismissal to continue with the day’s lesson, typing a letter. If the opportunity for more one on one time is there it will most definitely be taken advantage of.

Class four is dismissed and so are their chairs
Class four is dismissed and so are their chairs

There may be only one of me but there are many girls open to overcoming any challenge for their academic success.

 

 

6 Responses to “T-y-p-i-n-g Together One Sentence at a Time”

  1. Please tell the girls how exciting it is to know that they are learning skills that will help them to help the world. Soon they will be able to bring their message of hope everywhere. Coeleen Kiebert

  2. iain says:

    Really like this blog. We need to find some students over here in the US for the girls to write to! What would it take to get an Internet connection?

  3. entrpreneur says:

    Cool stuff, time well spent!

  4. Kristen says:

    Megan – How exciting. All of those girls look so curious and interested. Good work.

  5. Sarah Craven says:

    Hi Megan

    A wonderful post and delightful photos. We need to figure out how to flag for HP the wonder of their generous gift.

    Keep writing and posting!

    Sending a hug, Sarah

  6. Christine says:

    Beautiful!

    Thank-you for these updates.

    Xxx

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Future KCE Pilots Dream to be Connected to the Rest of the World


Megan Orr | Posted March 8th, 2012 | Africa

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The World Wide Web is a concept, not a source for communication in Enoosaen and its surrounding areas. There are three main ways that people communicate, they are face-to-face, radio, and cell phones. With the exception of a few businesses, most of the local population does not use the Internet, have not seen and do not own a computer. One of my tasks while here is to work towards turning this concept into a reality for KCE girls. I hope to get an Internet connection for the computer lab. This goal came to mind one recent afternoon when I experienced the normalcy of the digital divide.

I sat my laptop on a top bunk bed in the girl’s lively dormitory with a Safaricom USB modem connected for network access. My predecessor Charlotte Bourdillon in the fall of 2011 collaborated with 24 girls from class six to produce a series of quilt panels based on the theme, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Most Maasai girls are not given the opportunity to decide this for themselves. Maasai customs expect girls to undergo female genital cutting (FGC) and early-marriage as soon as they reach puberty. KCE education has given these girls a chance to claim their freedom and learn about their rights. I showed the girls pictures of last years finished quilt and the artists profiles posted on The Advocacy Project website.

Girls listen intently as I being to share their photos
Girls listen intently as I being to share their photos

One by one we clicked on each quilt panel. These girls were fascinated and completely plugged into the reality that they were on the Internet. I witnessed the empowerment of these girls as an effect of their connection to the world. I saw the dire need to help alleviate the ever-widening digital divide.

Class 6 Quilt, 2011
Class 6 Quilt, 2011

Many girls want to build schools for the disadvantaged, become doctors, build homes to help their families, buy a computer, but many interestingly want to become pilots. Proven by the finished quilt panels and by my simply asking, their reasons for this are as follows: To go to the United States, to travel, to live in another country and to do it quickly.

The girls are ecstatic about their online presence
The girls are ecstatic about their online presence

If one thinks about it in terms of the digital divide, dreaming to become a pilot means quenching ones thirst for connection to the world and instantaneous entertainment. Metaphorically speaking, using the Internet is like flying. Our “wings” are the mouse and the “wind” is the network. It enables one to have access to anywhere and any information in the world at virtual speed.

Big smiles all around
Big smiles all around

The joy and labor that went into the creation of this quilt along with many others created in partnership with The Advocacy Project, were exhibited at the “Women are the Fabric” show on March 8 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York city to celebrate Women’s International Day. This news was shared that same afternoon, but it unsurprisingly did not interest them as much as being on the Internet. No one seemed to know what the UN is or does. The city New York did not ring a bell either. I look forward to the day when the girls can surf the net to explore and discover  the impact their quilt and school has had on the rest of the world.

3 Responses to “Future KCE Pilots Dream to be Connected to the Rest of the World”

  1. Lauren says:

    Megan, I am thrilled to see a photo of the brilliant smiles you are creating by simply being yourself. I love you and your passion and you work and your mind. Keep writing! Keep growing!

  2. Thanks for this great post, Megan! Girls, you are indeed a great presence on the web and I love seeing your latest photos on Flickr.com (have you showed them that treasure trove yet, Megan? I bet it would be very slow to view). Keep on smiling and studying, KCE girls!

  3. Wallace says:

    My goodness!! How sweet these images are!! That many of them want to be pilots is so cool. Possibility opens up in their minds as you expose them to such things. I love hearing that they are unaware of NYC as a place.

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Fellow: Megan Orr

Kakenya Center for Excellence


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