For the Girl Effect blogging campaign now under way, I would like to offer a visual definition of empowerment. I teach religious education/international social justice to 7th graders at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday mornings, and for my introduction to international concerns last Sunday, I explained the difference between helping people with aid dollars (bags of food labeled “U.S.” in Somalia) and empowerment dollars. I showed these two pictures to launch my explanation of empowerment. The kids described traits of the girl on the left, recognized the photo on the right showed the same girl, and noted the differences. They got it right away – the girl on the right was empowered.
The photos show Angeline, a student at the Kakenya Center fo Excellence primary girls’ boarding school in Maasai Kenya (www.kakenyasdream.org, and on GlobalGiving at http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/kenyagirlschool/). On the school’s first application day (photo, left), Angeline showed up alone, desperate for a good education. Although she was older than her peers, she was accepted in part by her sheer force of determination. The photo on the right was taken three months after the school opened (6 months after application day) shortly after Angeline received her new uniform. For Angeline, along with many other girls, this was the first piece of new clothing she had ever received, and it is justifiably a source of great pride.
Now, more than 2 years later, Angeline is first in her 6th grade class, having scored Number 1 in exams last spring out of students from 29 schools in the district.
The Kakenya Center for Excellence strives to empower every girl and combat female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/FGC) and child marriage. The school also offers a holiday camp for girls in surrounding communities by pairing them with a Kakenya Center student who serves as mentor as they learn side by side about health education and leadership training skills. As of mid-October, you will have a chance to contribute funds to this holiday camp as part of the Girl Effect campaign on Global Giving.
Go, Girl Effect! For more on this week’s blogging campaign, visit http://www.taramohr.com/girleffectposts/.
I am an ordinarywoman inspired to change the world in tiny increments. My focus is on four organizations in different regions of and – not all at once, if I can help it.
For my first blog posting, I am choosing to address the critical but overlooked issue of Kakenya Center for Excellence (KCE), a primary for girls currently serving grades 4-6. The Maasai have, until recently, insisted that their daughters undergo female genital cutting ( , also known as FGM, or female genital mutilation) at puberty to prepare for , which takes place not long afterward. Some girls are betrothed, often to much older men, as young children or even at birth. The extraordinary founder of KCE, Kakenya Ntaiya, was betrothed at age 5, though she was successful in resisting the marriage (see her amazing story). Fathers decide who their daughters will marry. KCE has been a great success in preventing FGC and, by default, early marriage by getting not only the girls but also parents community leaders, and others to understand that doing away with these negative tribal traditions hurts not only girls and their families but also the economic society . If girls are to complete not only primary school but secondary school, they can help reduce poverty by being qualified to earn a living of their own. One recent report even indicates that young Maasai men are looking outside the tribe to seek an educated wife who can enhance finances.– and one that my first project is working to eliminate, currently in a remote region of Maasai Kenya. I proudly serve as a U.S. board member of the
Allow me to introduce another one-woman grassroots effort – this one in another part of Maasai Kenya. The powerhouse behind the Naserian Girls Rescue Initiative is Counselor Caroline, who saves runaway girls from early marriage and FGC. Uncovered by one of The Advocacy Project‘s extraordinary Peace Fellows, Charlotte Bourdillon – now based at the Kakenya Center for Excellence but traveling around investigating the key issues of early marriage and FGC – Charlotte found and reported on Counselor Caroline in one of her blog postings. She also profiled some of the rescued girls. Word has circulated, and girls escaping forced marriages know to go to “Counselor Caro”. The superheroine for girls enrolls them in a boarding school and, during school breaks, takes 52 girls into her home and cares for them. A website for Counselor Caroline’s Naserian Girls Rescue Initiative exists, not yet to optimal capacity. If you’d like to support this effort, you can e-mail Caroline from her website or contact me, as no web donation option is now available. Think along the lines of Western Union.
Despite the success of these two grassroots efforts (though both are in need of funding), child marriage remains a dire problem in the world. Marriages come with a dowry, which is used to add to the family’s income or to end a debt. Societies throughout the world practice early marriage. According to a June 2011 report, Breaking Vows: Early and Forced Marriage and Girls’ Education, one girl under age 18 marries against her will every 3 seconds worldwide. The report comes from Plan UK, which sponsors the Because I Am A Girl Campaign. Lots of action to take here, including watching videos and signing a petition, but please keep in mind this direct link to a worthy grassroots school that has been successful in combating child marriage (and FGC), The Kakenya Center for Excellence. If you want to donate funds online or by check, this is a great way to support child marriage prevention. KCE is a registered 501(c)3 charitable organization, so your donation is tax deductible.
At the end of 2010, after the U.S. Senate unanimously approved an excellent child marriage prevention bill, conservatives in the U.S. House came to believe erroneously that language was too vague and that the bill would allow funding for abortions. Because of this 11th-hour effort, H.R. 2103, the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2009 – recognizing basic human rights – did not pass for purely political reasons. It’s no less than shameful.
We’ll explore this issue more in Part II . . . .