Margo Day, friend of World Vision who took a one year leave of absence from her role at Microsoft to focus on World Vision’s work in Kenya, recently returned from her sixth trip to Kenya. Today we bring you the final part of our series highlighting her words and reactions from this journey. Read Part 1 and Part 2.
Many of you know that in 2009 I first visited Marich Pass in Kenya and met 34 of the bravest girls I have ever had the honor to meet. These girls, ages 8-12 had refused to be married early and refused to be mutilated. They had been ridiculed and beaten and in some cases had fled their homes and in other cases were rescued as their homes were not safe anymore. I didn’t feel worthy to be standing on the same ground as they, knowing I wouldn’t have been so brave when I was 8 years old. When I heard their stories and looked into their eyes I saw two things: very brave girls who had deep determination to live a better life, and at the same time the look of girls who longed to be validated that they were important and longed to be loved. The only thing they asked that day was to help them have a better life by supporting their education. It’s because of these girls that St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School came to be.
This visit I asked to meet with the 30 original rescue center girls now attending St. Elizabeth School. In my previous visits over the past four years, I’ve never asked to do this. World Vision had shared it was important that these girls become part of the broader community of girls at St. Elizabeth in order to establish some normalcy. I respected that. This time, however, some of the girls would be graduating and I desperately wanted the opportunity to talk with all of them once again, find out how they were doing, what their lives were like now, what were their hopes and dreams now. Walking into the classroom where they were seated, I was overwhelmed in part by how much they had grown up! As we began to talk together, the magnitude of the impact of having this school for them began to grip my heart. All expressed their deep gratitude for having the opportunity to go to St. Elizabeth’s. One girl started by saying “You’ve allowed us to become people.” Another girl shared that when she sees her friends who are the same age as she, who were cut and married four years ago and now have 2-3 children, these girls say that their lives are over – at 16 or 17 years old! Meanwhile, this ‘rescued’ girl is just at the dawn of her future, and she knows it. A different girl said that she doesn’t dwell on her past: “My past is a stepping stone into my future” she said. They shared how the people in the community look up to them now. No one ‘bothers’ them anymore. (Peer ridicule and coercing is just one form of societal pressure put upon girls to undergo FGM and marry early.) Another girl wants to go on to be a nurse then a doctor. When you talk to her, you are immediately drawn in by her enthusiasm and vision not only for herself, but how she is going to make this community far better. In this community there is no a hospital nor access to a clinic nearby with a trained medical professional. She wants to change all of that. She is going to become and nurse then a doctor and come back and establish a hospital in this community where she is the lead doctor. She’s one of the top students at St. Elizabeth, and I believe all she has set out for herself to do, she will do!
From Ridicule to Honor
These 30 girls have gone from ridicule to honor. Today, they are confident, bright, self-assured, know they are loved and supported, have hopes and dreams for their lives that they fully intend to have come true. And they’re growing up. How profound is this!
These students are the fabric that wove a picture for me of profound and transformational change occurring that cannot be stopped. And together we’re witnesses and contributors to it!
The Work Continues
In July this year, UNICEF released a groundbreaking report documenting the instances of FGM in 29 countries throughout the world, including Kenya. The report states that 27% of women in Kenya have undergone FGM, a decline from 38% in 1998. However the declines are attributed mostly to the Kalenjin, Kikuyu and Meru tribes, not the Pokot. Kenya strengthened their 2001 ban on FGM for minors in September, 2011 to apply to adult women and added an extraterritoriality clause, extending restrictions to citizens who commit the crime outside the country’s border.
The FGM baseline assessment for the Kenya Child Protection and Education project area and subsequent follow up showed self-reported cases of FGM and formally reported cases are declining. However each is still way too high and far above the national average reported by UNICEF. We have much more work to do together with World Vision. But the more we pour ourselves into this work, the faster the lasting change will come on a wide and scalable basis.
On behalf of the thousands of Kenyan girls you’re helping through this program, a heart-felt thank you. Without your love and willingness to provide your resources and talents, none of this would have been possible. There are a total of 92 adults participating in area advisory councils throughout the project area. And just like them, YOU are being the change you wish to see in this world. And I for one and am humbled and grateful to be associated with you in this work.