In The Shadow Of Kilimanjaro: Week 2

Kimana, Kenya

Lenkai Christian School, Kimana, Kenya

Hello there and welcome to my blog. My name is Christian Bonds and I will be chronicling my 10 week internship in Kimana, Kenya. I am a Masters Student at the College of William and Mary studying Public Policy with a focus on International Development. I am a recipient of the Lawrence and Jean Irwin Public Affairs Scholarship, which is in part funding the work I am doing in Kenya. I am interning with Just One Africa and the Hope Beyond Foundation from May 25th to August 3rd of 2019.

Just One Africa is a non-profit focused on water security in Kajiado County South and the surrounding areas. They have provided thousands of water filtration systems to families and communities along with training on the use of these systems. The bulk of my work with Just One Africa will begin later this week.

So far, I have been working more closely with the Hope Beyond Foundation. The Hope Beyond Foundation is a non-profit organization presiding over a myriad of different community development programs. Their main focus, however, is on the implementation of SDG5, Gender Equality for all Women and Girls. Female Genital Mutilation(FGM), Child Marriage, and Sexual Gender Based Violence(SGBV) are prevalent across the region and have deep roots in the culture of the largest ethnic group in the area, the Maasai. Despite these acts being illegal in Kenya, lack of education on the law and refusal to conform cultural norms have allowed this practices to persist. The status quo is as follows. Girls as young as 9 to as old as 18 are forced by their parents to undergo FGM. FGM is the official term for the circumcision of girls as rite of passage into womanhood before they are married. Relatives, such as the father, would seek out a husband for their daughter and receive a bride price for her, money or property in exchange for the daughter’s hand in marriage. Once the marriage has been arranged, the girl would undergo circumcision and then move in with an older female relative for one to two months in order to learn how to be a wife. Afterward, she would be married off to her new husband. Men as old as 65 have been recorded marrying young girls. The husband would then defile the young girl as if she was an of age wife. FGM, Child Marriage, and SGBV go hand in hand. In order to combat one you have to stop them all. This is the reality many girls face as well as many other variations of this crime now that it has all gone under ground to escape the authorities. Many girls are taken to counties that are less strict or even to Tanzania to undergo FGM. Some people have even bribed doctors to perform FGM while the young girl is giving birth as a way of avoiding suspicion. For more information on FGM please visit this World Health Organization(WHO) fact sheet: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation .

Hope Beyond has established a rescue program for girls who have been a victim of these acts. Working closely with the local authorities, they remove victims from the abusive situation and bring them to the Hope Beyond Transitional Center. The center is a homestead with a main building, girls and boys dorms, a farm, dogs, cats, dairy cows, chickens, goats, and a cheeky duck. They grow and harvest all the food they need to maintain themselves on site and retrieve all of their water from a well. Here victims participate in rehabilitation for varying amounts of time based on each case, until they can realize the hope they have beyond what they have experienced. Each resident develops a plan moving forward. That can be moving to a local boarding school also run by the foundation or moving back in with distant relatives who weren’t perpetrating FGM, Child Marriage, or SGBV against them. Either way children are, by law, required to continue their education moving forward.

Many of these girls have limited schooling or even no school experience. Thus there is a need for Lenkai Christian School. The school is another project of the Hope Beyond Foundation. Many of the children that are rescued move on to study at the school. They have designed programs and a curriculum to get girls who have fallen behind in their education individual support so that they can catch up with their peers. Many have never received an education and therefore only speak Maasai, their ethnic langauge. Swahili is the most prominent language in Kenya, followed by English. The school has programs for teaching both Swahili and English to the students to catch them up. Most of the regular classes are taught in English. Lenkai Christian School is a picturesque place at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro where girls can reconcile and learn to move on from the troubles they have faced.

Despite the great work they are doing to protect these girls, ending FGM, Child Marriage, and SGBV in Kajiado takes more than treating the victims of these heinous crimes. In partnership with Olive Branch, another non-profit, Hope Beyond has hosted countless training and information sessions with rural communities and government officials regarding SDG5. Community meetings usually include going way out into a rural area and meeting with anywhere from 200-1000 local residents under a tree. They bring representatives from multiple districts including political leaders, leaders of the police, ethnic leaders, and religious leaders in order to teach communities about the laws, about the harms of FGM, about the consequences young girls face, and about the repercussions of involving yourself in these acts. Other professional trainings occur with officials alone. Local police, state police, gender officers, doctors, nurses, politicians, and others attend these trainings. Professional trainings are catered to the audience in explaining exactly how they can assist in ending FGM in Kajiado. These trainings have been impactful on surrounding communities. This evidenced by both anecdotal stories of parents that changed their minds about circumcising their girls, and a joint report from the WHO and UNICEF outlining a reduction of these practices in Kajiado County.

I am proud of the work I am involved in here. I am in the middle of my second week and have already participated in a community meeting, conducted survey data collection in rural areas, edited reports on trainings we have facilitated, taught music at the school, designed a plaque for a new office we are opening, and moved into and organized our new office. I have had all manner of local cuisine, met all kinds of great people, and have become a functional part of the team we have built at the Hope Beyond Foundation.

We are doing great work here in the shadow of Kilimanjaro. I thank God for the blessings he is laying on this community. This is what international development is all about, tangible impacts on the livelihood of innocent children.

If you have an inquiry about the work going on here or about my experience specifically, email me at cmbonds@email.wm.edu .

Comments

  1. egheinze says:

    Hello from a few hundred kilometers away in Ewaso Ngiro, Kenya! It is exciting to hear about the work you are doing (relatively) close by. I am conducting research on immunization coverage out of a clinic in Ewaso that primarily serves the Maasai communities in this part of Narok county. The clinic runs similar outreach and education programs in the local public schools. I wonder if you have faced any pushback from the young girls themselves? I know it can be difficult here for some young women to deny FGM, as it is seen as a rite of passage that is so ingrained int their culture.

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