Blog

Alternative Right of Passage – Olkiramatian Magadi Ceremony

August 2016

Posted by on Aug 10, 2016 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Alternative Right of Passage – Olkiramatian Magadi Ceremony

Female Genital Mutilation is defined by the World Health Organization as all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

magadi-ceremony01On the 24-26th of August this year, our Pokot girls, sponsored by the Helen Valverde Scholarship Program, joined a group of over 300 teenagers in the town of Magadi, in a village known as Olkiramatian, to participate in an Alternative Right of Passage Ceremony. The girls participated in a two-day workshop where experts on the topic of female reproductive health taught them about the extreme dangers of FGM.

magadi-ceremony02Magadi is home to a large number of the Masai community. The Masai are a Nilotic ethnic group from Southern Kenya. They are a nomadic warrior tribe known for their rich culture and love for their animals which are basically comprised of goats and cows. The Masai depend on their cattle for meat, milk and blood- the main components of their diet.  They do not have need for food grown by other communities; instead, the Masai are very focused on maintaining their own culture. They are one of the rare tribes that has defied modern culture and retained their traditional way of life.

On the flip side, the Masai are amongst the communities that practice FGM.  The cohesive strength of the Masai culture makes it resistant to change, especially to deeply ingrained traditions, like the practice of FGM. The Masai believe that a girl who is not cut is not fit for marriage.  The force that drives this thinking is that after being cut the girls will refrain from engaging in sexual intercourse.  The Masai believe that once a girl is cut, she will preserve the honor of the Masai society by staying pure. The aim of ‘the cut’ in the Masai community is to stop the female from being promiscuous.

The Masai practice Type 1 of FGM which involves the removal of the clitoral hood and all or part of the clitoris. This procedure is known as clitoridectomy.

The Alternative Right of passage has been designed to spare the girls the horrific, damaging aspects of ‘the cut’ by providing an educational and ‘symbolic’ passage into adulthood.

magadi-ceremony03The girls participate in a training session where they are educated about the dangers of FGM which include severe bleeding, infection due to poor sanitary conditions, risk of contracting HIV/AIDS (due to sharing of the blades and knives used to perform the cut), as well as complications during childbirth which include fistula and stillbirths.  Too often, even death occurs.

The girls had a lot to learn from the different facilitators present at the workshop. The Valvisions Foundation girls also enjoyed the dances and seeing the beautiful beadwork that the Masai girls are famous for making.

The Graduation Ceremony was the highlight of the workshop.  The girls, all adorned in their traditional attire, met early in the morning as the sun rose. They danced and sang while heading to the traditional kraal where the elders from the community were waiting to bless them. In the kraal were goats. The goats are a very important aspect of the Masai ceremony. The Masai believe that when one makes an oath in the presence of their goats, that oath is binding and cannot be broken. When the girls are blessed in the presence of the goats, it is, therefore, a promise that they will not be cut.  An oath to the goats is iron clad; no one will violate that oath.

magadi-ceremony04The girls make a circle around the goats and kneel on the ground as the elders come forward, to pour milk (from a gourd) on their heads to bless them. Once this ritual is complete, the girls stand and dance around the goats until the elders allow them to leave the kraal. They have been circumcised in the mind, but not on the body. The girls dance all the way back to their homes where they are received by their mothers and older women as new initiates. The girls are given gifts of bead necklaces, arm and ankle bracelets, and beautiful shawls mostly in red and black colors, the traditional colors of the Masai.

From this time forward, the girls become anti-FGM champions responsible for speaking up vehemently to their peers and to their communities, in general, about the need to turn away from the ancient and barbaric practice of FGM and to report to the authorities if they feel threatened or aware that the practice is being continued.

Kenya Farming- Hats Off to Mr. Wakaba!

July 2016

Posted by on Jul 6, 2016 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Kenya Farming- Hats Off to Mr. Wakaba!

If you want to be included on the list of people known for achieving their desires despite unrelenting challenges, be prepared to work hard, fight hard, stay on course, stay focused, year after year after year, obstacle after obstacle, seeming failure after failure to make your dream come true.  It is said: ‘To the one who is determined, it remains only to act. There is no chance, no destiny, and no fate that can hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.’

kenya-farming01In Kenya, we are truly blessed with good weather, plenty of food when the rains are sufficient, and very hard working people. We are taught from an early age the need to fend for ourselves, to take care of the fields because they are our source of livelihood.  Without the fields, there would not be enough food for human consumption.  We are taught to plant trees and to conserve the environment.  As necessary as it is to cut trees for firewood and building materials, we have always been encouraged to plant ‘two ‘trees for every ‘one’ tree that is cut.

This traditional teaching and cultural priority has been in effect too many generations to count. We are now, however, seeing vast and unforeseen changes in our root beliefs as so much of our youth is now moving ‘to the city’ after graduated from school.  Many of this generation, graduate and now buy or lease homes in the city away from the community where they were born and raised.  Their older parents have been left to take care of the homes of origin.  Many of their parents have gotten too old and have lost the energy to till the land and make good use of the rural environment, once so primal and native to Kenya.

kenya-farming02It was thus with great pleasure and renewed excitement that I came upon Mr. Wakaba one day, an older man in his 70s who owns and maintains his own farm with excellence!  Mr. Wakaba has defied age and time by deciding to make ‘the best out of’ his farm.

Mr. Wakaba has 9 acres of land in his native village near the Aberdares Mountains.  He practices a lot of fish farming, the growing of crops, and keeping domestic animals. What was most intriguing about this man is his knowledge in matters of crop rotation and in the crossing of breeds, like cows, to improve the breed, in general.

kenya-farming03Mr. Wakaba knows exactly how many trees he has on his farm, and the quantity of fruits he harvests per season.  He knows how much money he will make per harvest of fruit and fertilizes routinely with manure to help ensure his stream of income.  Mr. Wakaba keeps his farm healthy by continually digging up the fertile soil with the help of his farm- hand.

There are elderly parents who sit idle in their village expecting their grown children to work and send money for food and general upkeep, but not this man!  Mr. Wakaba believes in making enough money for himself and in leaving a legacy of knowledge and prosperity for his children to emulate.  Mr. Wakaba is a great achiever who takes risks and does not lose focus from the goal he  aims to achieve.

kenya-farming04kenya-farming05kenya-farming06

 
After meeting him, I decided Mr. Wakaba deserved a spot in Valvisions’ July Blog. Hats off to you, Mr. Wakaba!

Female Genital Mutilation Classes

June 2016

Posted by on Jun 6, 2016 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Female Genital Mutilation Classes

Severe pain, excessive bleeding (hemorrhage), genital tissue swelling, fever, infections e.g. tetanus, Aids, fistula, injury to surrounding genital tissue, shock, still-births, death….

These are some of the risks young girls and women face when they are forced to undergo ‘the cut.’ Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has no health benefits for girls and women. FGM is a global violation of the human rights of girls and women. FGM violates a female’s rights to health, security, and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as the right to life when the procedure results in death.

At the Choice Club meeting we held at Karen C. Girls School on the 16th of June, the topic for the day was FGM. During the meeting, we looked at the dangers of the practice; the girls in our Club were very sad to learn about what happens to their peers in certain communities.

Valvisions believes in delivering relative and correct information to our Choice Club members when we teach on women’s health. In lieu of that objective, we solicited the help of a nurse who attended the June meeting and who delivered a very candid talk with the girls. The nurse presented the girls with photos of the female anatomy the way God intended it to be, whole, healthy and beautiful. Afterwards, she showed another picture of the same anatomy, this one violated by ‘the cut. ’ The look on the girls’ faces was enough to tell the story: they did not like what they saw!

Cultural practices rooted in a set of beliefs, values as well as cultural and social behavioral-patterns that govern the lives of people in a society, all contribute to the prehistoric practice of FGM. FGM is seen as part of a girls’ initiation into womanhood and as an important part of a community’s’ cultural heritage and/or tradition. There are many myths associated with ‘the cut.’ One being, for example, that ‘the cut’ will enhance fertility; another- that a female who is ‘not cut’ is not clean or that an ‘un-cut female is witch-like. These kinds of myths serve to perpetuate the practice.

The nurse, who spoke during the Choice Club Meeting, works at a Medical Clinic where she helps deliver babies. She shared personal experiences about what she has faced with women who have been ‘cut,’ and who have come to the Clinic to deliver their babies. The nurse narrated the horror these women go through, the unspeakably painful labor they experience. Most of the women, she shared, have to be operated on in order for their baby to be born. These women often cannot have normal delivery and must have caesarian births. Many women who have ‘been cut’ die in the delivery room; many babies die before viable delivery.

The nurse urged the girls to be a voice against this outdated practice that has stolen the childhood of too many girls. Cultural adherence has no place when it is used to condone violence against persons, male or female. Behavior can change when people understand the hazards of certain practices and when they realize that it is possible to give up harmful practices without giving up the meaningful aspects of their culture.

MOTHER’S DAY THE AFRICAN WAY

May 2016

Posted by on May 6, 2016 in Valvisions | Comments Off on MOTHER’S DAY THE AFRICAN WAY

Presented by Grace Wandia; Director Kenya Program~

As we celebrate Mother’s Day on the 8th of May, we celebrate a woman who has been exploited over the years because of her gender. We celebrate a woman who has labored and toiled for her family for generations; this woman has known little peace and happiness.

This woman has had little access to an education or none at all during the course of her life. She has had very limited access to medical care. She experiences domestic violence on a regular basis.

This woman’s hands are old and battered; her hands have tilled the land and produced food for her family, washed the family clothes, and pounded the millet for porridge.

This woman’s legs are tough and hard from years of walking bare foot and having trod over stones and rocks fending for her family.

This woman delivered her children in a mud and wattle hut, assisted by a local midwife because she cannot afford maternal care or because there is none.

The prevalence of HIV and Aids, lack of family planning, and unskilled birth attendants contribute to a high mortality rate, yet this woman gives birth over and over again because that is what culture demands of her.

This woman prays for her children, especially the girl-child.

In the African culture, the birth of a daughter brings mixed feelings and anxiety. Doubts abound in the mother’s mind as she wonders almost daily whether her daughter will weather the tumultuous storms that life will inevitable bring her, mostly as the result of her gender.

Generally speaking, the African mother is far stricter on their daughters than their sons. There is so much conflicting information on how to raise a girl-child that is has become a nightmare for most parents to determine what ‘a good girl’ should be like and how she is to look.
It is the responsibility of the mother to ensure that the girl-child fits the standards that society sets for her daughters. When the girl behaves well and is admired in the society, then she belongs to the father. When the opposite is true, she belongs to the mother.

The girl-child, due to her feminine stature in and of itself, is excessively vulnerable to her environment making it a daunting task for the mother to raise the girl-child up well. It is, therefore, very important that these girls are guided as they try to learn and understand how to cope with the changes in their lives- social, emotional and physical. The girls need appropriate role models in a culture where many of the social mores regarding gender have been twisted into chains of cruelty and injustice.

The winds of time are, however, changing. The basic strength and truth of a woman’s intuition are being better heeded by the women themselves. As a result, the men are beginning to listen. There is a feel of change in the air….

As we celebrate Mother’s Day in Africa, we celebrate a woman of undeletable strength, one who daily shoulders the storms and great hardships of life come what may. We celebrate a woman who exists as the rock upon which the family stands and upon which the community as a whole, therefore, both exists and thrives.

We celebrate our African mothers!

Akili Dada Leadership Academy

April 2016

Posted by on Apr 6, 2016 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Akili Dada Leadership Academy

leadership-academy01Valvisions Foundation sponsored the Kenya girls to attend the Akili Dada Leadership Academy on April 18th- 22nd. Below, please find some of the highlights of our experience:

leadership-academy02leadership-academy03leadership-academy04leadership-academy05

 

SEXUAL REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH
The girls were informed about the different changes their bodies will undergo as they process from puberty to adulthood. The three stages of adolescence are 1) early adolescence which takes place from 11-14 years, 2) middle adolescence during the years of 15-17, and 3) late adolescence which occurs between 18-21 years of age. The female body experiences growth changes in areas like breast development, change in shape and height, growth of pubic hair and body hair, and the onset of menstruation.

The girls were also taught the need to engage in healthy relationships with others. Healthy relationships contribute to overall well-being while an unhealthy relationship generates the exact opposite. A true friend or partner knows your weaknesses, but shows you your strength; feels your fears but fortifies your faith. Sees your anxieties, but frees your spirit. Recognizes your disability, but emphasizes your possibilities.

On the area of sexually transmitted infections, the focus was on the types of sexually transmitted infections which can be transmitted: like Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital PHV infection, and HIV/Aids.

SEXUAL GENDER BASED VIOLENCE (SGBV)
The girls were taught definitions of violence against women, as illustrated, below:

Domestic Violence – the abuse of power perpetrated mainly (but not only) by men against women in a relationship or after separation.
Gender based violence (GBV) – Violence against women and girls including physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse. 1 in 3 women will experience gander-based violence in her lifetime. The trends in Sexual Gender Based Violence in Kenya are manifested through sexual, physical and psychological abuse. The main perpetrators of physical violence among married women are current or former husbands/ partners, mothers/ step-mothers. The main perpetrators of physical violence among unmarried women are teachers, mothers/ step-mothers, fathers/step-fathers.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a form of sexual violence perpetuated on the girl- child and on women in general. According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey Report (KDHS) there has been a gradual decline in these numbers in recent years. The communities that are notorious for this kind of violence against women are the Somalis at 98%, the Kisii at 96%, and the Masai at 73%.

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something possessed deep inside- a vision, a dream. Cognizance and an innate return to these desires cumulate into belief. Once belief becomes a deep conviction, the Universe converges and conspires to make it a possibility. (Goethe).

Mohammed Ali said it well: “Don’t wait for someone to affirm you, affirm yourself!” Goals keep us going: to have goals and to know our goals is fuel for life. To live a life of abundance and fulfillment it is crucial to rise in the morning and ‘intend’ your goal(s), and to visualize those goal(s) before lying down at night. Goals are vitally important; we need them to feel significant and excited about life, as well as a plan to guide our goals towards us. Dreams are the driving force of an fruit-bearing life.

The girls visited industries like Ocean Sole where they were surprised to see and learn that old rubber shoes and sandals can be used to create beautiful toys and decorations.

leadership-academy06leadership-academy07leadership-academy08

KAREN C. GIRLS SCHOOL – CHOICE CLUB

March 2016

Posted by on Mar 12, 2016 in Valvisions | Comments Off on KAREN C. GIRLS SCHOOL – CHOICE CLUB

Valvisions founded the ‘Choice Club’ as a tool to open up discussion for girls in secondary school to help them cope with the daily challenges they experience as young females.  The Choice Club curriculum covers 10 topics that help the girls to learn who they are, discover their potential and the opportunities available to them, as well as how to handle the challenges they are bound to encounter as they become young adults. We provide them with knowledge of their basic human rights, introduce them to the dangers that harmful cultural practices like FGM can cause, and counsel them to seek help if and when they feel they are in danger. We teach the girls who to run to for help both in their communities and in the society-at-large.

 

Choice-Club-Members-2016This year, at the Karen C. Girls School, Valvisions’ Choice Club has a membership of 42 vibrant girls. The girls are social and very happy and eager to learn and to answer questions. The mentors of the Choice Club have learned that the current generation faces many difficult challenges and that their most coveted reward is ‘self-esteem.’ These young females have been raised in an era where they are in constant need of affirmation and praise. This generation is crying out for mentorship. They need people who can come down to their level and impact them through example as they journey towards higher excellence in life.  At the Choice Club, we believe that the difference between a leader and a mentor is that a leader may lead from a distance but a mentor can only influence when a close personal relationship has been developed. The facilitators of the Choice Club counsel the girls in such a way as to ensure that they feel accepted in society; we help the girls to reach their goals without having to compromise their security or wellbeing.

 

We teach a weekly class at Karen C. Girls School which is made up of girls from all walks of life. We have girls from Christian backgrounds, Muslims and other religions. We do not discriminate on religious grounds; every girl is equal and we have a sisterhood that endeavors to make each and every girl feel welcome and accepted regardless of their differences.  We believe every girl has a story to tell and that we need to hear that story.

nduku-and-mercyjacinata-and-judith
snack-as-a-group

Kenya Midterm Break

February 2016

Posted by on Feb 14, 2016 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Kenya Midterm Break

At Valvisions Foundation, we inspire for our girls to be strong, smart and bold. We believe in providing our diverse girls with life changing experiences and solutions to the unique challenges that girls face. We create an environment that empowers the girls to succeed. We build lasting relationships in the girls by helping create a sense of mutual respect and sisterhood. We provide the girls with a physically and emotionally safe environment. We provide hands-on programs that give the girls skills and knowledge to set goals, overcome obstacles, and improve academic performance.

These girls come from a culture that does not recognize the girl child; her place is in the kitchen, doing house chores while waiting for a suitor regardless of her age. Education is a vital tool to help traditional culture and religion abandon reasons for subjecting girls to the cut. “A home without daughters is like a spring without a source.”

We love our girls, and we do everything possible to ensure that they are happy and safe.

2016-02-14_feb-blog-img-012016-02-14_feb-blog-img-022016-02-14_feb-blog-img-03
2016-02-14_feb-blog-img-042016-02-14_feb-blog-img-052016-02-14_feb-blog-img-06

KENYA BACK TO SCHOOL 1ST TERM

January 2016

Posted by on Jan 15, 2016 in Valvisions | Comments Off on KENYA BACK TO SCHOOL 1ST TERM

Our girls are back in school after a well-deserved December holiday. They had a good time with their parents and siblings, and they are grateful for the time spent with their families.
They are now in their final year of school and very apprehensive as they wait to sit for their final examinations in November, which will mark the end of their secondary education.

Those that will pass their examinations will be heading to the university. Those that don’t make the mark, can attend local colleges.

The girls are happy; they have everything they need at school through the funding they receive from Valvisions Foundation. Their tuition fee is paid, they have all the school supplies they need, and they have adequate pocket money for their use until the term ends.

We keep a keen eye on the girls, visiting them at school as often as possible, following up with their teachers, and making sure they stay on top of their grades. We enlist the help of a tutor who helps those with challenges in various subjects. Valvisions does everything to ensure that the girls get as much help as possible because we believe that they are willing to take up the mantle of leadership and do something outstanding with their lives.

 

 

Home for the Holidays

December 2015

Posted by on Dec 18, 2015 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Home for the Holidays

The Uganda girls are home for the Christmas holidays; it is the first time this year that they have returned to their village, Kaplegep. Understandably, they were overjoyed when the holiday began.

A beautiful, lush green land, tucked away in the furthest corner of South East Uganda, Kaplegep is a hilly countryside covered with fronds of banana plants, maize gardens and the tendrils of bean plants. In the mornings, the air is thick with mist, and in the evenings, smoke from household hearths fills the air with the fragrance of burning wood.

This is the life our girls were born into, which has shaped most of their experiences of the world. It is a simple life: there is no electricity and no indoor plumbing, therefore no TV, refrigerators, microwaves or other devices humming in the background. In fact, at night, the silence is almost absolute – broken only by the occasional animal howl.

Their homes are simply furnished, and centered around the cooking hearth where family meals are prepared. The fire also provides warmth in the biting cold of this mountainous region. Most of the girls are part of large families, extended families, with several generations living in close vicinity. With frequent inter-marriages, and polygamous unions most families in the area are related and in-laws are considered to be very important connections.

A woman’s household duties may extend to her in-laws, the family she has married into. Her in-laws have a huge influence on her life; often taking over her household. Men occupy the highest echelons of society; women may sit on the ground in their presence and they may certainly refrain from speaking unless spoken to. It is not uncommon for women to remain utterly silent in gatherings where men, or their in-laws, are present. There are many aspects of this culture which point at a challenging state of affairs for women, not least of which is the practice of FGM. This, not surprisingly, attracts the most censure, international condemnation and a legal ban on the ritual as well as various efforts to protect girls from the cruel cut.

From the outside looking in, it is easy to judge and perhaps condemn the seemingly complicated state of gender relations. This however, is the way things have been for time immemorial; the culture has been molded thus over centuries even and any real change would certainly take time. Yet who decides what needs to change? Arguably, a change from within is more sustainable than one enforced and policed by ‘outsiders’.

At VF, we see our girls as agents of change. Even as they enjoy the poignant simplicity of their rural lives this holiday – one that will probably be soon overtaken by the hectic demands of modern ‘civilization’ and its amenities- their life experience has been enriched by a high school education and exposure to cultures other than their own. Their world view is being shaped by many forces other than the green hills they roamed as children, oblivious to the hardships of their mothers.

As young women, they will soon be required to take their lowly place in Sabiny society. They may choose instead to define a new place for the women of their tribe, one free from enforced silence, solitude and FGM.

A Typical Day In A Pokot Girls Life

November 2015

Posted by on Nov 24, 2015 in Valvisions | Comments Off on A Typical Day In A Pokot Girls Life

It takes between 2 and a half to 3 hours for Cecilia to get to her home village from the rescue center that she lived in for many years before her life was transformed by Valvisions Foundation. Cecilia and the other 7 girls that are on a scholarship program through the Helen Valverde scholarship Fund have to go home every once in a while to visit their parents, relatives and siblings.

The journey home from the rescue centre is tiresome and grueling due to the dry and humid conditions in Pokot, there is no public transport and even the common motor bikes that are used by most travelers have not reached Pokot yet. After the long and tedious journey home, Cecilia is welcomed by her mother and her younger siblings, her father watches from his hut as the greetings are going on, he cannot show excitement or affection towards his daughter, such actions are reserved for the mother and the younger children, so he watches from a distance and looks disinterested. Cecilia after exchanging pleasantries with her mother and siblings then goes to her father’s hut, she humbly says hallo to him, and he responds barely looking in her direction, whatever emotions he feels are not revealed, that is the way culture dictates.

Cecilia has brought her mother some sugar, cooking oil, onions and tomatoes, rare commodities at home. She has also brought her siblings sweets and bread, and they jump with joy on seeing the gifts, she has cleverly saved part of her pocket money throughout the term to enable her buy this goodies. She rests for a while, and then she gets into the normal everyday routine of a Pokot girl.

Before dusk she helps her mother prepare dinner, ‘Ugali’ (maize flour mixed with hot water and cooked over a fire for about 15-20 mins making a loose paste, similar to mashed potatoes) and fermented milk is the staple food of the Pokot. They eat together, but the father eats from his hut. The meal is barely enough, but they have learnt to share what is provided. The dinner dishes are piled in one corner, the hut Cecilia shares with her sibling’s acts as the kitchen, dining area and sitting room. After dinner it’s time to sleep, there is no electricity and so they use a lantern, made from old tins filled with paraffin. Cecilia’s bed comprises of a cow hide, and a ‘leso’ (small shawl). All the girls in the family huddle together on the floor and each places their cow hide on the uncemented floor, the space is not much but they have to find a way to fit. Luckily Pokot is usually hot even at night, so the flimsy covers they have will do just fine. The boys sleep outside the girls hut, or near the cow shed, the mother has not built them a hut yet, and it is her responsibility to build the huts. They sleep out in the open, sometimes they light a fire to keep away snakes and other unwanted creatures. The mother retreats to her hut and joins her husband.

In the morning the boys are up early and they prepare to milk the cows, they also collect the cows urine in containers, this is used for washing the dinner dishes, urine is used where there is no detergent for cleaning the dishes, it cleans the dishes very well, they don’t rinse off the dishes after using the urine, water is a scarce commodity and must be preserved for drinking and cooking, so they use the dishes as they are, and no one falls sick as a result.

Breakfast is served, fermented milk, that’s all. They then set off for their chores, the boys go off to herd the animals, the girls fetch water and bring in firewood, the mother prepares local brew for the man of the house so he can share with his friends, and he sits outside his hut watching what is going on around him. There is no lunch, but one can drink some more fermented milk to quench their hunger, as they wait for dinner. Cecilia must help her mother to look for reeds and wild grass, this will be used to build a hut for her brothers, the mother will get a few of her friends to help her with the hut, the man can only watch from a distance, he can’t get involved with tasks meant for women.

Dinner preparations start at around 5 pm, the cows are brought home and milked, the milk is put in a gourd and a local herb added in to aid in the fermentation process, this should be ready in 2 days’ time. Dinner comprises of fermented milk, and ugali, that’s all they eat, they only substitute the ugali for boiled maize, hard boiled maize. They have to crush the maize to get the flour for the ‘ugali’, this is achieved by hitting and grinding the maize using a stone until they get flour out of it. They eat their dinner and everyone gets their hides and lays it on the floor, its bed time.

Cecilia has not bathed since she got home, she can only bath at the river, there is a specific spot for the girls and women, one for the boys and one for the old men. Cecilia can only go to the river accompanied by the other girls in the neighborhood; they are not allowed to go to the river alone. Finally she gets some girls who are going to fetch water and bath too, and she follows them, they all bath in the river and wash their clothes, they tie shawls around their bodies as they hang their clothes to dry and wait by the river bank as they chat away, she is the center of attention, telling the other girls about life in the big city and the various foods they eat. Once the clothes are dry they put them back on and fetch water to take home.

And this routine continues day in day out, they however attend traditional dances accompanied by an adult female, circumcision for the boys takes place in December and August for the girls, they have to be home early to cook before darkness sets it, and they fear being bitten by snakes at night, snakes are everywhere.

Cecilia’s small sister has recently started her period, and so Cecilia has been teaching her how to use a pad, a foreign item to her. But Cecilia is getting frustrated, the girls in the village never wear panties, they don’t have any, but Cecilia has brought her sister 3 panties, but the girl won’t wear them, and won’t wear the pad either, she will follow custom, sit in the hut until her period stops, periodically going to the river to bath, she can’t cook food or serve anyone until the periods are over, so everyone knows when she is on her period, but she does not mind, it’s the way of life. She should have got the cut last year, but the mother managed to convince the father to spare her, he is also scared of being jailed, so she was not cut.

Finally, it’s time to go back to school, Cecilia goes to talk to her father , he asks her what class she is in, and when is she starting to work so she can bring him money? He tells the mother to caution her that she’s growing old, all her age mates are married with children, so she needs to get a husband after school and get married, he reminds her that no Pokot man will marry her because she is not cut, and she cannot be cut now that she’s old. Cecilia smiles and nodes in her dad’s direction, no eye contact, and bides him goodbye. Her mother sees her off to the bus stop, 3 hours away, and she smiles as she walks away, she is lucky to have survived the cut, she is lucky to be going to school, a warm and safe place is waiting for her, good food and care that her sisters back home can only dream of.

She is different, she has something that her sisters will never have, an education, she is empowered, she is focused and she knows that her future is bright. She walks away with sadness, sad for her siblings that may never see the inside of a classroom, but happy too, happy that she can change all that if she works hard and gets into a university or college, gets a job and changes the fortunes of her siblings, especially the girls. Going home is something Cecilia looks forward to, with all its challenges and setbacks, it keeps her humble, and reminds her of where she has come from, and how fortunate she is to have escaped the culture that enslaves her mother and her siblings…. It keeps her grounded.

The Kenya Girls

October 2015

Posted by on Oct 18, 2015 in Valvisions | Comments Off on The Kenya Girls

This holiday season, get to know a little more about our Kenya girls; they have been in our lives for nearly four years now and we love them dearly. Cecilia is the tall girl who plays netball like a pro, Janet is always smiling and she loves to read a good novel, Irene is thoughtful, deeply religious and very focused on everything she does, she has excellent leadership qualities and she does a great job of watching over the other girls. Vemiah is inquisitive, mischievous, always has a big grin and loves to learn new skills like cooking and farming: she effortlessly milks the cow on the farm, and she makes very delicious food too. Vivian is vibrant and talkative, she loves her books and likes adventure, while Helidah is gentle, but she likes a good laugh and watching movies, she loves to farm and play football. Sandra takes a while to warm up to new people because she is shy, but start a conversation with her about the Pokot culture, and you will be amazed at the wealth of knowledge she has on Pokot traditions and norms. Alexine is smart as a whip, confident and extroverted; she loves to read anything and everything, like books and newspapers to catch up on the current affairs; she is very observant and is the first to notice little details.

The holiday house

Together, the girls have a warm, homely holiday house this Christmas. The house is based in Kinangop in central Kenya. It is a well-furnished house with amenities like water, electricity, a well secured compound, a farm with cows and sheep on it and lots of space for the girls to run around, they also have a vegetable garden which they tend with pride.

Vemiah the ‘cook’ invites you to lunch:

Enjoy with them the traditional but delicious Mukimo

Ingredients: Maize (corn), Peas, Potatoes (Irish)

Boil equal proportions of the maize, peas and potatoes until very tender. Then combine in a large dish, and mash with lots of butter and seasoning.

Serve piping hot alongside meat or chicken. Enjoy!

The Kenya Girls

Steadily Moving Forward

September 2015

Posted by on Sep 3, 2015 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Steadily Moving Forward

The end of the year is as much a time for reflection as the beginning; perhaps even more so for our students, because what happens in these last months will have such a huge impact on the New Year. The months of October and November require them to dig very deep, and find a last burst of energy that will propel them into the next grade.

In Kenya, next year is their final year of High School! At this time next year, our girls will be doing the University entrance exam, which is both exciting and terrifying for them. Understandably so because after that, they suddenly will be required to take control of their lives; thrust from the relative safety of the life we have helped them build for themselves, as our children near and dear to us, carefully and lovingly provided for in every way.

While still our children, the girls will all be 18 years old by the end of next year, legally recognized as adults and free to make their independent way in the world. University life in Kenya can be as socially and academically hectic as it is anywhere else in the world, and our girls are definitely looking forward to being undergraduates. Hopefully, they are well prepared!

It is easy to forget in all the ensuing hype, that their lives could have been very different without the intervention of Valvisions Foundation. Children from the Pokot tribe in Kenya continue to face an uncertain future. Violent clashes between nomadic tribes and clans routinely disrupt any attempts at normalcy; children have to miss school altogether as they are caught in the crossfire. Extreme changes in the climate have also taken a toll on the livelihoods of tribes like the Pokot; many women and children with no means to move from one location to another face hunger and a near certain death.

And while boys endure an unbearable burden, girls have it even worse because they bear the brunt of savage cultural practices put in place centuries ago in a crude attempt to establish absolute control over family life. The dark side of this is FGM, which despite progressive attempts to ban totally, continues to fester like a secret wound.

The word on the street is that more and more families are choosing not to take part in this practice; even our girls say that they see a decline in the importance of FGM as a cultural pillar, particularly as more people turn to organized religion. The reality, however, is very different. The anti-FGM movement is growing because, they say, the need is great. The women who ‘cut’ have simply gone underground, but not away. Nowadays, they work in secret; at homes and in remote locations. The families are sworn to secrecy, and girls continue to suffer this unspeakable horror.

Every end of year, we must re-group and think, what else can we do to change this status quo? There are still people who think ‘culture’ is sacred and therefore untouchable, and others who imagine all efforts have been exhausted in this challenging arena, and even more who want to help but perhaps do not know how. As they all procrastinate, more girls around the world are condemned to a living hell.

Valvisions Foundation celebrates every girl snatched from the jaws of this fate; for the same reason, we celebrate another great year for our girls in Uganda and Kenya, who are working very hard to finish high school. Getting an education is one way to help a girl find and keep their place in this world.

Africa is Amazing

August 2015

Posted by on Aug 8, 2015 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Africa is Amazing

For me, working in Africa is a special privilege. Not only am I close to ‘home’, but also, I am able to fulfill a soul-deep desire to improve the chances of girls and women to live in more nurturing world. And while helping a few girls at a time might seem almost insignificant because of the sheer need globally, for us at Valvisions Foundation, watching our girls flourish and blossom under our care is incredibly gratifying.

The Kenya girls are now in their third year of secondary school; three years ago, they arrived in Nakuru after a long, dusty bus ride from their distant village of Nginyang. We met them at the bus stop and saw shy, awkward teenagers who could barely make eye contact or speak English. Almost all our efforts to be friendly were rebuffed or met with barely imperceptible hostility. It was a challenge to maintain a positive outlook in the face of such obvious distrust.

How were we going to reach these girls; to be able to communicate that we were not merely sponsors with ‘school fees and school supplies’, who were fulfilling functional objectives? Because for us, putting girls through school is more of a transformative journey for each of them. We identify with all of our girls at an individual level; we celebrate and nurture their talents, we embrace and address their shortcomings. We think of what we offer as soul-healing, an experience that will bring about a fundamentally positive change in the way each girl perceives her place in a world which she has the power to create.

Three years later, with our girls only one year away from completing high school (a huge milestone!), we can finally see with pride, the fruits of our gentle labor. The changes which matter to us are many: no longer strangers to each other, we have bonded like guardians with their children. We give and receive affection and respect. Communication is a busy highway, in both directions words of encouragement and affirmation are spoken and listened to; eye contact and spontaneous laughter no longer strangers in our midst.

On a functional level, we have supported dozens of girls in their pursuit of a higher education. That in itself is a worthy contribution. Yet what sets us apart is how we translate our successes: these girls born into a repressive community that practices FGM, whose inherent idea of womanhood – as experienced by their mothers – was one shadowed by unspeakable acts of cruelty sanctioned by culture, now raised above the darkness to seek the light and spread a new message of hope.

In Africa, we are dancing to a primal rhythm of resilience and ascendance. For me, every morning is the beginning of the day something amazing happens to a woman somewhere; and sometimes, a few times, it happens with our support. There is a purpose in waking up every day.

Teaching a Second Language

June 2015

Posted by on Jun 19, 2015 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Teaching a Second Language

We focus a lot on speaking English at the holiday house in Uganda. When the girls arrived last holiday, they learned the rules of the house, the most important of which, after personal safety and hygiene, was for them to use English at all times but most especially with each other and in the presence of visitors to the house.

This was all for a good cause because, ultimately, the English language may be the single most important factor in whether our students succeed at school and at their chosen careers.

Like everybody else in Uganda and most of Africa, our students belong to a specific tribe, and along with other cultural legacies, their tribe – the Sebei – speaks a unique dialect. For many people, this ‘language’ is the first they learn from their parents and other people they interact with as children. It is only later, when they start formal education that the girls will be exposed to other languages.  In Uganda the official language of instruction in schools is English. This is also the language used in all aspects of professional and social life.

For the first fourteen years of their lives, our students were exposed almost exclusively to their local language; even at their primary schools, it was used more often than English. As a result, they joined high school last year with such limited fluency in English that they are now facing severe challenges at school. They need to master English in order to perform well in the arts as well as the sciences – the vast curriculum covers up to fourteen subjects including Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Biology as well as Literature, geography, history, commerce, agriculture, music, Art and Christian Religious Education (CRE). The English language is also taught and examined as a subject, as is, ironically, French!

Therefore, fluency in English -reading, writing, and comprehension – is critical. In order to compete with other students at a national and international level, our girls need all the help they can get to overcome their discomfort with using English.

Apart from obvious problem areas like grammatical errors and a limited vocabulary, we noticed that they are very shy and nervous when they have to speak out aloud; we have also noticed the girls giggle and make fun of each other whenever one of them makes a mistake. By default, they speak to each other constantly in their dialect, with the more proficient ones often providing quick translations for the others when English is spoken. Their teachers were also quick to point out that the language barrier was getting in the way of their academic success and limiting their participation in class.

This is what prompted the less than popular house rule regarding the use of English. We hope that by enforcing this – without any use of overt force – we will bring them to a point where they can converse casually in English and become more familiar with its use. We also introduced the peer-mentor program, whereby other teenage girls from the Choice Clubs came to the house regularly to interact with them. These volunteers are instrumental in changing the tone in the house, literally, and also doing a great job as tutors. They helped the students with their academic assignments, painstakingly using all available reading material such as newspapers for practice. Within days, a positive change became apparent.

The VF scholarship program is all about providing young women at risk of FGM with whatever they need to progress as individuals, and also make a contribution to their community. We identify the obstacles in their way and endeavor to find creative solutions to these problems.  While we do not expect immediate results, we know that we are on the right track. Eventually, it is our hope to see our girls encouraging others in their village to learn English earlier on in life, so that they too can take on education and other opportunities with confidence.

Uganda Holiday House

May 2015

Posted by on May 25, 2015 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Uganda Holiday House

Imagine being sixteen and never having been to the movies. Imagine being a teenager and never having had the chance to own a pair of jeans. Imagine being a girl and never having gone shopping for a pretty dress.

For our students in Uganda, all this was a part of their reality, until they recently spent three weeks in Kampala on a VF-sponsored holiday program. Instead of heading to their family homesteads in rural Kween (a district in Eastern Uganda), a townhouse in the suburb of Kireka became their home. Instead of rooming with their siblings, each of the girls had a bunk bed to herself in what was essentially a three-week long sleepover with her friends.

The girls were extremely excited at the prospect of experiencing city life for the first time. On the first day in the house, they raced up and down the stairs exploring the bedrooms, the living room area with its imposing flat screen TV and, of course, the kitchen which was well stocked to take care of ravenous, calorie-hungry teenagers. They quickly learned how to turn on the TV; none of the girls has ever had a TV in their house. They had never seen a gas stove, and they were taught to approach the use of one with caution and attention to safety.

But best of all, the girls had abundant electricity and running water available at the touch of a hand. All day, and all night, these two things that are so common place – but have always been unavailable to many – were present to make their lives easier. It was truly incredible for all of them.

Ask the girls to describe a day in their lives at home in Kween, and they all say everyday starts with a precarious journey to the river to fetch water for family use. According to their accounts, the river runs through a forest that harbors men and boys who routinely waylay, abduct and sexually assault girls before melting back into the forest. It is this menacing environment that the girls wake up to every day. They speak of it lightly, with that curious matter-of-fact attitude many teenagers seem to possess, but how can that be?

They also tell of endless chores, in the house and on the small-holder farms which provide their families with food and extra income. As teenage girls, they have a lot of responsibilities; in effect, they shadow their mothers all day around the hearth and homestead, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of younger children. As if that is not plenty, they must also gather firewood and take the animals out to pasture.

This does not leave much time for a girl to gather her thoughts, or spend time in play and study. Once the sun goes down, there is more darkness than light in the rural countryside because there is no electricity. Homework gets cursory treatment as the tired children retire to bed early.

No wonder the girls were literally ecstatic to stay in Kampala! The holiday program sponsored by Valvisions Foundation was intended to give them a leg-up in academics by providing ample time and resources for study on their own and with tutors. It was also an opportunity to broaden their horizons and introduce them to other cultural and social influences. They interacted with peer mentors from the Choice Club program who helped them practice and speak English. They experimented with different food and decided they love spaghetti and meatballs. They had plenty of leisure time to do things teenage girls enjoy – like shopping for dresses and jeans; they all wore jeans (and shorts) for the first time in their lives. Then, they caught a movie at a nearby cinema – again, another first for all of them. Best of all, by their own account, they had a day excursion to the zoo and wild life center in nearby Entebbe town where they marveled at close encounters with giant snakes, a baby elephant named Charles, screaming Chimps on an Island and two lazy lions sunning themselves on a wooden platform.

Making Choices

April 2015

Posted by on Apr 14, 2015 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Making Choices

Should culture be harmful, and if so, can an individual make the choice not to participate in this culture and still remain a part of it?

This was the key issue at the first Choice Club meetings held at our three high schools: Shiners High school in Nakuru Kenya, Gayaza High School and Mount Of Olives Kakiri in Kampala, Uganda.

The students wanted to establish whether it is possible or even acceptable for a woman to make a unilateral decision not to participate in harmful cultural practices such as FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). The answer at the Gayaza High School meeting was almost unanimous; nearly all the girls were vehement in their desire to refuse to be cut. They expressed that even though it is generally unacceptable for women to fail to ‘obey their culture,’ in the case of FGM, ‘disobedience’ is necessary because the practice is medically harmful, unnecessary and can result in death.

One student, however, said she might have to listen to what her mother tells her to do and be obedient even at such a great risk to her health. This is because girls who are ‘properly’ raised must obey their parents; she would trust that her mother knows best and would not knowingly put her daughter’s life in danger.

Another student offered the thought that since every woman is allowed to make a choice, women who choose FGM should also have their choices respected. The question that seemed to linger after this statement was voiced was ‘was this really a choice, after all?’

What followed was a lively debate that has become the hallmark of our Choice Club meetings. The Choice Club in each school was established as a forum for candid discussion of all issues that pertain to the welfare and progress of women. All our members are aware that we must remain respectful of each other’s opinions and disagreements are solved amicably and rationally.

In this case, we focused the debate on the universal rights of women and scientific evidence available on the practice of FGM. The students acknowledged that while it is a fundamental right for every woman to participate in her culture, it should not infringe on her well-being. They also reviewed with greater scrutiny the practice of FGM and agreed the harm far more than outweighed any benefits, and that in fact, there are no benefits to a woman that can be scientifically established. Therefore, women should not have to make such a choice in the first place.

We were soon back to the subject of obedience to cultural elders such as our parents and possibly clan leaders. Even though some of the girls remained incredulous that parents can be disobeyed, all the members agreed there should be a distinction between ‘obedience’ for purposes of maintaining a good relationship with your elders, and what they called ‘blind obedience’ which can result in those elders abusing the rights of female children by forcing them to participate in dangerous and harmful rituals.

Evidently, the path to womanhood for the Ugandan girl is fraught with many dangers, some of them as innocuous as obedience to her elders. While this is a positive attribute that is still considered a characteristic of ‘proper upbringing,’ the members of the Choice Club were able to make an important distinction: our cultures, as well as our parents, are not above scrutiny. Culture should not be used as a vehicle to abuse the rights of individuals.

Back to School

February 2015

Posted by on Feb 9, 2015 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Back to School

The new school year began in Uganda on February 2nd 2015, and our scholars were amongst thousands of high school students traveling from distant places back to school.

Our Uganda girls arrived at the Valvisions Foundation office in Kampala early that morning, after the usual six-hour bus ride from their homes in Kapchorwa district. Not even the long journey could put a damper on their mood; they were all excited to be going back to school. The holiday was great, they said, but after more than eight weeks at home, they were eager for something different.

At Valvisions Foundation, we are always relieved and thrilled when our girls return from the long December holiday without incident, as this can be a highly risky time for girls who live in communities that still practice Female Genital Mutilation/cutting (FGM). It is during these long school holidays that a girl may be cut, or even married off, simply because she has a more prolonged presence in her village at this time.

As a boarding school, Mount of Olives College Kakiri (MOCK) is a safe place for our girls to be for the next three months of the first term, and the rest of the school year.

They were welcomed back to school by the principal of MOCK, Ms. Regina Laboke. Ms. Laboke has over 30 years of experience in education, most of which have been spent on educating teenage girls at various establishments in Uganda. According to Ms. Laboke, the girls sponsored by Valvisions Foundation add a unique flavor to the school, because they are a physical representation of their community and therefore, provide everyone else with a chance to learn more about their distinctive culture.

Most people tend to associate the Sebei tribe – to which our girls belong – with only one ‘negative’ aspect, that of FGM. And yet, the Sebei, like other African tribes, obviously have a multi-faceted heritage, one that is also rich in music and folklore amongst other things. For example, the people of the mountainous region from which they come, are incredibly athletic, most famously for winning international medals in long distance marathons. This has been attributed to the fact that they are exposed to hard terrain and thin mountain air from childhood.

This is one of the reasons the Principal of MOCK has taken our girls under her wing; she has already noticed that several of the girls are talented athletes who may eventually win medals for their High School! She has reiterated her promise to keep an eye on our girls and to give them whatever they need to succeed.

Meanwhile, the girls were beaming with happiness at their new school supplies provided by Valvisions Foundation. They know that they are some of the luckiest girls in their community, to have received such an opportunity of a lifetime. All of them pledged to do their very best this term, both in academics and personal development.

Kenya Farming with Teenagers

November 2014

Posted by on Nov 15, 2014 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Kenya Farming with Teenagers

For many high school teenagers in urban areas in East Africa, the idea of being a farmer or spending any time farming is less than agreeable; in fact if you ask them, they say farming is not ‘cool”.

Growing up in a technology-driven environment with a focus on flashy gadgets like cell phones and tablets, there is undoubtedly more pressure to be considered ‘cool’ and hip, especially during the school holidays when teenagers would rather spend all their time and what resources they have on fun events like concerts, movies, or hanging out at the mall.

Our holiday house in Kinangop, Naivasha, has eight teenage girls enjoying a much-needed rest and relaxation period after a grueling school year. Our girls have all graduated successfully into Form 3, though school is still weeks away in January.

Right now, they are spending long days relaxing in front of the TV, reading novels and romping outside in the breathtakingly fresh air of the Rift Valley. But they have also embarked on a truly remarkable project; each of the girls recently tilled a small allocation on the farm and planted a vegetable.

Alexine planted onions, Vivian planted Kale, Sandra planted cabbages, Irene planted potatoes, and Cecilia planted spinach.  Vemiah planted Napier grass to feed the cows on the farm, while Helidah planted peas and finally, Janet planted carrots. The project was designed by VF coordinator,  Grace Wandia,  as a way to encourage our young women to contribute to their own welfare and learn important life lessons.

Because despite the push towards education and professional jobs, the reality for most people in Africa, is that they have to maintain a close relationship with the land in order to achieve food and financial security. However, many young people no longer have a positive attitude towards farming even though after graduation, the difficulty of finding a job may eventually force them to return to rural areas to farm for a living.

But our girls took to the project with incredible enthusiasm.

They worked together, helping each other out with the preparation of the land and the sowing of the seeds. As the rains progress, they will spend more time on their allocations weeding and tending their crops in various ways to ensure a bountiful harvest.

Come April, says Ms. Wandia, when the girls are home for the Easter Holiday, they will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. “It is an empowering experience for them to make such a huge contribution to the cost of their welfare. All of the girls have a sense of pride about growing the food they are going to eat, about investing in their future,” Ms. Wandia commented.

All over the developing world, women still make the biggest contribution towards agriculture, spending more time than men on farms and farming activities such as irrigation, weeding and harvesting. It is one way to ensure their survival and that of their children.

And while our girls are no doubt headed for college and stellar careers in various professional fields, they also understand and value the life lessons in their holiday farming project. As African women, they will be prepared for all eventualities; they can improve their incomes, increase their self-sufficiency and raise healthy families through farming.

 

Choice Club Review

October 2014

Posted by on Oct 31, 2014 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Choice Club Review

The Choice Club programs for 2013-2014 have come to an end in both Gayaza High School and Mount of Olives College Kakiri (MOCK). As the school year ends, our members are now required to focus on final exams. Though sad to see the conclusion of a program they clearly loved, the girls were also excited to graduate with certificates of completion as Choice Club alumni.

The most popular topics handled in the year were on development of our bodies and minds, taking care of our bodies, and the rights of women and children. At the end of the class on women and children’s rights, the girls were tasked to design a campaign around an issue they are passionate about.

The Human Rights talk empowered the girls to focus with new energy on the issues affecting women in Uganda and in the world; issues that detract from the quality of a female’s life and the right of females to live with dignity. The Choice Club members from both schools echoed the importance of advocating rights for women and educating other peers about those rights.

The girls exhibited great zeal in their work. They presented posters, poems, and essays about the injustices that women face, about making education a priority for the girl child, about leadership, family relationships and abolishing human trafficking. They were also passionate about ending domestic violence and protecting women in the workplace from harassment and income inequalities. The girls were confident in their presentations, exhibiting a lot more self-esteem than when they first began the program.

During the upcoming long December holiday, several girls offered to volunteer with organizations such as Valvisions Foundation and other similar not-for-profit organizations which advocate for women’s rights. Some other girls discussed starting a Facebook page and/or fundraising group to support a major cause they are passionate about.

The feedback about the Choice Club from the girls was positive. They especially enjoyed the class that taught about female psychosocial development and were intrigued to learn about what is considered ‘normal’ physical, emotional and intellectual changes within their age group. They also claimed that they now feel better about being female, as the Choice Clubs helped them realize a woman has the choice to be all she wants to be.

The girls reported that they were glad to have had the chance to interact with older women who gave them ‘a lot of useful knowledge.’ The guest speakers, all female, included a gynecologist, a university professor, and a Human Rights activist.  The patron at MOCK echoed the girls’ sentiment and also asked that Valvisions Foundation bring in even more dynamic female speakers next year.

Girls’ Empowerment Workshop

September 2014

Posted by on Sep 30, 2014 in Valvisions | Comments Off on Girls’ Empowerment Workshop

Amongst the Meru in the Eastern part of Kenya, Female Genital Circumcision is as integral a part of the culture and community ethos as farming.

For two women in their 70’s, Sabina Kabui and Sabina Muthoni, cutting girls provides a side income that supplements their meager means as peasant farmers. Between them, the two have been personally involved in the circumcision of hundreds of teenage girls, since they first started over 30 years ago, and remain staunch supporters of the practice.

However, at the end of August 2014, the women found themselves in the unusual position of interacting with a roomful of girls who insisted they did not want FGM forced on them; that they want a future that does not only define them as wives and mothers.

This was at a girls’ empowerment workshop sponsored by Valvisions Foundation in partnership with St. Massimo’s Parish based in Mikinduri, Meru. The three day workshop was remarkable for several reasons; it was the first of its kind. According to the Chief of the area, the locals were astonished that anyone would advocate against FGM, one of their most sacred rituals, in public and with young girls who should be agreeable to undergoing the traditional rite of passage.

The workshop had brought together teenage girls from four tribes which still practice FGM; the Kenyan tribes of Meru, Maasai, Pokot and the Sabiny from Uganda. Valvisions Foundation sponsors the high school education of vulnerable girls from the Pokot and Sabiny tribes. Through its network of partners, VF has had a chance to interact with other organizations which have similar programs in East Africa.

The workshop in Meru presented a unique opportunity for the young participants to meet with teenage girls from other communities, who all face the same serious consequences from the cultural practice of FGM.

FGM is embedded in numerous Kenyan communities, and at least one tribe in Uganda. Despite the fact that the practice has been outlawed in both countries, the challenges of eliminating it remain. Many older women like Muthoni and Kabui who form the bulk of traditional circumcisers, declare that they cannot give up a treasured tradition that has been around for hundreds of years. Because FGM has the hallowed status of being a rite of passage from childhood to womanhood, most communities continue to focus on perceived benefits rather than the grave medical consequences like permanent injuries to the female reproductive parts, death and other psycho-social problems.

The 70 girls who attended the workshop in Meru spent a greater part of the three days discussing in detail the different cultural contexts surrounding FGM, and why the practice must be eliminated. At the same time, the group upheld the significance of ‘rites of passage’ within their communities and expressed the desire to take part in an alternative rite of passage that is symbolic and meaningful, without the spilling of blood.

As such, the highlight of the workshop was a graduation ceremony conducted to celebrate the girls’ successful participation as females currently empowered with knowledge which will protect them from the harmful practice of FGM. The girls now realize that the law is on their side; they are also fully aware that the dangers of FGM far outweigh the supposed benefits. As they held up candles in the dark, the girls declared themselves ‘birds of the light’, free to fly towards a future of their choosing.

 

August Holiday Activities

August 2014

Posted by on Aug 31, 2014 in Valvisions | Comments Off on August Holiday Activities

Five days after our girls from Mount of Olives College Kakiri (MOCK) went on holiday, the Valvisions Foundation team travelled to the undulating countryside of Kapchorwa to meet with them and their parents. The meeting was to discuss the girls’ academic performances to date and to interface with their parents. The girls and their guardians were delayed by a heavy downpour that morning which made their journey on the unpaved roads an arduous trip but they were all cheerful, excitedly greeting the VF team. 

It was quite obvious that the holiday was doing the girls some good. Taking a break from the meeting, the girls laughed and played on the green lawns of the hotel. They also posed playfully for the camera as they tried to outdo each other in striking the best pose. 

All the parents reported that they have noticed many positive changes in their daughters ever since the girls were sponsored by VF to attend high school. They said the girls are helpful at home, doing the daily household chores and helping out with farming. Most of the households in Kapchorwa carry out small-scale farming, largely for subsistence. A few homes also own livestock like a cow or goat, which is usually kept for its milk and sometimes for its meat. 

The girls eagerly recounted that they had already started on their holiday homework. All but one of them have to study using hurricane lamps at night. Only Emma Nawezi lives in a home powered by solar energy. Since their academic performance was not as great as expected, the girls’ parents and guardians promised to make more time for them to study during the holiday so they can improve on their grades next term, which is the last term of the year. 

The girls are now looking forward to their first ever trip out of Uganda next week when they travel to Meru in Kenya for a workshop campaign against FGM. The girls will be meeting with Kenyan girls from the Meru, Maasai and Pokot tribes for the first time. The parents were very excited by the opportunity presented to their daughters. Most of them have never been outside Uganda themselves and they listened attentively as VF explained to them what the trip entailed and what were the expected outcomes. Hopefully, after interacting with the Kenyan girls, the Ugandan girls will be able to relate more confidently with each other and with the rest of their schoolmates.