8 years later…
By Wanda Bedard
It was like a moment frozen in time. We were standing on the same spot where we had stood eight years ago in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. I was transfixed! I had used that image in so many presentations since 2007 – a sweeping view that looked out over the community, up towards the hills in the distance. Eight years ago, it was a photo of a few dozen mud-brick, grass-thatched houses, standing apart from one another and spread around the schools of Enelerai and Emorijoi.
Today, with my travel companions, my daughter, Vida Fereydoonzad who was with me in 2007, and 60 million girls‘ friend and professional photographer, Martine Michaud, we saw that the mud-walled homes were still there. However, now, beside most of them, stand sturdy brick houses with metal roofs. There are gardens, clotheslines and drying racks, and hand-washing stations next to latrines. Water kiosks along the road provide fresh, clean water to the community, and chimneys vent the smoke from the kitchens.
And then we saw Monica’s house. We couldn’t believe it! Monica! Eight years ago, we had visited Monica’s small home where she had proudly set up a very small store – no more than a wood hut about a metre square to sell beading work done by herself and the women’s group she helped head. At the time, she was clearly a leader of the local mamas and fiercely determined to help provide for her family and ensure her children, including her daughter, went to school. Today, her home stands out in the Mara with its bright orange roof. You can’t possibly miss it as you make your way along to Free The Children’s Bogani guesthouses! What had happened? The answer, of course, is progress and the evidence of a community that has taken hold of new ideas and implemented them. The resulting impact on the families and community was visible everywhere.
We learned that Monica now travels to many countries to talk about women’s empowerment and women’s issues in Africa. She is a strong leader and a sought-after speaker who shares how the women have been able to build a sustainable and supportive community. It was such a stark contrast. This positive transformation was reinforced during the next week as we had a chance to speak with the women, girls and families in the areas where Free The Children works with the Maasai, Kipsigi and Kisi communities.
When we visited Enelerai Primary School in 2007, it was in the process of being completed. It is now bigger with new additions – a water station, a women’s empowerment building and well-used classrooms filled with children. We also saw the Baraka Health Clinic with its emergency services, pharmacy, laboratory, birthing centre and, soon, radiology and surgery rooms. It’s a clean, simple yet well-stocked and well-equipped series of buildings that would meet our standards in Canada!
We also visited Oleleshwa Secondary School, the project in which we have invested $300,000 over the last two years and the main reason for our visit to Kenya. We were overcome as we were welcomed by a group of 30 girls who showed us around this innovative school. There are no students and teachers at Oleleshwa but, rather, learners and educators. Strong community and cultural values are evident in the many beautiful hand-painted murals and quotations throughout the school. But, these were also clear from our discussions with the girls. These young women are determined and hard-working, and they realize the immense potential of education. They have a daily schedule that runs from 4:30 am to 10 pm. They have a strong desire to succeed and dream of becoming engineers, doctors, teachers, writers, scientists and journalists. There is no doubt in our minds that the girls will achieve it all.
The visit to Free The Children was just as inspiring as our visit the previous week in Uganda where we spent four days at the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project. Two years ago, 60 million girls supported the primary schools of Nyaka and Kutamba and, this year, we are raising $100,000 to fund the ongoing construction of the Nyaka Vocational Secondary School through our partner, the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
We were fortunate to spend our time in the company of Jennifer Nantale, Nyaka’s country director. Jennifer has a deep understanding of development issues, vast experience and a great passion and caring for the hundreds of children under her wing. We were left with the certainty that these children and their communities would be able to cope with a difficult reality: grieving grandmothers who must now care for up to eight young children orphaned by AIDS, finding sources of revenue to keep fragile families together, providing a safe home, getting the kids to school… The list is endless.
Farms provide fresh and nutritious food for the students and staff every day. The health clinic is open, not only to the students, but to the whole community. There are two full-time nurses and a doctor who works two days a week. We saw beautiful libraries complete with computer rooms and solar panels – the ideal spot for us to leave two Raspberry Pi Rachel devices (as we did with Free The Children). Jennifer and her staff immediately saw the impact of the content: Khan Academy Lite, Khan Academy health, hundreds and hundreds of e-books and textbooks, agricultural and health encyclopedias and Wikipedia offline. When you realize how long and how difficult it is to travel to these remote areas and the cost of books and textbooks, along with the lack of Internet access, the Rachel with its academic content and thousands of educational videos and tutorials is truly a small miracle.
We were impressed and yet, at the same time, not surprised by the quality of the programs and the holistic approach that support these children. Free The Children and the Stephen Lewis Foundation are long-time partners of 60 million girls. Over the years, the thought and experience that go into the design of their community interventions have been clearly evident. However, it is amazing to be able to witness the impact first-hand, especially many years later.
Of course, during our self-financed three-week trip, we saw so much more: gorilla trekking in the breath-taking Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the drive through the Mara safari-style with our Maasai guides, Wilson and Jackson, and visits to other local projects. We learned about new approaches and gained a better understanding and a different perspective on what works best to support a community. We had a wonderful visit at UNICEF Uganda’s global innovation centre in Kampala. There we traded notes and learned more about UNICEF’s research and pilot projects involving technology in education and self-directed learning.
Thank you for following us on Facebook during our trip and adding your many comments and likes. We felt closer to home and only needed to have each one of you with us to make the visit perfect!
Take a look!!!
We are proud to invite you to take a look at our new website at www.60milliongirls.org. In order to better support viewing on a tablet or smartphone, to ensure you can easily find information and to better highlight our projects, we have decided to make this exciting change.
Our deepest thanks go to Lesley Stewart, head of our communications team, for spearheading this project along with the technical help of Louise Sa, Patrice Belair and our wonderful graphic artist, Negin Atashband. A special word of thanks also to Martine Michaud for her generous pro bono support in providing such compelling photographs of 60 million girls’ projects from our recent trip to Uganda and Kenya.
Please let us know what you think. Is there information you’d like to see that isn’t there? Do you have any questions? Can you find everything you’re looking for? Contact us at email@example.com.
Save the date: Tuesday, November 24th – our 10th annual conference!
This year marks our 10th annual conference and we are excited to announce that Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Free The Children, will be our keynote speaker. Craig inspired us when he spoke at our second annual conference in 2007 and those who heard him will remember a committed and passionate activist. We are delighted to have him return, accompanied by the Kenyan Boys Choir. 60 million girls has partnered with Free The Children several times, in Kenya and India, to support education at both the primary and secondary levels. Craig will bring us up to date with these amazing projects!