TEACHING-EMPOWERING-MENTORING-BUILDING OPPORTUNITY Mission: to partner with individuals and communities in Western Kenya to support entrepreneurial activities, education and health through training programmes, scholarships, water and sanitation projects

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Child rights

I don't often post about the abuses that are reported daily in the news. The political corruption and the misappropriation of funds leave the poor wallowing in their poverty. I prefer to talk about the people who struggle to better themselves, who are eager for information and encouragement. The small steps can be very meaningful.
However, the reports of child abuse are hard to take.
Last Monday the newspaper reported on a girl of 10 who was married off seven months ago to a wealthy 68 year-old man as his fourth wife. A woman, a gender activist, walked tirelessly in search of the girl who was hidden away. She found her eventually covered in scars inflicted by the husband teaching her the role of a wife.
The girl escaped once but was forced to return to the 'matrimonial home' by her father since the elders ruled that a wife cannot be away from her husband's house for more than two weeks.
She was eventually taken to the Children's Office in Isiolo and booked into a children's home before being enrolled in school.
There is little being done to discourage the tradition of marrying off underage girls since fines and sentences are relatively lenient.

On Thursday a report from a remote area about 100 kilometres from Isiolo told the story of Itoms who turns five this year. She has been taken from her parents who want her 'circumcised' (the proper term for the procedure in this community is FGM--Female Genital Mutilation) before marrying her off for ten cattle. The morans (young warriors) of the tribe are free to have sex with a girl little more than a baby by placing a necklace, called saen, on her.
According to Samburu tradition four year old Itoms is old enough to fetch bride price for her father. She was booked for marriage to a 27 year old in a ritual called Aisho saen (wearing a necklace) when a local child rights activist heard of it, thanks to a local assistant chief.
In the beading ritual Samburu men identify little girls as brides by giving them a beaded necklace. Child rights activists say this can happen anytime a man meets a young girl, no matter her age.
Once the girl wears the first bead she is as good as married to the man in question. On noticing the necklace the parents start making preparations to have her circumcised (or undergo FGM).
During beading the men are free to have sex with the girls. And once the man graduates to an age group that allows him to marry, he pays 10 cattle to the girl's father and takes her to his home, irrespective of her age.
Child activists say this tradition has ruined the lives of many girls in Samburu where decision making is vested in elders. Girls usually do not attend school and belong completely to their husbands.
As a result, an unknown number of girls fall pregnant as early as 12 years. Many die in the process of giving birth.
Although there are no official figures, officers in the region say the number of children being rescued from early marriage is huge. This is usually between November and January, the marriage and FGM season in Samburu. Children's homes in Isiolo and Nanyuki (serving the Maasai) are packed with children at this time. At one station alone officers have been rescuing 10 girls a month.
The problem after rescuing them is finding space in a children's home.
The old men (elders) who maintain the traditions are the greatest enemy of the Samburu child. Police and other administrators who do not act on reports of FGM and early marriage contribute to the problem while the Children's Department is understaffed and underfunded.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


We have many balls in the air right now.

A second school is now set up for "Read for the Top" thanks to donated books from a Kenyan publisher. There is an Episcopalian missionary couple here, staying at St Philips in Maseno. Mary is a Language Arts specialist and former grade 6 teacher. She is going to help with Read for the Top at Emmaloba and set up Peace Keepers (Virtues) for them. She is great to work with and it will allow Pat to spend a bit more time on Mwiyenga, out near Imbale.The finals for Read for the Top in the two schools will have a slew of special invited guests (Bishop, District Education Officer etc) so we want the kids to perform well. Their teams are colour coded so we have ordered T shirts for the heats. We have to find bicycle bells for the the teams to signal their answers and decide on prizes.

The calendar for our last two months is of course filling up rapidly . we are trying to keep it reasonable! There is the first ever meeting of provincial Education Secretaries in Limuru at the end of February. Pat has to go to that if at all possible, so that will cut out 5 days. it will be interesting to meet her counterparts. We have been asked for a whole slew of information and statistics from the diocese, so we're hoping that someone, somewhere in the office will be able to help.
There is a tree nursery in Limuru that specialises in indigenous trees, so we may be able to combine the conference with a visit for information we need for part of the Rotary grant project in Emmaloba.

Virtues training is still in demand and Pat is fitting in as much as she can, but having to refuse some. A new kindergarten is starting in Kakamega, sponsored by the Anglican Church and she is talking to the Bishop about the possibility of making it a Virtues school from the outset.

Last week the roof blew off a secondary school in the Maseno area. Fortunately no one was hurt, but the teacher and students in the room at the time are very shaken. Rod (now engineering consultant for the diocese, by the way,) saw that the whole thing was held on by only two nails.

There is no such thing as trauma counselling, so we are trying to use some of our Virtues trained people in the area to use the strategy of "Companioning" We hope it is of some help.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Not so amusing

Tensions are running high in the country as three issues take the headlines. Forget the millions of shillings missing from the primary schools. Forget the dilapidated ferries that go regularly adrift in the channel south of Mombasa, all with failing engines, broken prows and seriously overloaded. Disasters waiting to happen. Forget the imminent arraignment of perpetrators of last year's violence at the Hague.
The main news is the stand off between the Prime Minister and the President. One is reminded of two small boys seeing how high they can aim against a wall (there is an expression for that) The government has been evicting settlers and squatters from the Mau Forest, the main water containment area for most of East Africa. It was easy to remove the squatters and burn their houses, except they are now in 'refugee' camps by the side of the road, refusing to return to their original homes. Some were given illegal title deeds to the land. More contentious are the wealthy, including ex president Moi, who 'own' hundreds of hectares including, in the case of Moi, a very large tea factory apparently situated on a critical water source.
The speeches and rallies have been flying for a couple of weeks. Prime Minister Odinga has maintained the forest must be cleared and replanted. Ruto who is rooting for President in 2012 is opposing everything Odinga wants on 'humanitarian' grounds. President Kibaki maintains his usual stoic silence.

Odinga organised a tree planting with Wangari Maathai in the Mau last weekend. Kibaki found he had 'another engagement' and Ruto and cronies stayed away. They planted 20,000 seedlings and most of the letters to the press seem to be positive in support.
Apart from the obvious political in-fighting many think there is a faction trying to prove that the country cannot work with a 'hybrid' system with both a President with powers and a Prime Minister.

The draft constitution is now in the hands of MPS. They are frantically trying to change things. Oh, by the way, last week a special commission delivered a report advocating a substantial raise in the salaries and perks of MPs. Talk about perfect timing! The response has been scathing. Some of the MPs really need their bodyguards. The report was preceded by an article showing that Obama, so much admired here, pays his own bills (food etc) in the White House!

Last week the anti-terrorist people arrested a Muslim cleric, Jamaican by birth, who slipped into the country at the weekend at a border crossing with no computer. He is on a terrorist watch list, served time in the UK and was stripped of his British citizenship. He was deported to Jamaica but is somehow circulating in Africa.
Kenya tried to deport him through Gambia but couldn't get a transit visa from anyone. UK & US (both of which would been route stops) have refused him. So he is in jail, but not charged with anything.
A protest in Nairobi at the weekend turned nasty with militants leading the charge against security forces. Bullets, flags, balaclava masks and tear gas were all evident. One police officer has since died of gunshot wounds. This is religious tension surfacing, in a country that prides itself on religious tolerance, just as it used to pride itself on ethnic mixing, before the last election and the subsequent violence.
Ordinary Kenyans do the only thing they can do--they get on with their lives and wait, so patiently.

A shopping trip

This is a fairly typical shopping excursion in local stores. We have at the moment two fairly large supermarkets although the distribution and stocking system is not always reliable--that means what is in good supply one week might totally disappear from the shelves for the next several weeks.
Rod wanted to make a quick trip to buy coffee and corned beef (in a can). You might think this would take 15 or 20 minutes at the most. He went to one market (mama watoto) only to find they had only very small (expensive) packs of coffee. So he trotted down the street to yako, thinking he would buy both items there. OK for the coffee, but the store is run by Hindus, so no corned beef. Back across the stree to mama watoto, where there is corned beef in two sizes. He buys the larger one. The girl on the cash rings up the smaller size. Rod, being honest, says that's not enough. They check and he's right. Only the cash register is out of ink and the receipt is so faint, they can't read the transaction number to make the correction. Eventually about 45 minutes later he pays for a 'price adjustment' on a new receipt.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Imulama well

Things were going well at Imulama where we are putting water on the site of a health unit, thanks to the Rotoract Club of the University of Victoria.
We made over 600 interlocking bricks with the compressing machine and five bags of cement. They will be used in a demonstration wall.

Although we hit 'hard formation' the diggers persisted in chipping away. Then at 70 feet we hit a large rock. Nothing for it but to blast. Rod spent the morning out there on Saturday while they inserted the dynamite, then packed the hole. Here is the result. We will know later this week if it was successful.

Read for the Top

The schools open at the beginning of January and everything is very busy: school selection, scholarship applications, purchasing uniforms.
Read for the Top was born in Victoria by a teacher at an inner city school. Its intention is to encourage reading in primary age children who either do not come from a reading culture, who have few books and other materials available to them, or who learn English as a second language. Often all three are true.
Victoria Rotary Club sponsored Read for the Top in a Victoria school last year and we thought it would be a wonderful thing to bring to Kenya. Children in our rural schools here meet all three of the criteria I listed and are greatly disadvantaged by hearing little English in their environment, yet all school exams are in English. Since a child's future depends on the results of one single examination session, they have little chance of progressing to a secondary school.
Through a Rotary grant we purchased books for Emmaloba Primary and last week I spent a day in the school setting up the programme. The children are in teams and have to read six books--four in English and two in Kiswahili.
In a month or so we will run heats and the final before I leave in March. The school will keep the books and can repeat the programme with another group.
Class six seized on the books and set to reading right away

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Christmas in Mombasa

We spent the Christmas break from December 23 to 29 in a delightful beach hotel in Mombasa. The pictures will show you the setting. Mombasa is an island and you have to take a ferry to the hotels on the south shore. The north shore is wall to wall people because it is easier to reach over a causeway. So the choice is beauty and tranquility or convenience of access.

We spent nearly three hours waiting in a line for the ferry returning (only one vessel was working of three) and almost missed our flight.