Please Help Give Voice to FGM

Give Voice to FGM

 

In November of 2010 I volunteered my time to work with Sol Garcia of Project X Impact and her Kenyan partner Help a Child Africa.  We worked specifically on the issue of FGM with a group of rescued girls in the small community of Bissil outside of Nairobi.  During 3 days we met with and listened to the stories of 10 girls that wanted to give voice to this issue.  It is a heartbreaking saga, but also one of hope as these girls are brave and have amazing messages to share.  It is our hope to continue giving girls like this a voice through our documentation in narrative, imagery and video and voice recordings, to bring further awareness, and to help them on their journey.  I am currently blogging about my experience there and you can read about it on my Changents blog.

Since November, Sol has raised over $5500 which will go directly to help with the expenses and education of these girls.  She would like to start a major campaign in the spring through her organization Project X Impact and I am hoping to help her in this process.  I am trying to raise funds to return to Kenya for 10 days in early 2011, I will donate my time and skills during and afterwardsfor this, but need money for airfare.  My target is $2000 but any amount short of that if I am unable to reach it, will go directly to Project X Impact and directly to the cause of the girls.

It is the giving season, and I am asking that you give towards the creation of bringing awareness to this cause.  Please help to do something unique to bring about a generation of change!

Makin a List….

So, it's definitely that time of year, the darkest, and I dare say, I happen to live in a place where the clouds hunker down, pour themselves out and I begin to feel I am in the land of perpetual grey.  It is easy to feel a little down and out, wonder if you are on the right track, add to that a birthday, and you have a recipe for something not so nice, and I am not even talking about naughty!

 

At the request of my good friend and sometimes colleague Melanie Jones, who labeled me her all time favorite “badd-ass-moma” read this, I decided I needed to put a list together to bolster myself, support myself, and free myself from the idea that although I am as they say, “living my dream, doing what I am meant to be doing, and not just living for living sake”, I won’t be eating cat food when I’m 75, cus that is what has been on my mind lately, working in the land of “not for profit”.

 

So here it is, my 2010 reality check, of what I have done in the past 2 years towards my dreams.

 

Really, I don’t need to bore you all with my list, but if you want to read it, here it is:  THE LIST otherwise skip ahead.

 

  1. set a goal, I want to be  a documentary photographer, working “out there” in the world.
  2. Formed an alliance and developed a relationship with an NGO
  3. Came up with an idea for a public engagement campaign with the said org
  4. Worked at applying for grants, and….got one!
  5. Hired an amazing writer to come with me on a once in a lifetime trip for 2 months to Zambia and India, the fabulous Melanie Jones.
  6. Blogged about it for a newspaper and kept on blogging.
  7. Asked to formulate a syllabus using donated point and shoot cameras from The Fig Tree Foundation to work with kids in Haiti teaching them the skill of photography and creative writing.
  8. Worked our lily-white buts off creating a public engagement exhibit and website.
  9. Promoted and opened Waves of Change in 2010 June.
  10. Got on the radar and chosen by CHANGENTS to work with P&G CSDW
  11. Went to Cincinatti to meet with P&G CSDW peeps
  12. Went to NYC in August 2010 to present on behalf of CSDW at BlogHer 2010 where I met Allie Elevald of SWAP, a Kenyan Safe Water & AIDS project.
  13. Travelled to Haiti for an awe inspiring trip worked with CAWST, PAIDEH, SOIL, PURE WATER FOR HAITI, and PIH. (all incredible water/sanitation organizations)
  14. Ran the first ever Cameras 4 Change project with 10 youth in Haiti! 
  15. Got involved through CHANGENTS with Sol Garcia of Project X impact.
  16. Travelled to NYC in November 2010 to work with CHANGENTS and CSR Wire at BSR 2010, had the wonderful opportunity to meet people like Kay Schultz, Senior Group Manager for Global Compliance at Target, Perry Tell of Saatchi & Saatchi S, and many others.
  17. Travelled to Kenya with Dr Greg Allgood of CSDW, Dr Pam Crane of Blood Water Mission, documenting the work that P&G is doing with PUR in Kenya.  Met Keith Kall and Nicholas Wasunna of World Vision, as well as amazing coordinators from the Agha Khan Foundation, and CARE.  Worked with SWAP and also began work on the compelling issue of young Kenyan Masai girls, rescued from FGM/C and Child Marriage.
  18. While in Kenya met and worked with 2 fantastic commercial photographers, Augustus Butera and Taylor Jones, I loved hanging with these guys.
  19. Asked to speak this February at the Calgary Banff month of Photography to open the Fig Tree Foundation Exhibit.
  20. Currently working on and further developing all of the above!

 

It is easy to fall between the cracks of life, and see the glass half empty, that is why friends are so important.  I think of all the amazing people I have met on my journey’s over the past 2 years, brave, courageous, resiliant and generous are words that come to mind.

 

This is Eliza Williams, a school teacher in Kaoleni, a small village deep in rural coastal Kenya.  I recently visited with Dr Greg Allgood of "CSDW" and Pam Crane of Blood Water Mission.  PUR’s CSDW partners with the Aga Khan Foundation’s Hemed Mwadbudzo and Fred Kasina of CRSP (Coastal Rural Support Project) in an extremely arid region where only ground water collection is used as a water source.  Eliza teaches over 90 children in a small mud hut school-room with one other teacher.  There is one meager desk that she and the other teacher share in a cramped back room, with a box full of small bits of broken chalk and a few piles of paper.  These are all ages, the room is overcrowded, no desks, no shelves, no chalkboards on the wall, not even a mat for them to sit on the dirt floors.  Eliza is not deterred, but determined to find a way to teach.  She asked me for money for chalk and paper.   On these trips I am strictly advised not to give handouts, it can cause more problems than it solves in the moment.  I told them that I would share their story, that was my job. 

FGM/C Part III The Interviews

The Interviews

 

The night before the interviews were to begin, Sol and I had been driven to the home of our Bissil host, Melody.  I knew that Sol had stayed with Melody once before, but knew nothing else.  We packed our things into the trunk of the sedan, and proceeded from the Pastor’s home, across the highway, and seemed to tack back and forth through the red dirt roads of Bissil, taking us deeper into the community, until suddenly, we were at Melody’s gate and in her yard.

 

There was a large covered front step, the lights were on and Melody waited with tea. Inside her son Beckham was asleep on the couch, and Melody with her 18-month daughter in her arms, dancing the way mothers do with babies.  A Masai woman appeared in the kitchen that worked for Melody, and we were also introduced to Sinkai, a 13-year-old Masai girl. 

 

In the morning once Sol and I were up, Melody informed us that Sinkai had been rescued 3 weeks ago, and that her father, a Masai man wrapped in a purple robe sitting in the front room, had come to see his daughter for the first time since she had run away from home.  Melody was calmly speaking with him as to why it is better for his daughter to stay with her, go to school and get her education.  It is difficult for me to gauge as to why this man wants his daughter back, is it because he misses her, because of cultural pressure, or because a daughter is considered chattel, and he could stand to gain 10 cows for her hand in marriage to someone. 

 

So we begin the day of the interviews within our own home here in Bissil, swathed in the story much like the Masai are draped in their beautiful colors.

 

Prior to meeting the first girl at the Bissil Church, we were driven to view an agricultural center built by a Korean American named David Gio Cheol Yun, who at the age of  87 left the development in the hands of the pastor, as he was ill and needed to return to home.  Although the drive was bumpy, Sol and I both fell asleep in the back of the car, and were suddenly awoken by our driver saying “picture”.  I immediately looked out the window, when I fell asleep it had been storming and raining, now it was suddenly sunny, and there were huge animals outside my window.  There must have been 20 of them, but in my half awake state I couldn’t register what I was seeing.  Sol shouted “they’re Camels!”  We jumped out of the car as if in a dream, and for the next 5 minutes we ran with the camels, and spoke to a beautiful, young Masai couple that were moving them from one pasture to another along the highway.  They seemed very happy together, very much in love in a relaxed way.  Immediately I wondered how their marriage had been arranged, if this beautiful woman had been “cut”.

 

Our first interview was with 16-year old Esther who had been rescued 2 months prior.  She is waiting to be receiving funding to go to school.  Her story is one of betrayal, parents lying to her about what will happen, which we to find is very common.  Her story was the first we heard in detail.  I couldn’t stop thinking as she told us of how she ran away, trying to escape her plight, the significance of a single dove that kept trying to escape through the glass windows in the front of the church.  Try as it might, it kept attempting to escape through the top of the windows that were glassed in, and if only it would try through the lower open windows it could succeed.  Time and again during the interviews we heard the girls tell us how they would try to run away, only to be found, brought home and beaten.

 

At the end of the interview Esther stood in the doorway of the church, I photographed her.  She was simply beautiful, dressed in traditional Masai shuka with beaded jewelry.  Once you speak with these girls, it is so hard to imagine what they have endured, the inner strength that they possess, and still the ability to be sweet and loving.