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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!
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.
- set a goal, I want to be a documentary photographer, working “out there” in the world.
- Formed an alliance and developed a relationship with an NGO
- Came up with an idea for a public engagement campaign with the said org
- Worked at applying for grants, and….got one!
- 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.
- Blogged about it for a newspaper and kept on blogging.
- 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.
- Worked our lily-white buts off creating a public engagement exhibit and website.
- Promoted and opened Waves of Change in 2010 June.
- Got on the radar and chosen by CHANGENTS to work with P&G CSDW
- Went to Cincinatti to meet with P&G CSDW peeps
- 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.
- Travelled to Haiti for an awe inspiring trip worked with CAWST, PAIDEH, SOIL, PURE WATER FOR HAITI, and PIH. (all incredible water/sanitation organizations)
- Ran the first ever Cameras 4 Change project with 10 youth in Haiti!
- Got involved through CHANGENTS with Sol Garcia of Project X impact.
- 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.
- 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.
- While in Kenya met and worked with 2 fantastic commercial photographers, Augustus Butera and Taylor Jones, I loved hanging with these guys.
- Asked to speak this February at the Calgary Banff month of Photography to open the Fig Tree Foundation Exhibit.
- 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.
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.
Walking up the dusty red path I realized how tiny she was, bewitching with her black and white plaid dress, her silhouette dancing in the sun as it started to go down. Elizabeth, the 9-year old daughter of Pastor John Kiroka was my companion on the path as we followed her father up towards the water tank above the AIC church in Bissil, Kenya. I was here with Sol Garcia of project X to visit the community. At the water tank Elizabeth and her 2 brothers played swinging on the iron gates of the enclosure, and we could see the entire valley that comprised Bissil. The beauty of Kenya is astounding, and as I gaze at the epic view I wonder at life here.
Sol Garcia began her work here a couple of years ago with Help A Child Africa, a Kenyan NGO. She helped to raise part of the money to fund a badly needed well that now services over 1500 people on the north side of Bissel, 900 at the boarding school across the highway, and many others in the surrounding part of the community. Project X helps to fund different projects by partnering with in-country organizations. I have joined her here in Bissil to meet the community and follow another story of many of the rescued girls in this part of Kenya. We had met 9 girls this afternoon that have been rescued by a group of volunteer Kenyan women, saving them from child marriage and FGM/C, a common theme in the land of the Masai. FGM/C is a huge problem in many parts of Africa and specifically in areas where the Masai
Pastor Kiroka is a Masai that became a Christian community leader and pastor in Bissil. He advocates for change and is well respected. John has 3 children with his wife Mary but is also helping with the upbringing of 5 children of his father, who was recently murdered in a near by town, the case is currently in the courts. Life can be harsh here under the African sun.
As we walk down the path towards the pastors home, a concrete and corrugated steel 3 room home, one of his dogs erupts past us chasing a white and brown rabbit. His dogs, although friendly and ready to receive a pat, are extra lean and hungry. I secretly wish for the rabbits escape, but know it would be a much-needed meal for the dogs. In the next 2 days I will be hearing the stories of 9 young girls who have experienced too much trauma in their young lives. Life can be harsh here under the African sun, and I sometimes feel like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, so much to do, what to do first?
In the upcoming weeks I will be working and developing this story further, please look for more posts.
Meet Momma Margret, a vibrant 72 year old HIV+ grandmother who is the caretaker for 5 of her orphaned grandchildren. Margret lives in the Ting'Wang'I, a small village in Siaya near Kisumu Kenya. Despite making the decision not to remarry after her husband died, she worked to put her children through secondary school. She did not want to invite HIV into her life through another marriage, but when her children needed to build their own homes, culture prevailed and Margret was forced to be "inherited", a term used to describe a marriage after you have been widowed. Unfortunately her new husband and his 2 wives did not disclose that he was already HIV+, so when Margret was given the news it was devastating. This story is unfortunate and not uncommon in the Siaya, an area with a high prevalence of HIV. To hear her voice in her own words was sad enough, she was adamant to let us know that she had deliberately tried to avoid this very scenario. When we left the interview and walked out of Mama Margret's home I saw one of her grandchildren standing alone, with her hands in her mouth to comfort herself. I took some photos, and then one of our guides said "hello Jennifer, Jennifer is such a beautiful little girl, she is standing in front of her Mother's home, when you have an adult child that dies, it is the culture to build a small home to represent them, so that their children can say their mother had her own home, it is considered a disgrace if you can not say your mother had a home" As Jennifer listened to her grandmother talk about her mother, she ran to stand in front of her mother's house, to grieve. I wondered of all the HIV orphans in Siaya, in Kenya, in Africa, in the world and have been holding that in my heart.
With love to Jennifer, her family and all the others afflicted by HIV/AIDs
On December 1st, SWAP, an organization in Kisumu will hold it's annual HIV/AIDs marathon and runners will come to run through the streets of Kisumu to raise money for HIV/AIDs.
Today I witnessed a miracle, at least thats what it felt like, the kind that brings your emotions right to the surface and makes you tingle. We were visiting communities about an hour and a half outside of Mombasa Kenya with Greg Algood of P&G's Children's Safe Drinking Water. CSDW is also turning their attention to those afflicted with HIV/AIDS and we had been talking about that all week as I have also seen the big connection between water, women and HIV/AIDS. Hearing the story first hand from Greg was cool enough, but "seeing it" embodied made my soul explode. Conversation enroute to Gotani turned to talking about a woman they had met last May while in this region working with World Vision. We were attempting to visit her but she had left to go to St Lukes hospital to get her medications; so we made our way along the bumpy red dirt roads of Gotani. Upon arrival the world vision crew found Zeineb Karissa, a 38 year old woman who was diagnosed with HIV 4 years ago. Since that time she had been on anti-retros for treatment, but when they met her last May, Zeineb was not looking good. Water born disease in the form of diarrhea and vomiting is a scourge to those with HIV, not only are they more susceptable, but the symptioms can be magnified and ravage them, starving them of much needed nutrients and meds. Zeineb was underweight, not eating due to the diarrhea, had open lesions on her face and no energy. Greg and the others despaired at her chances but introduced PUR to her.
The transformation was immediate and amazing. Within a month she was feeling better, had more energy and no diarrhea, and was able to find employment as a home help. She has put on weight, and due to her new income was able to eat better food. This in 6 months! Greg and the others were jubilant at her transformation and I could tell by talking with her that life had been put before her again. She was the last person I was to interview in Mombasa before we left for Nairobi and then on to Kisumu this afternoon, but I can't get her smile out of my mind, and I will never forget her.
"IT TAKES" safe water to transform the life of Zeineb Karissa in Gotani Kenya
When I heard that I was going to go to Mombasa, imagery of sitting beachside sipping a long tall cool drink with pool dipping came to mind. But that was my preconceived idea of Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city which is nestled alongside the Indian ocean. I am having a great time here working on Give Health, the P&G initiative for CSDW (Children’s Safe Drinking Water), but it is completely different from relaxing poolside.
Instead I have been working 14 hour days in a convoy winding our way through some of the most challenged villages in this part of Kenya with Dr Greg Algood, Pam Crane of Blood Water Mission. It is hot and humid here, and I think my clothes could walk away on their own accord at the end of these days as there is so much of my DNA in them. Working in a team we arrive at households in communities that have been using PUR as part of their household water treatment and management. Most of the people living in these areas have to walk to get their water, and when they bring it back home it is really not ready to drink. That’s where PUR comes in.
Greg Algood has been working with several in country partners including World Vision, the Agha Khan Foundation, and SWAP. I am here to bear witness to that and to meet and speak with more people about water and life – they do go hand in hand. I am continually amazed at the challenges and the resilience that humans have. I have seen some difficult lives lived but also the grace and joy that also co-exists.
Signing off after an amazing day.
FANM YO BLUE HILLS
In late August I arrived at a small rural community on the edge of Cap-Haitian in northern Haiti. Nothing could have prepared me for the reception, we arrived to a room of 90 women, they clapped and sang beautifully to us, bringing tears to our eyes right away. They had been waiting most of the day in the hot Haitian sun, our plane was delayed and then our drivers got lost on the way to Blue Hills. But when we arrived it was all worth it, the drama that unfolded matched the moody skies as dark heavy storm clouds, lightening and thunder danced around us. We were there to talk to them about their lives, their worries and sorrows, and how water played a part in all of that. I quickly decided to do a mass portrait session with them, and this poster is a tribute to the women of Blue Hills.