Mary Walker: Kenya is in disarray


Editor's note: Clark resident Mary Walker works at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Walker's updates from Kenya appear periodically in the Steamboat Today.

I arrived in Kenya last week. It is staggering how much the country has deteriorated in just the three months that I have been away. This deterioration is a potent - and now life-threatening - mix of environmental factors out of the control of anyone, and the blatant corruption and greed of national politicians here.

In the Narok area, the wheat crops were planted several weeks ago, as usual. However, there has been no rain. March and April usually are part of a rainy season here. The seeds will die within a matter of a few more days if the rains don't come. The drought in Kenya is killing livestock and people, and it soon will devastate the wheat crop. This is an immediate threat to millions of Kenyans. In the U.S., as bad as it gets for the many people struggling in our economy, there always is food and water. Think about that tonight when you sit down to dinner.

There is no water flowing in the pipes of Narok, which usually is supplied by a small but reliable district source. A few months ago, the rescue center received a small but steady supply of this water for one day a week - enough to at least put some water into a large holding tank here. This supply is history. We wait for a lorry full of water that will last about one week at the center. It has not yet arrived. Of course, I have the ability to buy bottled water for myself - a fact that makes me feel incredibly guilty, and tonight I shared with several girls. But I cannot possibly buy bottled water for 50 girls once they all arrive from their schools next week.

This is unlike any situation that anyone in Kenya who I have asked can remember. On top of this unavoidable environmental disaster is the corruption of the government. The coalition government formed last year in the wake of ethnic violence that ripped the country is not functioning. There have been none of the constitutional reforms promised that could address so much of the inefficiency, greed and outright corruption of members of parliament. Obviously, those in power here have little interest in the people of Kenya - only in their own well-being and clinch-hold of their political power.

A perfect storm of last year's flawed presidential election and resulting ethnic violence has ruined the tourism industry. A recent teachers strike shows the worsening situation with the education system. A maize scandal literally took maize out of the hands of millions of hungry Kenyans. And then there's the drought and looming wheat crop failure - all of this conspires to destroy this country. Once the "Star of Africa" known for its democratic government, relative prosperity, peacefulness and incredible beauty, Kenya is nothing like what it was only 18 months ago.

This is the environment that I have returned to. I stay focused on my purpose here - assisting the girls at the rescue center when they complete secondary school and must leave the center. Their futures are now even more unsteady and uncertain given the national situation. This makes me angry. I know these girls, their potential and the absolute good they could accomplish; and yet, because they have no control over their environment here, this is all at risk. That I cannot use financial resources to assure their futures is frustrating at best. I know that I am doing everything I can to help as many of these girls as I can. And yet, that they will suffer anyway is something I also know. So "doing everything you can" is not comforting. In fact, it just feels impotent.


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