Mary Walker: Invest in a girl

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Editor’s note: Clark resident Mary Walker volunteers at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center was built in 2002 and provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Walker’s updates appear periodically in the Steamboat Today.

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Mary Walker

Florence comes from the Maasai Mara region of southwestern Kenya. The Maasai Mara is a world-known tourist destination, and often is called the Seventh Wonder of the Natural World because of its amazing concentration of wildlife.

Natalie is growing up in Steamboat Springs. “Ski Town USA” is a world-known tourist destination and the home of Champagne Powder.

The Maasai Mara is one of the last and strongest holdouts for the practices of female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage among the Maasai people. Florence was rescued from a marriage that she had been sold into by her father and taken to Tasaru as a young teenager. She had not been in school for several years when she came to Tasaru. She hasn’t seen her mother in three years and is a source of shame to her father.

Steamboat has an excellent school system, and girls routinely go to the finest colleges and universities in the United States. Last year, Natalie gave a presentation to her high school class about female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage in Kenya. I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb to assume that her parents are proud of her standing in Honor Roll and her accomplishments in school and sport, the decisions she is making in her life and her potential.

Upon completion of high school, a rescued girl must leave Tasaru and regardless of the situation with her family, she is expected to reconcile with and return to her father. Completion of high school is a remarkable achievement for a rescued Maasai girl, but it does not prepare her with job skills for any type of employment in Kenya. Once home, she will have little choice beyond assisting her mother with her farm. Actually, it’s her father’s farm, and he keeps all the proceeds, but her mother does all of the labor. Eventually, she will be forced to marry and provide her link in the chain that perpetuates economic servitude, female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Further education and job training or assistance in starting a small business can break this cycle for girls from Tasaru.

Last week, Florence and Natalie’s lives came together across thousands of miles and cultural differences that are vast and inexplicable. Natalie decided to raise the funds needed to assist Florence once she completes high school and leaves Tasaru in November, to provide Florence with some measure of the choices they are blessed with by accident of family, culture and community. With the help of family and friends, an outstanding turnout and with local business support, enough money was raised to put Florence through a two-year teachers college program in Kenya. In one day. With their commitment, Natalie and her friends are now invested in Florence’s future. As a Nike Foundation slogan says, “Invest in a girl, she will do the rest.”

I’ve heard it said that when you educate a boy, you educate an individual, but when you educate a girl, you educate a community. Natalie and her friends’ lives seemingly will always be blessed by loving and supportive families and a cultural environment that allows girls access to education and freedom from oppression. As Florence’s future unfolds, we can now hope that her “community” develops accordingly.

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