Mary Walker: Helping 1 girl at a time

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Mary Walker

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.

Whenever I get home from my trips to Kenya, one of the toughest things I encounter is trying to keep on top of news from Kenya. Of course, that’s never a problem when I am in Kenya, where I read the two major national newspapers every day.

Reading the papers keeps me on top of the happenings, whether it’s the announcements of where across the country there will be roving blackouts because of the electricity company’s financial straits or of the latest group of professionals to go on strike.

One of my personal favorites is when the government announces on a Tuesday that Wednesday will be a national holiday. They did something like this last year after the successful promulgation of the new constitution, seemingly out of relief that it went off without any violence. A peaceful event here today is cause for a national holiday tomorrow.

But of more importance for my task at hand — helping Maasai girls rescued from female genital mutilation and child marriage to go to college and university — is that the newspapers are full of school advertisements, announcements about admission deadlines and the perennial information about teachers’ strikes or changes in how much the government will be subsidizing students next term.

This “gazetted” information (as its called in Kenya) doesn’t routinely make the online editions of these newspapers. Very few people in Kenya have access to, or even the know-how for, Internet and email. Even those with access to postal service wouldn’t dare to trust the postal service for delivery of important documents and information, so newspapers (which cost the equivalent of about 50 cents, or up to half-a-day’s wage for some menial laborers) are basically the sole means for relaying important information to students.

But miss one newspaper on one day and a person risks not knowing that a particular school has set its application deadline or opening day. Or in my case, last year I could have missed that the government had announced that it was hiring 17,000 new teachers. This could have meant that one of the girls who had just completed teachers’ college would have missed out on a coveted government job in her own home area’s primary school.

Through the newspapers, I also pay attention to what NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are up to in Kenya. Maybe there is a humanitarian group willing to drill bore holes for water in some of the girls’ home areas. Or perhaps some obscure fund that would provide start-up money for girls to start their own shambas (farms) or for solar panels and batteries for charging cellphones and providing lamp light at night in girls’ home where there still is no electricity.

I’ve pretty much given up on any type of community-scale improvements that would benefit girls and their families. The politicians and their middlemen profit from the disconnect that their poor constituents suffer from because of lack of water, electricity and accessible markets for their produce. It actually seems to be in their best interests that there not be easy access to clean water and electricity and that the roads in the rural areas remain largely impassable to all but their own Toyota Prados during electioneering time and the large lorries that buy produce from the farmers and transport it to market to sell for themselves at absurd profit levels. The profit on maize, for example, is more than 600 percent between the time it is bought off the “transportation-stranded” farmers and sold in market.

But I can keep hoping for the small improvements that can be provided to individual girls and their mothers and siblings through access to a college education and the opportunity to find sustainable employment. One girl at a time.

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