Mary Walker: Making progress 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 safe house for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage.

The project I established four years ago to provide college and university opportunities to Maasai girls from the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya, now is helping six girls in various programs throughout Kenya. Three girls have completed teachers’ college programs and now are teaching and providing for their own economic support — perfect examples of how the model for bringing an end to the economic factors that perpetuate female genital mutilation and child marriage among their families was meant to operate. All of these girls are excellent role models for other Maasai girls at risk of these cultural practices. These young women show that educating girls from severely impoverished backgrounds has concrete economic consequences that can improve the lives of entire families. There are many statistics to support the fact that, across the world, educated girls with incomes have a greater economic impact in their families, communities and countries than their brothers.

From what I have experienced in this project, there are significant differences between the large-scale aid of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), typically nation- or community-oriented in focus, and that of efforts that focus directly on individuals. I don’t need to rehash the challenges of the U.N.’s aid effort in Somalia, the calculations of how much of a $100 donation to an organization such as Red Cross actually makes it out of their administrative offices and into the hands of people who need food and medical care across the world or frequent reports of schools and orphanages in Africa, built by very well-meaning charitable groups, that fall into disrepair and are not able to function after a couple of years because of a lack of infrastructure and management.

It isn’t enough to “want to help” — I’ve been to schools in Kenya provided with computers by a Western aid organization but lacking electricity, Internet modems, proper teaching instruction or replacement parts — there has to be infrastructure and follow-through, and that is best done by the people themselves.

I certainly do not mean to make light of “large-scale” aid — obviously many people throughout the world would be in even more dire circumstances without it — but many local people on the ground in trouble spots around the world agree that a radical re-thinking of how to “help” people in need is needed.

This is why, four years ago, I based the model for my college and university assistance project on what the girls at Tasaru themselves told me about their situation. And it is why I provide funds only for specific college and university programs in Kenya. I wish I could do much more, but I always have known that a project without clarity, specificity, measurable success and concrete economic benefit to individuals would not succeed in this environment.

On that note, I have just learned that yet another girl from Tasaru, Lorna Karbolo, completed high school with the grade needed for me to help her in a university program. When I talked with her at Christmas about her future, she told me that she would like to study architecture or engineering — both are good choices for a young woman looking to secure employment in Kenya. Throughout the next several months, I will work with her and her family to organize what she needs to go to university. Although I know Lorna is very eager and probably impatient, in Kenya, most students are out of school for more than a year before they are able to enter a college or university program. Her upcoming months will be spent getting all of the school and government documents required for admission, a responsibility made mind-numbingly difficult by the endless bureaucracy and inefficiency of the education system in Kenya. As for the funding that she will need, if you, your church group, book club, colleagues or friends would like to be part of Lorna’s future, I would love to hear from you. “One Girl at a Time” has been this project’s unofficial slogan from the beginning. But it also describes its goal, its focus and its measuring stick, too.

Contact Mary Walker at mewalker99@yahoo.com or 970-879-3810.

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