To every celebrity activist, every nongovernmental organization, nonprofit or philanthropist who knows anything about what I’ve been doing for the past six years, my efforts have been a failure because I have seen to it that eight Maasai girls have gone to college and university in Kenya.
I cannot claim to have rescued hundreds of girls like some organizations will glowingly tell you on their websites next to the big, red “donate here” button. I haven’t raised millions of dollars. I haven’t held lavish fundraisers (using large amounts of donated money). I don’t have a celebrity spokesperson. I don’t have a glossy brochure. And I haven’t attracted media attention.
But I don’t care, and here is why all of you who have contributed $5 or $20 or $5,000 shouldn’t care either: Because eight girls who had no chance at a college education, job skills or economic empowerment now have a big chance at a very different future. Their names are Janet, Mary, Purity, Susan, Caroh, Nailois, Florence and Lorna.
There is a world of difference between rescue and empower. An organization that might claim on its website to have rescued hundreds of Maasai girls would not, if asked, be able to name a single girl and describe how that rescue empowered her in any lasting way. Publicity, book tours, millions of dollars, celebrity board members and media stunts aside, they would not be able to point to one girl by name and show why what they provided to her would mean her life was going to be qualitatively different than the life from which they claimed to have rescued her.
But I can tell you exactly what will happen for these eight girls: They will not be forced to marry to economically benefit their fathers. With sustainable employment, they will meet their own financial needs. They will send money to their mothers to help with the family’s needs. They will pay siblings’ school fees. As teachers, they will be on the lookout for other Maasai girls at risk of dangerous and oppressive cultural practices. They will assist their fathers with medical needs. They will buy cars, build homes, pay rent, buy goods and commodities, pay taxes, have children at a time of their choosing and pay for their own future continuing education needs. They will contribute to the economy of their communities and country. I can tell you this because it is exactly how it is going for these girls right now.
The other day, while walking to the supermarket through an upscale area of Nairobi, I passed an apparently dead man stuffed in a large bag (one of his hands was sticking out), two elderly women lugging what was probably 100 pounds on their backs up a steep hill and a young woman so stricken that she just sat scrunched against a pole all day begging for small coins. These are not pleasant things to see, but they are far more than many of the people who claim to be such an integral part of the betterment of people’s lives here will ever see.
We cannot possibly relate to the lives of people living in the kind of abject poverty, degradation, hopelessness, exploitation and dehumanization that people with their eyes open see every single day in Kenya. But I really do think that a very good start is to know a few people here by name.
Mary Walker, a 25-year resident of Clark, volunteered at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre, which rescues Maasai girls from female genital mutilation and child marriage in Kenya. She now provides college and university assistance to several girls from the rescue center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.