You Don’t Have to Marry at 9 Years Old: Empowering Girls in Kenya

2014-11-28 14.26.56

After being with Feed the Children for over two years now, you would think I would go through a day without a surprise.

But two weeks ago while I was traveling through Kenya, I learned something about our work that I didn’t know.

In the NGO world, we know that girls in school equals lasting change to communities.

Yet, for so many communities around the world, girls not in school are the norm.

2014-11-28 13.32.34But, why? We think girls drop out in the Global South because their parents can’t afford the school fees. Or we think that their parents need them to work. Yet for many girls, especially in rural communities, they drop out for other reasons.

In some parts of Kenya a practice called Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is what is keeping girls from school.

Wow. I dare say, as an American male, this is something I have rarely thought or even knew much about.

But it’s a right of passage for girls usually aged 9-12 go through to prepare them for marriage. It’s a cultural tradition that can lead to serious infections, loss of pregnancies, and sometimes death. Although the government has banned FGM, some communities still practice it in secret.

So how can we address this problem?

For a while now, Feed the Children Kenya explored this issue. How could we empower girls with knowledge of their bodies, self-confidence and give them invitation to dream big for their future?

This was our answer: Feed the Children Kenya birthed the first ever retreat for 30 girls this past November in partnership with AIC Church, Lumbwa.

The retreat included workshops to help the girls know that the traditional way of life in the village is not the only option for them.

It just so happened that the Friday afternoon graduation ceremony coincided with my trip to Kenya. I couldn’t wait to meet these brave girls!

When we arrived at the church hosting the graduation, sounds of joyous singing by the girls and their mothers filled the space.

Girls laughed with sashes around their bodies, “I am a champion!” Mothers danced alongside them to welcome us. And a father who told me, “Thank you, Feed the Children for helping me empower my girls.”

I learned that often it is the mothers in the community that are most resistant to change. The fathers usually want FGM to stop.

Then, before an audience of 50, one girl spoke boldly on behalf of her graduation class, calling upon the governmentof Kenya and the county leadership to implement the law.

In response, I told the girls how proud I was of them. I told them they were beautiful. It shocked me that the crowd erupted in applause when a staffer translated my words. Maybe they aren’t used to ever hearing such encouragement?

2014-11-28 14.03.19Later, my wife, Elizabeth and I passed out certificates to each girl.

I learned that for all of the girls this was the only time they’d ever had a piece of paper with their name on it! Imagine that. Something that happens to me everyday that I take for granted!

As the festivities concluded the girls processed out of the church in song. Joy leapt from the dirt road as their sandals pounded in unity.

2014-11-28 14.28.14A Feed the Children staffer, Duncan who worked alongside the retreat all week leaned over to tell me, “You should have seen the girls on the first day. They were shy and withdrawn. Now, look at them! They’ve got hope.”

I’m so happy to tell you that this retreat is only the first of many to come. Plans are already underway for more gatherings like this in 2015. At Feed the Children, want girls like these to dream of unimaginable futures and to keep having reasons to dance with joy!

2 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Marry at 9 Years Old: Empowering Girls in Kenya

  1. you wrote:
    I learned that often it is the mothers in the community that are most resistant to change. The fathers usually want FGM to stop.

    Can you explain this in more detail please. Stefan.

  2. This is what Feed the Children staffers were told by community leaders. I am not sure why mothers are resistant to change– maybe because they want their daughters to go through same ritual that they went through?
    Regardless, we believe that ending FGM is vital to the empowerment of girls in rural parts of Kenya!

Comments are closed.