Thursday, May 19, 2011

The brains and the bruises: meeting the girls of Malava Girls High School Kakamega

As part of the Women Bloggers Deliver contest, and the Carbon for Water campaign, I am excited to be traveling around the Western Province of Kenya, meeting women and girls who are hard-hit by the issues associated with the Millennium Development Goals. Yesterday, I got the chance to visit the Malava’s Girls High School -- a reaffirmation time that the Millennium Development Goals are so important, especially the goal addressing women and girls’ issues.

Team Vestergaard Frandsen and Women Deliver (consisting of Janna Oberdorf, Elisabeth Wilhelm, Rachel Cernansky and I) visited the Malava Girls High School to demonstrate how to use the LifeStraw Family water filters, a water purification tool that is being distributed to 900,000 Kenyans in the Western Province. The findings about water borne diseases and lack of safe water were very revealing -- teachers told us about how they have to use some form of chemical to purify their water or boil the water for drinking. While some of the girls mentioned that they often went home thirsty and empty-handed after spending a whole day in a very long queue to get tap water (where available). They said they would just let the stream water settle and drink, or their family would use firewood to boil the water thereby adding to carbon emissions in the atmosphere. A few of the girls who shared their experiences with us during questions and answers time, explained how some of them have suffered some form of water borne disease ranging from typhoid fever to diarrhea or having their family members suffer bilharzias.

The female students, who were up to 500 in attendance, believed in healthy living and safe drinking water as a disease free mechanism. The discussion took a turn as the girls began to trust in the team, and they spoke in confidence to each member of the team about prevailing issues affecting them as a girl-child, affecting their family and their development. It was an electrifying moment of revelations and counseling. It was not so long ago that I was in this stage of life too, with issues so germane to me I wish I had trusted and knowledgeable people to share them with. I was glad that I am part of a team with whom these brilliants girls can share their bruises, their concerns and their struggles in an unequal world.

Interacting with us were some of the female students who had to contend with different life issues – from physical and sexual abuse in the home to questions of sexuality and sexual health. Many more girls gathered around us in different groups to recount different stories of their young but bruised life. Beatrice suffers extremely painful menstruation (Dysmenorrheal) and her mother has prevented her from using the oral contraceptive that the doctor prescribed for her without any other alternative, she goes through pains for more than 10 days as long as her bleeding last to the point paralyses! There was little we could do to attend to all the needs of these brilliant girls but to exchange contact with promises to refer them to organizations and individuals within Kenya working on these issues of concern to them.

In less than one hour, discussions had gone around empowerment of girls and their family, provision of safe drinking water, and even though the female students are not having children yet nor are they children themselves, they were able to discuss the challenges around child mortality and maternal health. They also know a lot about the recurring danger of climate change and global warming if no intervention is offered by all of us. Just in one meeting MDGs goal 3- Promote gender equality and empowerment of women , 4- Reduce Child Mortality Rates, 5- Improve maternal health, 6-Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and 7 – Ensure environmental Sustainability were discussed!

We have all started on the right path; supporting each other, educating each other, demanding that quality of our lives are improved and that we have access to basic amenities of life. I had a wonderful time with these incredible girls.

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