Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Are you a complainer or are you the proactive type that tries to look for a solution to the challenges that come your way? There are two kinds of people, those that whine and blame others when things fail to go their way, and those who face the challenge head-on and try to look for ways to tackle it. This week, we had a chat with four young people who spotted a deficiency in their community, but instead of ignoring it or grumbling about it, they decided to look for a solution.
Initiative: Rendille Girls Foundation
“I am a believer in human rights. I hold the belief that gender should end at determining what sex group one belongs to, not go on to determine what opportunities one should get.”
“People born in the 90’s among the Rendille pastoralist communities will tell you that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriage were once a way of life. I grew up in Laisamis District, Marsabit County, and shared in the beliefs and traditions that saw girls go through the cut or get married off at a very young age. I was constantly offered better treatment than my sisters, for instance, they were the first to wake up and last to go to bed because they had to cook and clean up after us, the boys. During the day, the girls went to herd livestock while the boys headed to school to get an education. I knew girls who got married off as young as 11 years, never mind that they were mere children. When my elder sister was married off when she turned 14, I did not think it was strange, after all, it was our tradition.
I only began to see this discrimination against girls in 2011 when I got a chance to work with NGO, CARE Kenya, registering households into a programme called Hunger Safety Net Programme II (HSNP II). Then, I was student at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology studying computer science. My work opened my eyes to the beliefs that had endangered the future of the girls among my community for decades.
As I went by registering people into the Government Social protection scheme, my interaction with members of my community brought back childhood memories that showed me just how girls were disadvantaged. It is then that I decided to do my bit to ensure that girls got the same treatment as boys. I was 20 years then. In 2013, I founded Rendille Girls Foundation, which I registered as a CBO in Marsabit County the following year.
The foundation is an initiative that aims to educate communities against harmful cultural practices and traditions. We use a unique approach - instead of fighting the cultural practices, we enlighten the society about the dangers of such practices, for instance FGM and early marriages. So far, we have managed to rescue five girls from early marriage and have a formation of girl caucus in Ngurunit Primary, Laisamis District where girls discuss challenges affecting them and even find solutions amongst themselves. Together with other organisations such as Samburu Girls Foundation, we have formed Youth Anti- FGM Network Kenya, a youth-led national network that mobilises young people to speak out against FGM. There have been many challenges along the way, challenges that started right at home. It was hard to convince my parents, especially my mother, that FGM and marrying off girls before they even got to their teens was wrong. My first public baraza back in 2012 was even harder because some of the girls we were trying to protect were the same ones who held the traditions dear.
Another challenge that slowed our operations was where to take the girls after rescuing them since we had no money with which to pay for shelter. In such cases, we either convinced other foundations to take them in, or we raised money amongst ourselves to house and feed the girls. What I do is not easy, but it is important that I do it. Nothing makes my heart gladder than to hear elders agree that our girls should be given an equal chance to succeed.
Age: 24 years
Initiative: Set Book Help
“The biggest problem of the 21st century is the inability to learn, unlearn and re-learn.”
“My initiative, which is based in Mombasa, serves Swahili communities such as the Arabs and Mijikenda. The initiative seeks to offer practical solutions to change the perception and consumption of literature in secondary schools in Mombasa County. The core idea though, is to create a free space that students and teachers in Kenya can connect, obtain and share knowledge on literature amongst themselves and with other interested parties from around the world. I desire to contribute to the birth of a generation that embraces reading as a lifestyle.
I got the inspiration to launch this program in 2016 after observing my generation’s lack of social awareness and almost zero understanding of the social tenets on which society operates. With moral support from my family, who fully understand the role that literature plays in culture, I set the initiative rolling using my savings. I have however managed to get several schools on board, which occasionally financially support me.
My journey has not been without hiccups. These include teachers who are not receptive to the idea, as well as lack of enough funding to introduce the concept to as many schools as possible. There are many notable highlights. For instance, one of the schools that we partnered with in 2017 was ranked top five in Coast Province in the 2017 KCSE exams. In the past, there had been cases of students in this school joining the Al-Shabaab.
We have also managed to bring a number of writers and poets on board, who get to discuss their work with the students. Some of these include American poet, James Coburn, Charles Okoth, a Kenyan writer who won the BURT award for literature in 2015, and Pauline Kea, author of Swahili tamthilia, Kigogo, a set book in Kenya.
Before I launched the project, I feared that my community would reject my idea. I was wrong, because I have received immeasurable support from all quarters. I believe that we as young people have a role that we can play to foster the growth of our communities. All we need to do is to identify a gap and work towards closing it.
Age: 28 years
Initiative: Northern Voice Trust
“If you unlock a child’s power of imagination, you give them the liberty to choose who they want to be.”
“I was raised in a family that believed in education, so my parents instilled a reading culture in my siblings and I from an early age. I was greatly disturbed that most of my friends and neighbours had no books, and I made a mental note that someday, I would do something about it.
In September last year, driven by my great interest in reading, I decided to launch a campaign to get more people in my community to start reading. Using Sh5,000 I had saved, I bought 15 story books and started a book club at home. I called it Mandera books and arts center. I started with seven kids from my neighborhood, a number that grew to 20 in a few days.
A few weeks into the pursuit though, I realised that illiteracy was not only a reality in Mandera County, but also in other parts of Northern Kenya. With this in mind, I renamed the book club Northern Voice Trust, to encompass counties such as Wajir, Turkana and Marsabit. The core objective of this project is to put a book in every child’s hands in the region in two years’ time. It is an ambitious goal, but I am determined to meet it.
The passion I have to foster a reading culture in my community enables me to keep pushing even when on a tight budget. In books, I have found a world of endless knowledge and possibility, and I wish the same for every child in Northern Kenya.
I feel that as the youth of this region, we cannot afford to sit and complain about being marginalised, yet are not doing anything about it.
My small thing is to expose these children to the power of reading because if you unlock a child’s power of imagination, you give them the liberty to choose who they want to be.
My main stumbling block is lack of enough books. At the moment, since I cannot afford to go into a shop and buy books, I rely on family and friends to donate those that they do not need. So far, we have managed to collect about 100 story books. To have greater impact, I am selling my idea to parents, teachers and the community at large, hoping that they will own this project and transform Northern Kenya into a literary block in the near future.
Initiative: Save The Pastoralist Initiative (Improving nomadic way of life through investment in agriculture)
When Epuri got a chance to study agricultural engineering at Earth University in Costa Rica in 2013, at the end of her course, she had one goal, to introduce her Turkana nomadic community to farming.
“This opportunity, which I got thanks to MasterCard Foundation, opened my eyes to the many barriers we set ourselves. I realised that the Turkana community, if given the right support, can invest in dry land agricultural techniques with a vision of reducing the frequent hunger-related deaths and improve their health.
Long before I traveled to Costa Rica, however, I was deeply concerned about my community. I felt we were accustomed to famine and drought and had accepted it as our lot in life, which was defeatist. This initiative therefore was born out of a necessity, having been raised in a nomadic set up which exposes one to hunger and other inhumane conditions. Turkana has long been viewed as having no agricultural potential, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Currently, a colleague from Earth University and I have partnered with a local organisation to establish an agricultural demonstration farm in Lodwar, where the community, especially women, who are our main target, get to be taught practical skills that they can apply to grow their own food. The two acres of land we have set up our project on was a donation by a local church, which is proof of goodwill from the community, as well as belief in what we’re trying to accomplish.
To kick start the project, which we launched in 2016, we got a seed funding of about Sh400,000 from Resolution Project, a NGO that identifies and mentors young leaders and funds their projects.
Our aim is to teach pastoral communities how to integrate agriculture into their nomadic way of life. Our vision is that of a northern Kenya where pastoral communities can produce their own food and use their resources sustainably to promote food security, curb hunger and take part in fighting climate change. Since 2016, each year, we have been training 30 people drawn from various parts of Turkana. Once they graduate, each of them identifies three neighbours and teaches them what they know. We hope that the sequence will continue for many years to come.
Since agriculture is not offered in many primary schools in Turkana, we are in talks with a number of schools to have the students visit our model farm to learn about the various agricultural techniques there are and how they can be employed in this arid area. We are also collaborating with the local government and non-governmental organisations, which we have invited to use our farm to show locals the importance of investing in dry land agriculture. We are also encouraging professionals in the field of agriculture to use our farm for their consultancy, we hope this will encourage more people to invest in agriculture.
Besides working on the ground with the community, I have been sharing what I know on blogs and also contributing articles in local newsletters. I also regularly share my views on agriculture through my social media platforms.
The journey so far has been interesting, but each good thing comes with its share of challenges. The number one challenge is of course convincing my community, which is semi-nomadic, to embrace a new way of life that requires them to stay put in one area for a significant amount of time. The other challenge that I have is with the young people in the region, who have a poor attitude towards farming. Most don’t perceive it as a potential career path. Another challenge is that I rely on funding since I don’t charge for the technical support I offer. Thankfully, I have received sponsorship from Dalai Lama Fellowship, The Resolution Project and Furrows in the Desert, support that keeps me going.