Dr Josephine Kulea, HSC is the Founder and Executive Director of Samburu Girls Foundation (SGF), an NGO registered in 2011.
She is a courageous youth activist who decided that she could not sit on the sidelines while young girls were being raped, abused or women being forced to kill their own children. Her organisation addresses harmful cultural practices such as child marriages, female genital mutilation and beading (where young girls are bought beads by relatives in exchange for sex.)
To this end, she has rescued more than 1,200 girls and through the organisation, she is supporting 331 girls to get education from primary to university level. She has also helped reconcile some girls with their families under the reconciliation program.
Her tremendous work has been recognised widely and she has received numerous awards including: UN person of the year 2013, Head of State commendation 2012, Inspiring Woman by Gender Commission Kenya 2014, African Union Youth Hero 2015 among other prestigious awards.
How was the first rescue mission? Does it get easier with time?
My first rescue was of my 11-year-old cousin who had been married off to a man old enough to be her grandfather. After several failed attempts trying to reason out with my uncle, I took the girl and had her stay in our house. Angered by my act, he married off her younger sister as a replacement to the same old man. She was just six years old! I called for police backup and the girl was rescued and the family jailed.
With time, it has got easier because unlike before when I could go for such missions alone, I now have support from the the police, county commissioner and other stakeholders.
Tell us about the girls you rescue. Do you have some who take displeasure at you for rescuing them?
No. On the contrary, they are very happy when they get help. Few days after the rescue, you can see fear in their eyes; probably over the uncertainty of their future. However, once they settle, you see resilience, courage and passion to beat the odds. Some of the girls are excellent in drama, music and sports.
You have so many people leaning on you for support, to whom do you lean on?
My mother and my children top the list of my support system. Over the years, they have learnt that I have a calling upon my life and that sometimes we have to make do with minimal resources to support Samburu Girls Foundation.
It’s really humbling that my kids are taking after me.
Do you have moments when you want to quit and move on with your life? What makes you stay?
Yes, quite a number of them. I have had situations where leaders, especially politicians who should be supporting my work have turned against me and accused me of child trafficking or worse, that I am using the girls to make money.
Sometimes such statements can be demoralising. However, when I look at my girls and how good their lives have turned out, I get encouraged to carry on. One of our pioneer girls is a nurse in one of Kenya’s biggest hospitals.
How do you compare your 20's and 30's?
I started rescuing girls while in my early twenties and now that I am in my mid-thirties, the passion has intensified. I want to see more girls in school as well as create opportunities for the youth.
Do your peers find you odd or feel like you are missing out on the eccentric bits of life?
Yes, certainly! I am often not available for weddings, burials or social gatherings. Because of this, I have had to shed a lot of friends and some have also cut me off. However, there are those who have been very supportive as they understand my vision. These have stayed on.
It’s been seven years running SGF. What is the greatest revelation so far?
That not everybody will appreciate what you do even when it’s good and that is okay.
How do you deal with opposition…people who feel that you are getting in the way of culture?
One of the reasons why my organisation is big on community outreaches is because instead of fighting critics, we always endeavour to teach and train them on what we do and why. However, it's not easy and in most cases, it takes time.
What’s the best advice you have received so far?
How do you unwind?
I have a great team of volunteers with balls of energy who always step in. When I want a break, I go home and hang out with my children.
If you had a magic wand to change something about yourself, what would you change?
Well, I wouldn’t change a thing about myself. My only wish is that I started this earlier. My heart bleeds for the girls who went through harmful cultural practices before SGF was founded.
When it’s all said and done, what legacy do you wish to leave behind?
My vision is to start a school for girls. Therefore, I wish to be remembered as the village girl who gave opportunities to thousands of other girls.