FIRST THOUGHT: The Cradle of Humanity
You know when those funny late-night shows have their intrepid reporters hit the streets and ask average people to find a state or country on a map? We all laugh as they typically miss the right location by, like, a lot. But let’s face it: Most of us would likely instantly fail our middle-school geography test these days. Today, we’re talking about Kenya, a country situated on the equator on Africa’s East Coast. Its history is centuries old and Kenya is the source of some of the evidence of our earliest ancestors. While Kenya won independence from Britain in the 1960s and is ethnically diverse, its 48.5 million citizens still face a variety of notable challenges each and every day.
WOMEN IN NUMBERS: Twice as Likely
Kenya suffers from a high unemployment rate, extensive poverty, crime and environmental concerns, but we’re going to focus today on another heartbreaking issue: what it’s like to be a girl in this country. UNICEF estimates that 23 percent of Kenyan girls are married off before they turn 18. In many rural areas of Kenya, families often see their daughters either as an economic burden or as commodities they can trade for goods, money or livestock. Because of this perspective, girls living in rural parts of Kenya are twice as likely to be married off by their families before age 18.
WOMAN TO WATCH: Tina Hagen, Co-founder of Saruni International
We wouldn’t leave you with this sad reality without also offering up some hope. And today’s Woman to Watch is nothing if not hopeful, caring and driven. Her name is Tina Hagen and she’s the co-founder of Saruni International, a nonprofit that’s tackling the seemingly insurmountable challenge of helping Kenyan girls escape the inevitability of becoming child brides. Saruni International rescues and releases these girls so they can have an independent and fulfilling life.
It all started when Tina and her husband traveled to Africa on church mission trips. During their time in Kenya, they focused on helping children, and felt called to do something to stem the flow of the tragic child-bride epidemic. Indeed, they were so affected by the widespread practice that they were spurred to build a rescue center for survivors of forced marriages and female genital mutilation.
Since their Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center was built in 2009, the space has been a refuge for dozens of girls, some as young as 8 and 10 years old, girls who might have otherwise been married off to men as old as nearly 80. That one center was just the beginning of a hopeful movement. The center’s several acres of land have also provided jobs for community members. Among other amenities, the property houses a well and water tanks, dormitories with baths and showers, an all-weather road to the center, a kitchen hall, a sustainable vegetable farm and 10 cows that enable members to sell milk to their local community.
What’s particularly notable about Tina’s work is that she says she’s not trying to change the country that these girls call home. Tina doesn’t view these devastating circumstances with “Western eyes.” Instead, she focuses on empowering these girls so they can make a lasting impact in their communities and their country on their terms.
The word “saruni” means “one who brings rescue.” While these girls certainly need rescuing, Tina has found that instilling the feeling of hope in each one of them has more power than anyone could ever imagine. After all, hope springs eternal!
QUITE THE QUOTE
Today’s fitting quote comes from Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations and was a co-recipient of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. He said:
“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women and girls.”
This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.