Just back from my mid-year visit to Samburu and am still trying to synthesize all the incredible things which happened during my month in Kenya. The one thing that keeps ringing through my mind are the words spoken by Christine Namunyak during our first Samburu Sister’s workshop, “Don’t be shy.”
Christine is a respected community activist and county representative in Samburu. For the past twenty years, she has been engaging school girls and mothers alike with her motivational and inspirational talks. She used those words, "don't be shy," as a call to action for Samburu women but I heard them too. She urged our attendees to step into a position of power in their homes and community at large, to be an inspiration in deed and word. She went on to say that leadership is challenging for a host of reasons but it is also rewarding, life-changing and life-affirming. She echoed this sentiment again and again when she stressed the importance of education and self-reliance.
The workshop was given to 65 Samburu women from the Ntilal and Lolgerdad villages near Archer’s Post. Lolgerdad received a well in 2012. The women of this community are very active in selling their beadwork at the Kalama airstrip. The Ntilal village received a well from TSP in 2013 and another in 2014. This community has a pre-school close by and will soon have a primary school courtesy of the county government, all further evidence that with access to clean water, community development happens. In short, this progress has been made because people spoke up and were not shy.
In addition to Christine's talk on women's empowerment, conflict resolution and the importance of education, Dr. Julius Leorto, spoke on reproductive health and HIV/AIDS awareness. Elizabeth Lemoyog gave a moving talk on the harmful effects of female circumcision and echoed the importance of education. Samuel Leadismo of Pastoralist Child Foundation facilitated the speakers and orchestrated a beautiful and informative day along with TSP staff Eric Lekolii, Mercy Jamwelly, Paul Lekuuk and Kiki Swanson.
This women's empowerment workshop was the first activity of our Samburu Sisters program. Based on needs assessments over the past few years, TSP designed this program to offer life skills and further support to the women of TSP well villages. Sitting under that tree with TSP staff from Kenya and the US along with our partners from the Pastoralist Child Foundation and the 65 women (some who walked 3 hours to get there which gave new meaning to 'until you've walked in my shoes') was the fulfillment of a long term TSP goal and one of the many highlights of the trip.
At the end of the workshop, the facilitators broke the participants into 6 smaller groups to hear their reaction of the information presented. Mpaayion from Lolgerdad told us that she never knew the exact function of her reproductive organs and that the use of condoms would protect her from HIV/AIDS. She was grateful for this information and thanked us for organizing the workshop. Sekeena, also from Lolgerdad said she most impacted by the discussion about leadership in the home. She felt the workshop empowered her to speak up on family matters in the future. The majority of participants said they had children who currently attend school, which was music to our ears because we know that children go to school when they aren't walking for water every day.
On a personal note, I couldn't help but think of the many women who have been mentors or role models to me throughout my life. Being a part of a sisterhood of women that transcends culture, geography and language is indeed life-altering and affirming. I have found myself on an amazing journey, in part because I've had so many women throughout my life who said those exact words to me, Don't be Shy." I couldn't believe I was hearing them again now but spoken in Samburu.
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