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Royal visit: Queen Matilde of Belgium wades into age old Maasai culture early marriages and FGM

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Belgian Queen Matilde with excited school children at Furaha Centre in Kalobeyei Village, Kakuma Refugee Camp, Turkana County during her recent visit-Photo By Frank Dejongh

18-year-old Purity Kesuma fits the aphorism “pigs will fly” meaning that the seemingly impossible phenomena can come to pass in a life time.

Born into the conservative Maasai culture that treats women and girls as objects without a voice, Kesuma has not only shrugged off early marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) so prevalent in her community, she has acquired wings and, like the popular aphorism,  flown to an unlikely audience with a European queen.

Thanks to the unique circumstances surrounding her life, wiry and shy Kesuma had the exceptional privilege of narrating to visiting Queen Mathilde of Belgium and Crown Princess Elizabeth her tottery walk from an igloo shaped abode at a Maasai Manyata in Mailwa Village, Kajiado County to Ilsibil Secondary School where she is a candidate in this year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE).

“I am the youngest of five girls from three mothers married to my mother and the only one to set foot in a secondary school,” she recounted after a meeting with the queen who was on a tour of Kenya recently in a mission to raise awareness on education for vulnerable groups and child protection issues. She had been to in her capacity as honorary president of UNICEF, Belgium.  She had been to Niger, Tanzania, Senegal, Haiti, Ethiopia, Liberia and Laos on a similar mission.

She says: “The eminent visitors could not believe that the teenager before them who now aspires to be a doctor had escaped from an arranged child marriage to a man many years her senior when she was only 14 and had narrowly dodged the knife that had genitally mutilated her four older sisters in an age old rite of passage to womanhood.

Her story of a bare knuckled struggle to realize her dreams against all the odds stunned the royal duo by its sheer luridness.

“I returned home after sitting the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) at Mailwa Primary School and effervescent with the hope of proceeding to secondary school the following year courtesy of my 295 points only to be rudely confronted by the possibility of missing out for lack of school fees. I was devastated to the bone when calling letters arrived from Ilsibil and Esolenge Secondary schools.  My father told me to my face to forget further education. Reason?  No school fees.

Purity talks to Belgian queen Matilde and Crown Princess Elizabeth at Ilsibil Girls’ Secondary School, Kajiado County– Photo by Sarah Ooko

“Downhearted and lost for what to do, I left home and went to stay with a married step sister with a toddler to assist her with maternity chores, hoping that school fees would somehow come my way. I had hardly settled down when information came that I was wanted back home.

Also Read Sahara Group Reiterates Support For The Arts At Bling Lagosians Private Screening

“Still, no fees, but rumours were rife in the village that my father intended to marry me away to a man I had never met. Arrangements had been made to have me circumcised before I could meet my suitor. I hid from home and ran away to my former school the moment I confirmed the rumour from my father whose word was final.

“My former head teacher received me with love. She asked me to take courage and promised to give me protection. She contacted World Vision and a team came over to talk to me. The gesture culminated in my joining Form one at Ilbisil Girls’ Secondary School.  World Vision offered to pay my school fees and here I am today in Form Four and a 2019 KCSE candidate.
Tears jump to purity’s eyes as images of the flight from home cascade through her mind. She blinks fast and uses the edge of her palm to wipe off the tears. She recalls how a moved Queen Mathilde wondered if her parents had accepted her back into the family.

“My father had disowned me, but had a change of mind after my former Head teacher pleaded with him to forgive me. I returned home and my father gave me his blessings. A father’s blessings are crucial in Maasai culture.

She says Queen Mathilde held her hand with the words “Your courage and determination will take you far. Prepare well for your examinations. You will hear from me through UNICEF”.
World Vision program Manager In charge of Osiligi area Ms Tabitha Mwangi Meoli says Queen Mathilde and Crown Prince Elizabeth engaged in community dialogues with Maasai men and women to discuss possible interventions and facilitation to trigger change in harmful practices such as FGM and early marriage affecting girls’ education.

She says through facilitation by UNICEF, New Vision organizes alternative rites of passage and persuades fathers to bless uncut girls considered a cursed lot by society.

“The curse is real and can affect uncut girls in many forms if reprieve from fathers and elders is not sought and given.   We also talk to Morans to accept uncut girls for wives and enlighten them on the disadvantages of FGM,” says Ms Meoli.

The Queen and the crown princess who were in the country for three days also visited Furaha Centre that offers art therapy activities at the Kakuma refugee Camp in Turkana County, the Kalobeyei Integrated settlement in northern Kenya where children and adolescents build learning and education skills and the UNICEF supported Jitegemee Livelihood Project that empowers young mothers through access to education and skills development.

Also in her itinerary was the AMREF Dagoretti Child Protection and Development Centre that rescues and liberates children living in vulnerable situations, The ACAKORO football academy in Nairobi’s Korogocho slum that develops football talent in deserving children while providing them with school fees and meals.

Queen Mathilde is the wife to the reigning King Philippe of Belgium. The couple has four children of whom Crown Princess Elizabeth is the eldest. Her assistance to the king in carrying out  state functions include private and state visits abroad and audiences with representatives of various groups.

Besides her role as UNICEF ambassador for Belgium, she   is the Honorary President of the Queen Mathilde Fund that endeavours to assist the weakest members of society with focus on child poverty and the position of women in society.

 

Credit Standard Media

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NGOs - SDGs

World Humanitarian Day 2020: A Tribute to Real Life Heroes

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Onyeka Akpaida, Rendra Foundation Women in the Kuchingoro IDP camps (Image Source: Onyeka Akpaida)

“You have not started living until you start giving”-Onyeka Akpaida

The humanitarian crisis has always existed and sometimes when it is not close to home; it is easy to ignore. The Covid-19 pandemic is definitely one that has in a morbid way, united us globally.

In the face of this global pandemic, increased poverty and growing insecurity, humanitarians and front-line workers are going beyond their duty call to make life bearable for those who have been most affected by the pandemic and insecurity crisis.

Many of us grew up watching cartoons and movies of action heroes like Voltron, Captain America etc and we all strived in our imaginations to be like them because they were super cool; however, the front line workers and humanitarians knee-deep in responding to this pandemic are definitely the Heroes worth celebrating today as their needs, pains and challenges have taken a back seat to serving others in need.

Let me introduce you to some of our real-life heroes:

Dr Marie-Roseline, a field coordinator with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and an epidemiologist has a first- hand experience in fighting epidemics under harrowing conditions. She led her team during the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid a series of violent attacks and this year, WHO sent Marie to the Central African Republic (CAR) to help set up the COVID-19 response.

Here in CAR we have a health crisis in the middle of a protracted humanitarian crisis,” she explains. “We have to build a health system while dealing with an emergency. It makes it very complicated. As doctors, we have committed ourselves to save lives. This is what we do. We cannot leave people to die.”

Nkem Okocha, a social entrepreneur and founder of fintech social enterprise Mamamoni Nigeria went above and beyond for low-income women living in rural and urban slum communities in Lagos state. During the lockdown, Nkem and her team gave relief food packages to these women week after week, putting their safety on the line. As the lockdown gradually eased up, they launched a COVID 19 emergency grant for female micro-entrepreneurs whose businesses were negatively impacted by the pandemic. The grant would help them restart their businesses.

Nkem Okocha, Founder Mamamoni with a female entrepreneur (Image Source: Onyeka Akpaida)

Adaora “Lumina” Mbelu started an accountability group- The Switch-On Bootcamp in April 2020 to teach enhance focus and productivity; ensuring that people could still execute their ideas in the middle of the pandemic. Since its inception in April 2020, the Bootcamp has hosted 2 cohorts and helped over 200 ‘Tribers”. The best part of this story is the group decided to do a Fund-The-Flow campaign as part of their team project aimed at providing sanitary products to adolescent girls and women in underserved communities in Nigeria.

(Image Source: Onyeka Akpaida)

“Given the priority to food distribution during the pandemic, sanitary needs are ignored and it is important for these women to manage their menstruation and associated hygiene with dignity and ease”

They have given out over 6,000 sanitary pads across 12 communities in Nigeria and they intend to continue this campaign.

The WIMBIZ group and Rendra Foundation focused on forcibly displaced women and their families in Northern Nigeria. The WIMBIZ group and Rendra Foundation provided food palliatives to 290 women in the Durumi IDP camp and 130 Women in the Kuchingoro IDP camps respectively.

Women in the Kuchingoro IDP camps (Image Source: Onyeka Akpaida)

Today, World Humanitarian Day, I join the rest of the world to applaud and honour every one working in their little corner of the world, going through extraordinary lengths to help the most vulnerable people whose lives have been upended by COVID-19 pandemic. Your response through commitment, sacrifice and tenacity has gone a long way in managing the increase in humanitarian needs triggered by this global pandemic.

Also Read: Africans Opportunities In Africa Matter

Author: Onyeka Akpaida is a financial service professional with 9+ years of experience in financial inclusion, consumer-centric digital banking and public sector engagement in a top tier leading International Bank and the founder of Rendra Foundation where she works to promote financial inclusion for low-income and migrant women in northern Nigeria.

onyeka@rendrafoundation.org

Rendra Foundation

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African Women in GIS (AWiGIS)- Our Story

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African Women in GIS (AWiGIS) is a community of African women around the world who either study, work or are interested in the geospatial industry. This community was borne out of the desire of two young women, Cyhana Williams from Ghana and Chidimma Umeogu from Nigeria, to create an association that fostered community and encouraged other African women to pursue GIS careers. They also sought to display the application prospects of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) field for Africa.

The community’s major objective is to create a forum that gives women of African descent (whether living in Africa or in the diaspora) the freedom to create connections, gain mentors, learn new skills, access education in GIS-related schools as well as job-related advice and opportunities.

The African Women in GIS community first started out as two separate country groups. Chidimma created her group on 29th July, 2017 for Women in GIS- Nigeria whiles Cyhana formed hers in April, 2019 called Women in GIS – Ghana. Together, these groups had members who were students and workers in the GIS field. It was a little tough garnering women in Ghana since the visibility and awareness of GIS was low. Thus, some students especially women who studied GIS in their undergraduate studies switched to a different career path after graduation due to the difficulty in getting a sustainable GIS job.

Cyhana Williams – co-Founder

Membership

In June 2019, Chidimma and Cyhana met on LinkedIn and discussed their efforts in creating platforms for women in their individual countries. This led to a conversation of collaboration and increasing the group coverage to pan the entire African continent. Hence, the genesis of the African Women in GIS community on October 2019. It started out with forty-one (41) Nigerian members, a member from Burkina Faso and eleven (11) Ghanaian members. Nigeria is the group’s headquarters country with Ghana as the second.

Members were encouraged to invite other women with the same interests or practice to join the group. The founders researched and reached out to women on LinkedIn who were in the same field. As time went on, members became acquainted with one another and shared their views on how the community should progress with their ideas for activities. Connections groomed and the group became larger.

Chidimma Umeogu – co-Founder

Growth

In January 2020, the African Women in GIS was introduced to the rest of the world. It launched its social media platforms (LinkedIn and Twitter) and used these platforms to reach out to more women. The platform also highlights the profiles of members in order to motivate other women who are practicing, studying or just enthusiastic about GIS. By the end of January 2020, AWiGIS had reached about one thousand (1,000) followers on LinkedIn and two hundred (200) followers on Twitter with over one hundred (100) members in its member group.

Also Read: Irene Mbari- Kirika- inABLE.org, Career and Impact

By February of 2020, the founders engaged a few members of the group as volunteers as well as a secretary who assist in the task of creating content and planning group activities in order to improve the member and public engagement. In May 2020, AWiGIS gained about 2,500 followers on LinkedIn with almost 200 active members from Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia , Kenya Cameroon and the Diaspora. It also launched its membership transition to Slack where a variety of channels for members to discuss, share relevant information and host tutorial activities operates efficiently. Although membership is strictly for women, other activities are open to the public.

The Future

In all enthusiasm and excitement, we have a number of activities planned out for the next few months as well as into the future. Members of the community proposed some activities whilst others were opportunities gotten from key individuals and organizations who reached out to the community.

For starters, AWiGIS has an upcoming volunteering project with Ibisa Network – an Organization that aims to aid small-scale farmers with satellite images of their farms to help them get insurance covers. The community collaborates with Ibisa Network by providing the AWiGIS members a volunteering opportunity with Ibisa where they will be assessing satellite images of farmlands. Through this volunteering project, the members get to add this work experience to their CVs as well as other incentives.

After the pandemic, AWiGIS plans to encourage the members to host outreach programs to schools and other groups. There, the members will help educate students about GIS and show them some impressive visualizations of GIS application as well as some roles of this technology in the real world. In addition, the official AWiGIS website will be launched and it will serve as a platform to display African GIS applications. It will also be a job recruitment site for geospatial roles in Africa.

Esther Moore – Secretary

We are excited about the various plans we have in place for the community, Africa and for the world at large. Follow us, join us and view the geospatial world through the eyes of African Women.

Author: Esther Moore

African Women In GIS

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Irene Mbari- Kirika- inABLE.org, Career and Impact

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Irene Mbari- Kirika is the Executive Director at inABLE.org, a NGO that empowers the blind and visually impaired students in Africa through computer assistive technology. Recognized as a dynamic, global strategic leader and an executive-level innovator who has created technology-powered special-educational environments to positively affect the lives of blind, visually-impaired, and multi-disability youths in Africa. She is also a sought-after consultant and public speaker who has collaborated on training, evaluation, research, and policy projects with the World Bank, the government of Kenya, multiple international universities, and many global corporations.

Irene has been a featured speaker at several high-profile educational events, including the UNESCO Mobile Learning week in Paris and ICT Connected Summit in Kenya, as well as an invited participant at the Zero Project Conference 2020 held at the Vienna headquarters of the United Nations in Austria, and TechShare Pro 2019, which took place at Google UK headquarters in London England.

As the Executive Director at inABLE.org, Irene Mbari- Kirika has researched, developed, and executed the organization’s accessibility of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) strategy, and has led and facilitated discussions on best practices in the accessibility space and international nonprofit operations. She has championed initiatives related to global policy, advocacy, and international development.

She has also co-authored research reports- A Comprehensive Report on the Nationwide Baseline Survey of Technology Skills for Learners with Vision Impairment in Kenya by the Georgia Institute of Technology – and A Computer Training Program for the Schools for the Blind in Kenya published by the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research.

Education

Irene holds a Business Management degree from Kennesaw State University in Georgia and a Global Master’s of Arts (GMAP) in International Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, USA.

Impact & Philanthropy

The inspiration for inABLE began when Irene attended a reading day at the Kenya National Library. A group of students who were extremely competitive, smart, and outgoing captured her attention. This group stood out in the reading challenge for the day.Yet, to her astonishment, Irene learned these students were all blind or low vision.When she inquired about these youths and learned that they were from a nearby blind school that had a shortage of Braille books and paper and without access to computers and the Internet.

This disparity in education sparked an urgent drive to connect these students to the rest of the world by destroying the barriers to communication and employment. The inABLE organization can truly be described as “visionary,” because its mission is to empower blind and visually impaired students in Africa through technology. From the very beginning, inABLE has watched blind and visually impaired primary and secondary students transform as they learned how to access online educational resources, research homework assignments, communicate with new friends worldwide, use social media, host blogs and develop employable skills, such as JAVA programming and HTML website design.

What is unique is that the inABLE computer lab is a complete technological solution that removes barriers to learning with an innovative educational platform that promotes information computer technology as an integral classroom tool. With assistive-technology computer skills, students gain independence to use multiple devices, access eBooks and online educational resources, real time news and the ability to communicate and interact with the rest of the world.

Computer Lab for The Blind More Student

Over the last 10 years, inABLE has set up eight computer assistive technology labs at special schools for the blind across Kenya and enrolled more than 8,000 students. inABLE’s programmes are designed to have the following lasting and transformative impact on the lives of beneficiaries:

  • Bridging the gap between the blind and sighted in Kenya through technology. Our graduates will be able to seek lucrative employment in fields that would otherwise be completely closed to them.
  • Contribute to increased feelings of self-worth, self-esteem, and independence for our graduates.
  • Societal transformation where blind children are viewed as assets to their families rather than liabilities, which will in turn result in more families believing in and investing in the children’s future.
  • Transformation of social attitudes toward the blind and visually impaired as they begin to be seen as productive members of society.
  • Augmenting the Africa’s workforce with highly trained and highly motivated blind contributors.
  • Engage in policy change related to digital accessibility to ensure everyone has access to information on the Internet, including people with disabilities.

Additionally, Irene has led inABLE to a position of leadership in inclusive tech in education, accessible computer skills training, and assistive technology research by forging foundational relationships with charitable partners, foundations, and global technology leaders, including Safaricom Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Microsoft, Google, Mastercard Foundation and many more.

While working through inABLE’s start-up and growth, Irene Mbari- Kirika grasped another critical factor which lead to the establishment of Irene’s most recent venture Technoprise Consulting.  Technoprise promotes inclusive technologies as well as hiring of people with disabilities in the tech industry.  Its primary goal complements inABLE’s — increasing employment of persons with disabilities in the tech industry in Africa, while providing digital accessibility services to public and private sector clients around the world.

During the unprecedented challenges of Covid-19, Irene had to pivot and launch the Inclusive Africa Conference as an online event next fall- Inclusive Africa. Without missing a beat, Irene gathered global leaders in inclusive education, design, and employment to participate in the Inclusive Design Africa monthly webinar series, including a Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) program – Inclusive Africa Webinar. 

Also Read Seipati Mokhuoa – CEO Southern African Women In Leadership (SAWIL)

Awards

In recognition of her many accomplishments, Irene Mbari- Kirika has received both The Order of the Grand Warrior of Kenya (OGW) in 2016 and the Humanitarian Award, Kenyan Diaspora Advisory Council of Georgia in 2013.

inABLE

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