February 24, 2011

KIWAKKUKI Change and Love

KIWAKKUKI is in Change
Still Dedicated to the Rights of Women and Girls
(But not forgetting the boys in the process!)

(This is Neema after "in-house" collection and the social worker buying clothes and a school bag)

“Neema” was 13 years old and her father died of AIDS. The family, all Masaai, was relatively prosperous until the father died. The mother has at least three children both young girls who were attending school. As frequently happens, when the father died, a brother stepped in and took his cattle and all his other belongs and left this family destitute. The children had taken to hunting in the forest for places where fire had been set for campfires with charcoal and had gathered the left over charcoal to sell so that they could eat. The mother had heard about KIWAKKUKI through all the work in the local level villages, especially about their focus on children, school, and adequate clothing and food. So, she brought the girls to KIWAKKUKI in hopes that there might be something, anything available for them. She and the girls were greeted with the usual compassion and a desire to find some small things for the children to take home and a promise to look for some school sponsorship.
The following day, the young 13 year old appeared at KIWAKKUKI in tears. Upon arriving at home, she was informed by her father’s brother that she would be circumcised on Sunday and married to a stranger that very day. This young girl barely looked 10 years old and was terrified. She was terrified to leave KIWAKKUKI for she had no idea what her uncle might do to her for coming back to KIWAKKUKI, and she was terrified about the prospect of this circumcism and marriage to a stranger, (probably one who owns cows and would pay for her with the cattle). All of us were completely overwhelmed by this situation. Horrified, we all tried to think of something that we could do to help.
One of the many things that KIWAKKUKI does well, is to collaborate with other organizations. In fact, most other women’s organizations or organizations with women as leaders are KIWAKKUKI members. This collaboration has been beneficial to countless young people, especially women and girls. And, it happened that the strong Memory Project Director Fudasia Kishe was in the office. She took over. Mama Kishe calmed the young girl down and took her to KWIEKO (a women and girls legal organization) and they contacted NAFGEM (the local Masaiii Women’s organization against female genital mutilation) and together spoke with the police. The police department currently has a person whose sole job is to deal with abuse, and all agreed that this young girl certainly was in an abusive situation. The police officer was not available to work all the details out, thus Mama Kishe took this young girl home offering no chance that she could be abducted and the child be beaten and circumcised ahead of time.
On the following day, she returned with Mama Kishe. They went to KWIEKO to begin the procedures against the uncle. The focus that KIWAKKUKI has begun to enforce is Early Childhood Development child rights. Who would know, that even as I was reviewing the project year for my sisters at KIWAKKKUKI this terrified sweetheart would benefit from all the labors of the KIWAKKUKI membership that had been funded by BvLF. Her name is Neema. This means, “grace”.
She has discovered that her sisters have now been circumcised and married, and that if she returns to the village, she may not survive so emergency measures are in place to keep her safe. The difficulty now is great. Much time has been spent to save this child; yet there are so many more like her. However, one child at a time may save other children in the future. Attention called to this child’s circumstance and the police’s willingness to deal with the problem show steps forward.

As a long time member of KIWAKKUKI, I have had the luxury of learning about each of the programs of KIWAKKUKI. Sometimes, I have learned more than I dreamed and more than I might want, because some problems seem so overwhelming, I cannot imagine a way out. My nearly 30 years of training in social work have not prepared me for some of the issues that KIWAKKUKI deals with on a daily basis. I find it remarkable.

One of my KIWAKKUKI Sisters, Lui who is director of the Orphan's Program

Most recently, I have been helping with editing project plans and reports. This is something that I really enjoy because I have the opportunity to learn about each department, the amazing amount of work they do with the least amount of financial support. Over the years, my KIWAKKUKI friends have improved significantly in English speaking and writing. They are much more proficient in English than I in Kiswahili.

In honor of the Prophet Mohammad's birthday, Lydia dressed for him on this holiday. Though Christian, she and others are respectful of all religions

How to describe what is happening now. Well, as KIWAKKUKI has moved through each year, they see that HIV/AIDS is only the tip of the issues that are prevalent for impoverished persons in the Kilimanjaro Region. Issues pertaining to women and girls, particularly as related to gender inequality has always been a part of the KIWAKKUKI mission and vision. As focus on Orphans and Vulnerable Children (due to the AIDS epidemic) was taking off, KIWAKKUKI noticed that the rights of all children needed attention, particularly for those children from 8 years and under. Where were safe playing areas, where were the birth registrations for these children? Another issue required attention. When these children grow up, who will listen to them? Are their parents or guardians paying attention to them, working hard to offer school sponsorship, finding safe areas for them to study, keeping the young girls from being sold to early marriages and setting the right example for them to grow up without being exposed to drugs and alcohol.

This is not a random picture of Judith, her mom and me. Remember Judith.....Wow. She is now going to Vocational Training School. She and her mom are HIV-infected and she couldn't attend school enough on a regular basis to satisfactorily finish her exams. Technical school will offer a good trade, and she is thrilled to be learning the latest in hair design and cutting! Thank you Kathy, Don and Candy. Without you her life would be lost.

Another great thanks to Andrea's church for supporting this young girl.

A terrific campaign occurred last year that with donations from funding organizations such as Oxfam Ireland, Bernard van Leer, Focus (Women’s Front of Norway) and some other organizations this membership (Oxfam Ireland)rallied together all over the region to address some crisis situations in the villages. As KIWAKKUKI has always been an organization that responds to the wishes of its membership, their support and participation is crucial and serves the people from the bottom up. As I read these reports, I discovered that in 14 wards of three districts, children’s playing fields were set aside, birth registration campaigns begin, meetings with government officials, and teacher training on the Early Childhood Development principles of child rearing were being put into place. Whole communities along with government officials became stakeholders in supporting the children of the villages, and the KIWAKKUKI members and other village members gained a seat at the table of the “decision makers”.

KIWAKKUKI Volunteers help to distribute food from the World Food Program at their local villages

Children organized a “Breaking the Silence” campaign to meet with parents and guardians and present the issues that they felt were being ignored, simple things like having sex in front of them and thinking that the children didn’t know what was happening, or living next to bars or other unsafe areas where it was dangerous (particularly for the teen girls) to walk. 14 Days against Violence to Women brought throngs of people out to support the KIWAKKUKI members who took to the streets to protest Gender inequality. (Yet even during this two weeks, a young girl was married, failed to “perform” was beaten severely and finally hung from a tree, as if to say, “try to change this culture, just try”) But this only called more attention to the purpose of these days against violence to Women. Groups met to discuss issues of “gender mainstreaming” which moves out of gender alone and into issues pertaining to the ability of older persons or disabled persons to work. School health clubs were organized and for the first time, these clubs included some blind and or deaf persons, or persons with other disabilities. These clubs didn’t sit around and chat, they actively engaged in projects from improving water safety to creating small gardens which helped their fellow students who were more impoverished than they.

Sack Farming

School Health Clubs planning their day and learning songs and plays.

While all this is going on, they also share and discuss information about behavior, healthy living, and delaying sexual activity. With teachers and local KIWAKKUKI leaders as facilitators, these projects become their own, not that of an outsider. Africa Child Day, was incorporated into a Child Rights Day! Children prepared songs, stories, and little plays with their teachers for the Regional Commissioner and nearly all the other leaders of the District. The children were undaunted, and they showed that they were Tanzanians who love their past, but also look forward to a future for themselves that includes their right for love, their right for birth registration, their right to play. All these are incorporated into their plan and the amazingly the government officials were so impressed that they promised to work on specific child focused issues in their budgets.

Children learning African Dances to perform for Government Officials

In all of these activities, I heard the word “culture” and “ownership” over and over. For years I have heard people dissent when approached with some of the World Health Guides for better health. “This isn’t part of our culture”. Now, with the KIWAKKUKI mentors and membership groups, some of the old ways are brought back. Songs, poems, story telling and making toys out of available materials, remind young people of a time before computers, and give them roots. The projects become theirs.

These volunteers, parents and caregivers are learning about Early Childhood Behavior. They are actively engaged. KIWAKKUKI uses adult learning style participatory learning techniques.

Lydia demonstrating with another KIWAKKUKI volunteer the "Fleet of Hope" to drop-ins at the information center. (These have also been distributed to the school health clubs)
At the same time, the information center hosted over a thousand persons who come for testing, or to just learn a bit more about HIV and sexually transmitted infections. They come to request services available through Home Based Care or orphan school sponsorship. Sometimes just to rest and hope that there might be some tea.
Personally, I feel that this ground up method is the only method. While many funding organizations are moving towards funding from the top down (Government Level), I meet with my KIWAKKUKI sisters from a village who have just spent hours helping a poor family to gain birth registration, or the whole village who are watching the children’s playing ground to make sure that it remains safe and I know that this could never happen without the bottom up funding. Thank goodness for the wonder of these dedicated people who do so much with so little. May they be successful in this very big, very poor and beautiful region.

Finally, A Big Thanks to Duke Students who raised $600 USD for almost one full year for Peter. He is the young man I wrote about as one of the many of those left behind. Peter is now in exams, the money received, and he is so far able to remain in college. Completing college will be the only way that he can earn enough money to support his young siblings. Thanks Duke Students for opening your pockets for this dedicated young man who lives to take care of his blind sister and brother.