Last month Kenya celebrated Mashujaa Day (Heroes Day and formerly Kenyatta Day) and naturally, we took advantage of our Wednesday off and celebrated by making a visit to see Nairobi’s most popular… baby elephants.  We visited them at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  I spent more time oohing and ahhing than actually listening to the fun facts, so I made up my own.

Baby elephants drink milk.

Baby elephants wrestle.

Baby elephants give hugs.  Did you know they are extremely social animals?

Baby elephants will whack you in the face (in about 5 seconds) if you get too close.  But still adorable.

Giraffes are cute too.

These guys live at the Nairobi Giraffe Center.

We also visited the lovely Kazuri Bead Factory, which provides employment to over 400 women, mostly single mothers, who create beautiful jewelry and pottery.

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Had a little visa snafu this week, but thanks to a senior immigration officer who, in my hour of sitting next to his desk I learned really likes the Sacred Heart of Jesus posters and is also a big fan of Lil’ Kim and Fat Joe (we listened to We Thuggin’ a few times) – my crisis was averted.

The process ranks high on my bizarre experiences list, from the way my friend the immigration officer seemed delighted to see me, but less delighted to serve my fellow immigrants, to the water bottle full of what smelled like turpentine that he keeps on his desk for you to wash off the ink after your cop-style fingerprinting session, to the knowledge that all of this was taking place in a fading yellow circa-1980’s style building where the government once tortured political dissidents

But all in all the whole thing took less than an hour and a half, which is really like 1.7 seconds in the world of bureaucratic slog.  So now I can say… Extended visa? Check.  Registered alien? Check!

Three articles have appeared in the news recently and shocked me, even though they shouldn’t have.

They proclaim things like: thousands of teachers have been fired for sexually abusing students in this country of only about 240,000 educators and more than 500 teachers have been fired this year for sexual misconduct with students.

This brought all kinds of questions to my mind.

How many girls drop out of school every year or attend sporadically because of this phenomenon?

Knowing the stigma that rape still cases in rural communities, if these statistics are only based on reports cases, how many more girls are suffering violence at the hands of their teachers in silence?

When and how did teachers begin to view their students as sexual objects to be had as opposed to children they are charged to keep safe and to educate?

Why, why is this problem so widespread and why does it feel so intractable?

There is certainly not one great panacea for child sexual abuse in Kenya, especially when there are layers of cultural, religious, and political factors that keep victims silent and abusers free. But when the secretary general of the Kenya National Association of Parents blames the government and the Teachers Service Commission for the inappropriate teacher conduct because there was previously no policy framework to guide the teacher-student relationship, I just want to scream.

“In rural areas you will find a student cooking and fetching water for a teacher in his home,” he said. “This makes it easy for her to be defiled.”

It is certainly true that the conditions of students in rural areas increase vulnerability and risk. But passing off the responsibility for rape to anyone other than the rapist only underscores the severity of this crime and perpetuates the attitude often found in rural communities that this is just an unpleasant part of life with no real recourse.

I strongly believe that part of the first step is certainly to break that silence, make the public aware of the depth of this problem and stand by families who choose to fight back.  That choice can often have dangerous consequences for girls, but I have seen strength and bravery rise from within victims when they know their voice matters and when they know they have an advocate, a friend or a family member to walk along side them.

Thousands of teachers abusing their students?  This has to stop.

500 teachers fired in Kenya for sexual misconduct, CNN

Kenya sees rise in reports of child sex abuse, Associated Press

Hundreds of teachers sacked over sex abuse, BBC News Africa