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

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Every morning I am thoroughly entertained by the dozens and dozens of posters scattered along my walk to work.  I really hope this guys gets some calls.  So he’s probably a crazy con man, but he did go through a lot of trouble to flyer all of Westlands Road.

Can help with: Lost love?  Infertility?  Marriage?  Politics?  Lost Items? (Maybe he knows where my keys are.)

I, personally, would like to ask him how he became an expert in all of these very diverse specialties.  It’s like a game of One of These Things is Not Like the Other, except according to Dr. Asuman they all belong.

TIA.

(Yes, times three!)

Last week we received the amazing news that a third conviction has been achieved for our client, *Laura.  I first mentioned Laura’s case in a June blog post and at that point only two of here perpetrators, who were her neighbors, had been convicted.  For nearly two years, IJM has worked with the police prosecutor to represent Laura in as she fought to hold her three abusers accountable for their crimes.  Finally, justice has been secured.

Laura’s case was difficult for many reasons, the first of which is the fact that the perpetrator who was convicted this week is Laura’s own father, who with great impunity abused his daughter for several years after the death of her mother.  Second, the medical report from the government doctor offered contradictory evidence to that of the hospital where she was treated by, shockingly, stating there were no signs of rape or sexual intercourse.  The testimony of the government doctor can carry great weight in a Nairobi court of law, and because of this IJM advocates were unsure whether he would be set free.  They worked tirelessly in this case to ensure that in the court of law the truth would weigh more than lies, and their hard work has paid off.

There have also been personal complications.  In the two years since Laura and her brother and sister were removed from their father’s home, great reconciliation has taken place between the siblings, especially Laura and her brother.  While Laura was living through hell each night, her brother saw their father’s doting on his daughter during the day as a sign of favoritism and paternal affection that he had never known – and he despised his sister for it.  Immediately after the truth was revealed, Laura’s brother was angry with his sister for what he perceived as tearing apart the family and refused to believe his father was guilty of rape.  Through the hard work of our Aftercare team counseling the children, they have come to a place of acceptance of the truth and love for one another despite all they have been through.  They have now been reunited and are living together in a children’s home near their grandparents and other relatives.

[Photo: Laura with her siblings playing near the banana trees in their home.]

For all of the tragedy in Laura’s story, abuse, neglect, apathy and impunity, I see how God is working a miracle in the lives of these children.  I had an opportunity to spend time with them earlier this week, photographing them for a profile that will be done on their case later in the year.  Even now, as I look through the photographs I am struck by the extent to which Laura’s smile sparkles.  Where I might expect bleakness, I see beauty.  Where I might expect standoffishness, I hear her warm laugh and saw tender innocence that makes your heart melt when you meet her.  Where I might expect insecurity, I found confidence I know she draws from the knowledge that she is now in a place where no one can hurt her.  It proves to me that God can take the worst of the very worst things in life and redeem them.  He will turn them into something new, something that glorifies Him.

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

[Photo: Laura]

But I’m loving the jacaranda trees blooming in my neighborhood so much that I just had to share!


Korogocho, like its counterparts, is an overcrowded slum that is rampant with flies, sewage spills, poorly constructed sheet metal homes, crime and disease.  Those things, which may be obvious to the eye (and nose), are often reported on.  The stories that are less often told are of ebullient, happy children running to give you hugs, cozy homes that are a testament to the love and care of family despite harsh circumstances, and indefatigable men and women who are working toward a safer community.  You don’t need a particularly keen eye to witness these inspiring tales unfold before you – you just have to go and see for yourself.

Yesterday was my turn to go and really see.  I have been to Korogocho a number of times before, but today I had the opportunity to walk through the community with a woman named Naomi, someone who is quickly becoming a hero of mine.  Naomi lives in Korogocho and works as a community health work officer for a CBO called Ujamma.  As we walked through her neighborhood she told me about the eight children who are currently living in her single room house and the day-care she started next door to take care of other young children who were idle or left alone during the day.  In the middle of our conversation she turned away when a small girl ran up to her who was, like most Kenyan children, totting down the street completely overdressed for the weather in a ski cap and mittens.  Naomi laughed as she picked her up and then gave a coy smiled as she asked me, “What do you think of our home?  People say we are poor because we are in the slums, but I don’t see that…”

After an hour with Naomi, her neighbors and her many children, I commented that she was a richer women than most I know.

Naomi’s tiny home is a revolving door of children, and many of them who have been abused would otherwise still be left in a vulnerable situation.  You see, Naomi is also an IJM referral agent and is a previous winner of IJM Kenya’s Champion for Justice Award, which is given annually to a member of the community who would not otherwise be recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty to seek justice for others.  Not stopping at just taking children into her home, she reports cases to the police, brings them to the hospital if emergency medical treatment is needed and contacts organizations like IJM who can help in the areas where she can’t.  She is a shining example of one women doing extraordinary things with the little resources she has been blessed with.  Now that’s infectious – and a reminder to me that more resources should be directed toward identifying and empowering these men and women, but especially women, who are renewing communities from the bottom up.

Best of all, Naomi also has a fabulous laugh and exudes a warmth that instantly puts you at ease.  It’s hard not to see her community through her eyes after spending just a few minutes with her!

Here are a few shots from today, and a few more reasons why I believe it is quite possible to live in poverty without being “poor”, at least not in the way we typically tend to understand their lives from our idyllic telescope in the West.

Naomi and her spunky smile.

Korogocho “rowhouses”.

Miriam playing outside of Naomi’s house.

Like sidewalk chalk!

Naomi’s home is always full of children.

Little boys in the home day care.

Brothers playing after school.


Last weekend I traveled to Maralal, Kenya to participate in the 2010 Maralal Camel Derby. That’s right – I entered a camel race.  If I could have imagined it, it definitely would have been on the life checklist.  What an incredibly unique and adventure-filled weekend!

The Road to Maralal…

is not really paved with anything at all.

Friday was the road trip that just wouldn’t quit.  Our group of 25 left Nairobi at 11am, stopped for a nice local lunch a few hours outside of Nairobi and made it to the “halfway” point, Nyahururu, by 4:00.  Now this was when our driver told us that we couldn’t stop again until we arrived – bandits frequently roam the area.

Our bus trekked on as we left the lush, green Rift Vally for the arid Samburu desert.  Several hours later we stopped to ask for directions and headed off down a rather rocky dirt path – concerning, but I brushed it off.  On and on we went.  After thoroughly catching up on six months of American gossip thanks to multiple back editions of People and US Weekly imported from the States, I was starting to wonder why this trip was beginning to feel like a journey into a black hole.  What I didn’t know at the time was that we took  a “shortcut” through the bush in an attempt to make it to camp before dark.

Just…. bad idea.

An African shortcut in the middle of the desert means you are bush-whacking on two tracks, avoiding mud pits and crossing streams all while driving very very slowly.  We managed to accomplish all of that while watching the sun go down and the stars (amazing stars!) come out.  So much for making it before dark.  Twice we disembarked (remember the bandits?) to give the bus a higher chance of crossing whatever obstacle blocking our path.

That was about when I figured I shouldn’t rule out the possibility of sleeping outside with the animals (or in the back of this unfortunate truck stuck in out path).

Made it through the mud and kept driving and driving and driving and driving until we were met by three men with AK47s – our armed escort – had arrived.  I’m still not convinced they would have been able to do anything if anyone with more guns decided they wanted to rob our clown car, so it was only slightly comforting knowing they were trailing us for the next two hours until, 12 hours from start time, we finally arrived in Maralal, which is a lot like a ghost town I once visited in Nevada.

Stayed at a nice little joint called La Shang-Ri-La Inn, self-titled the heart of Maralal. By nice I mean there was hot water.

Its Camel Time

Arrived at the Yare Camel Club and registered for the amateur camel race, ie. The Mzungu race.  All the locals we waiting around outside and it became very obvious that we were going to be the entertainment for the day – if not the whole year.  (The staring was similar to the phenomenon that occurs when I go into the slums in Nairobi, magnified by 10.)

I picked out my camel and tried to bond but he was really more interested in sitting and hissing.  Decided to leave him be.  Tried to discuss race strategy with my camel handler but he didn’t really speak English.  “Wing it” strategy?  Check.

My camel, handler and I getting ready for the ride.

The hilarious part was definitely the starting line.  Up until this point I had been putting a lot of faith in the fact that I wouldn’t fall off because the camel would only be able to run as fast as the handler in from of him.  WRONG.  Instead, when the flag went up my handler (and everyone elses) drops the rope, takes his stick and gives the camel a giant whack on the butt, sending him into full gallop and the racers into a chorus of screaming and hysterical nervous laughter.  Did I mention this was a 10k race?  That’s 6.2 miles of bouncing (almost) uncontrollably on the back of my dromedary camel.

Ready... set... go!

I kind of figured out how to jockey, but riding a camel for almost and hour at full gallop is seriously exhausting!

All in all, we did reasonably well, though!  Sixth place finish and I did not fall off, get thrown off or come in last  🙂

Crossing the finish line!

The rest of the day was filled with more camel races, including the infamous tri-camel-thon (that’s right, run – bike – camel!), and a cultural festival featuring the Samburu and Turkana tribes.  This was actually my first time to spend a chunk of time “upcountry” in a rural setting.  The outfits they were wearing are what many of the men and women still wear every day.  Their culture and traditions have remained very much intact.  It was really like stepping back in time, and then realizing that people do still live, and in their own ways, thrive, in similar settings every day around the world.

Samburu woman in traditional clothing. (The missing front tooth is an important part of the culture. I have been told it is pulled out so that even on the deathbed milk can be poured into the mouth so that one never dies on an empty stomach.)

Turkana women dancing.

The day was over too quickly before we have to make the long trek back to Nairobi (which fortunately was four hours shorted thanks to better route choice and tarmac roads).  All it all it was quite an unforgettable weekend!

Mt. Suswa is a hidden gem outside of Nairobi, so much so that it’s hard to find locals who know about it – the reason why we were super excited to hike the lava caves on Sunday morning.

We totally talked it up to our driver during the hour-long road trip.

Have you ever been to Suswa?

Yes!

Have you hiked lava caves?

Oh, yes.

Are you going to hike with us today?

Yes, yes, yes.  Suswa, Suswa, Suswa – we mush have thrown the name out there at least 15 times.

Which is why we were a little confused when he drove us to the enterance of Mt. Longonot.

This is where you hike Mt. Suswa?

Of course.

Are you sure – Suswa?

Yes!

Not Mt. Longonot – Mt. Suswa.  It’s a different mountain.  Are we at Mt. Suswa?

<A look of bewilderment>

Do you know how to get to Mt. Suswa?

Let me call my friend…

And that was the end of that.  I’m still not sure how he registered Mt. Longonot when we were talking about Suswa for an hour on the ride over (in hindsight, I really shouldn’t be that surprised either), but we opted to hike the mountain in front of us rather than take our chances on our directionally challenge friend knowing where it was that we actually wanted to go.

While I wasn’t particularly prepared mentally for a 5 hour rock scramble around the crater, it wasn’t a total loss – Longonot was definitely on my checklist of things to do in Kenya!

A few pics from the adventure….

Crater rim - peak at 9,111 feet is in the clouds!

Don't throw garbage. Unfortunately, I think the translation was lost on previous hikers...

Lake Naivasha

Treking around the six mile crater rim.