We got to sleep in a bit this morning and didn’t get started until 9am. We’re heading to the Masai Development Project. I’m not sure why it’s called that, because everyone refers to it as the Masai Rescue Center. We’ve been visiting these girls for years. Although I’ve never been given his title, James runs the place. At the very least, he’s a General Manager. Whatever you call him, he’s the father figure to 60 girls at any given time, and he fulfills that role with joy. He’s also the one that does all the “rescuing.”
Although marriage is illegal under the age of 18, it happens; especially in rural areas where the police are scarce. Here, they’re non-existent. Similarly, female circumcision is also illegal, but the same caveat applies. It’s a horrible practice that can be even worse than it sounds. There are partial circumcisions and complete circumcisions. Both are referred to as “FGM” (female genital mutilation) and as you can imagine, the stories are horrifying. These girls are traded to pay a debt or perhaps through an arranged marriage. James finds out about these girls by word of mouth, and often from a family member. He is a Masai, so he understands the problem with the culture. Although he often tries to talk to the “perpetrator,” he always speaks with the victim, and if they want to leave and go to a safe place, he brings them to the Rescue Center. Once there, they are clothed, fed, educated… and unconditionally loved. It’s also important to note that their “husbands” cannot get to them in any attempt to recover their property. Yes, I said, “property.” The compound is surrounded by a secure fence – only one way in and one way out and that gate is manned 24/7.
While they’re in the facility, they also learn many trade skills like cooking, sewing and baking. When they turn 18 and/or graduate high school, they decide whether to stay and seek a sponsor for college or return to their villages. Either way, they’re able to make well-informed decisions about their own destinies. The oldest man to every marry one of these girls is 72. The youngest girl rescued to date is 6. You do the math. This place is necessity, and James is a saint here on earth.
When we arrived, James greeted us and led us to a large meeting room with 10 chairs around a long table. Sue and Ryan introduced themselves and James gave us a few stories of the recent girls he’s aided. One was a six – this “transaction” was to pay off a debt, and the families were not happy. He said the girl was terrified, and all he had to do was say, “Do you want to come somewhere safe?” A family member had already “briefed” her on James and the facility prior to his arrival. Once at the facility, the parents and the husband-to-be wanted James to settle the debt – all from outside the gate. He wasn’t having any of it, and sent them on their way. It was one of hundreds of story of these poor souls who now share a common bond and are members of the same family.
While we always bring them gifts (always something fun and something needed), we’ve never brought this much. Of the 6 additional bags we brought on the plane, 2 ½ of them are coming here. Prior to our departure, we made re-useable sanitary pads. Andrea led the charge, and she made a lot of them! When we arrived at Sarova, she and Sue took an evening and put them all into kits, then placed them in a small “backpake-like” bag with the Zontas logo and one side, and Building Futures on the other. We’ll get back to that shortly.
James introduced me, and I introduced everyone else. We started with the fun stuff – board games, kickballs and soccer balls. I had them gather round and explained Kerplunk and Trouble. It brought back memories. We played a round of Kerplunk so that they could see how it works. There was a lot of smiles and giggling. Trouble was easier to explain so we left that up to them to see the game in action. We also gave them some Spirographs to play with. Then there were pencils, colored pencils, pencil sharpeners and books. We got so many pencils donated that I think whoever supplies them in this country is going to have a dip in sales this month… maybe for the quarter!
We then separated the older girls from the younger girls. I’m not sure the terminology that James used, but it was perfect. We brought them 100 of “The Shoe That Grows.” These things are amazing. They are well built rubber sandal with pegs and Velcro that allows the shoe to grow up to 4 sizes. They come in two sizes – adult and youth. For obvious reasons, I’m happy to say we used more of the former than the latter. Once they moved to their “size assigned” side of the room, we went to work. Ryan and I worked with the adults. Andrea, Karen and Sue worked with younger girls. Karen actually ended up working both sides from the back of the crowd and we all met in the middle. The girls sat at tables on wooden benches. We sat on the concrete floor. We sized every shoe to fit and showed each of them how to extend them as needed, and enjoyed every minute of it. The girls laughed with us and chatted, and before you knew it, we were done with shoes. Every girl got a new pair!
For the most part, they were already separated, but James called out some knew instructions and those that stood went outside with me and Ryan.. and the balls. Those that remained seated got more instruction from Sue. We can now return to those Zonta/Building Future bags. Sue’s nursing degree came in mighty handy. I wasn’t present for the discussion, but Andrea and Karen (and Sue) were very happy with how it went. The girls were attentive and asked a lot of questions. They were able to dispel a lot of bad information. The fear washed away from a girl who was told that because she has her period every 2 weeks, it does NOT mean that she’s going to have twins. And there were responses of shock and awe when they were informed that YES, you CAN get pregnant while you’re on your period. In addition to the pad kits, they were also able to supply them with underwear. It may come as a surprise to you, but underwear is often a luxury, not a need.
While this was going on, we played soccer with the girls as another group played perpendicularly with the kick-balls. Lots of laughter and giggles, and cheers at each goal. Eventually, as the girls got tired, we all re-entered the main room where the older girls were finishing up. Some of the underwear was too small for their older “sisters”, so the younger girls got some, too.
Now finished, we said our goodbye’s and left them with additional shoes for the girls that will surely arrive in the future. James walked us out and led us to the room we started in so that we could have the boxed lunch prepared by Sarova. Each box contained a piece of chicken, a bottle of water, juice (pronounced joo-ees-eh), a banana, crackers, and a couple pastry items – one filled with chopped chicken, one filled with chopped vegetables. The chicken was better. Even Andrea said so, and that’s a serious endorsement!
I don’t think anyone was able to finish the contents of their box, so we put the extra items in a single box and discarded the trash. Then we were back in the jeep headed for the secondary school.
Siana Girls Secondary School shares a border with the Rescue Center. Many of the residents of the Center attend the boarding school. That’s what led us to start our newest construction project with them. It’s a young school that is well attended and well past their capacity. We’re starting with two classrooms and, God-willing, we’ll build them a second dormitory (along with the help of Zonta Club of Skaneateles). We entered through the gate and were greeted by the head teacher (the principal was in Narok) who led us to the administration room to chat. Teachers, members of the school board and parents of students joined us for the meeting. We all introduced ourselves and one-by-one, people began to speak. The head teacher started, followed by the chairman of the school board, followed by a couple of the teachers. Not everyone spoke, and I think we were all grateful for that. Despite beginning these meetings with, “Let’s be brief,” it rarely works out that way. These gentlemen, however, delivered on their promise. We, on the other hand, delivered school supplies and a Kenyan flag. Again with the pencils and colored pencils, soccer balls, some games, pencil sharpeners and books. They were very appreciative for the support. We exited that room and took a look at the grounds.
Haret arrived shortly after we started the meeting, and I’m glad he was there for this part. I asked a lot of questions. The abandoned dormitory left behind when the government ran out of money still sits where they left it, but the inside was cleaned out. I’m happy to say that the government is finally said they’re coming back to finish it. That’s the equivalent of “the checks in the mail,” but it’s better than no communication at all. During my last visit I asked if we could finish it, and the answer was, “No.” You can’t touch somebody else’s building until it’s yours, and it’s not theirs until it’s finished. Currently, the girls all board in a massive dining hall paid for by Entumoto Camp (under the guidance of Isaac), and the dorm they used to use is now a classroom. Eventually, we’ll have two good dormitories (provided the check arrives) and the buildings can all go back to the use they were intended for.
Haret had already begun depositing supplies (there was a large pile of hewn rectangular rocks in a pile), and the fundis were there marking off the foundation so that digging can begin. We stood there talking and watching them work when Andrea made a keen observation that made us all laugh. Despite them working in the open air with nothing overhead, the fundis wore hard hats, and although you would have expected boots, they all wore flip-flops! Seriously! Flip-flops! Not even sandals! The things that make you go hmmm.
We stood in a group ready to say olaseri (goodby in ma’a) (Oh-lah-say-ree) when Ryan had an idea. “Let’s have them try pop-rocks!” The next thing you knew, the majority of those in attendance had pop-rocks in their mouths. What surprised me was that the only person to have a negative reaction was the chairman. He had all he could to do to not spit them out. The more traditional Masai passed on the opportunity. Okay, time to go. Once again, we loaded ourselves back into the jeep and went on our way.
On the way back we spotted a leopard, which along with the black rhino, is very difficult to find. He was deep in the grass but unmistakable. Isaac informed us that it was a female that wanders between this point and the Sarova. The ride continued back to Sarova where we had 30 minutes to clean up before dinner at 7:30pm. Yes, I said that, too. It’s not unusual to eat dinner at 9pm, so 7:30pm works out well. It’s also when dinner starts so we don’t have much of a choice.
Dinner was good, and although Isaac couldn’t join us this time, his brother Anthony stopped by to say, “Jambo!”
He’s a lively character and like Isaac, just a good man. He stayed and told some stories; each of which ended in laughter. He asked me, “Hahve you ay-vah hahd the Bah-fah-lo stoh-ree?” (don’t forget to roll your “r”s)
“No” I replied, “Isaac said it’s a good one!”
“Eet eez! Eet eez!”
He said it would wait until tomorrow at the grand opening of the clinic. He’s hoping to come with Sarova’s GM.
Once again it was time for a quick review of the next day’s events before bed time. I seem to be getting more and more exhausted as the days continue; mostly because the days run so long. It’s not easy getting used to eating dinner at 8:30/9:00. By the time we all get back to our tents it’s already past 10. I’m struggling keeping my chin of my chest as I type. The head nods settle in faster than ever now – it explains why they’re so late. Sorry for not being more timely. I’m fairly confident that I’ll be home by the time I post the last couple days.
Tomorrow’s going to be a test. It’s starts out as quite a mixed bag. Sue and Ryan are going on a balloon safari (which is wonderful, by the way), so Andrea, Karen and I will go on a short safari prior to meeting them somewhere out on the mara and head over to the maternity grand opening. They’ve been trying to get one scheduled since arriving at Sarova and were met with various obstacles. Isaac, once informed of the situation, said he’d take care of it and he did. He asked her who she talked to and then asked her how much they were charging. After she answered, he said, “Wood you like to pay $50 less pah pas-sun?” He signed her up with the hot air balloon company he uses. This one won’t cancel last minute and keep your money, either. They’re getting picked up at 5:30am. Oh boy. Andrea, Karen and I went the last time we were here together, and it’s fabulous. Highly recommended. We get to sleep in until 7am. When we’re at home, Andrea and I get up at 4:30am… now we struggle to get up at 7. Long days… and they’re worth every minute.
‘Til tomorrow. It’s going to be a big day.