Monday, 5 March 2012

A Kenyan woman's story -- by Geeta Jyothi McGahey

Susan Lentare in Samburu clothes, her own beadwork
Geeta describes herself as a "slightly over the hill American Quaker physician volunteering in Kenya". This story is cross-posted with her permission from her blog Change Insights. Write her with any offers of help for Susan Lentare's work with Samburu women in Kenya.
I met Susan when we went to tryouts for the Kenyan participants to the British Queen’s jubilee.  She was wearing typical Samburu dress and very self-possessed radiating a simple serene presence. My last trip to the bush, I went with her as she mobilized women for family planning.  Since we were walking distances, I had the chance to hear her story and her aspirations.

At age 12, Susan was first circumcised, removing her clitoris and labia and sewing her closed except for a hole from which to urinate, married the same day, and sent off to live with her husband’s family.  She had just finished primary school, best in her class, and was supported by her teachers to go to secondary school.  Her husband, who was 40 years old, had promised her parents that he would send her.  It never happened.  The bride price to her parents was eight cows and one camel.

She had five children, the first at age 14.  The youngest 7 years later.  She said enough children.  
She said, "enough children".  
She knew in her heart that she didn’t want them to lead the life that she did. She wanted them to finish school. She began raising and selling chickens and making necklaces and beaded items to sell. With that money she was able to buy goats and start a small shop. From selling goats, she is able to pay for school fees and buy an occasional cow.

While working in her small shop, she met John Wreford Smith, father of the organizer of CHAT, who was on camel safari.  He came every day to buy a hen from her.  He was very impressed with this enterprising young women and recommended her to Shanni, his daughter and program director.  It took a year for Shanni to get her away from her shop to join CHAT as a community HIV/AIDs and Family Planning mobilizer.
She talked and he understood. "Whatever my wife wants, she can do it."

Her husband, now in his 60s, manages the shop, while she is gone and and looks after the livestock. What impressed Shanni and her dad was that she was already a village organizer.  She was part of a Women’s Group of 12 women who had a Merry-Go-Round.  Each month, each woman puts in 1000 KSH ( about $12.50) a month and every month a different woman gets the pot, about $125 to use as capital.  She also began educating family and neighbors about keeping their daughters healthy by avoiding both female genital mutilation and early marriage, which cut short her own childhood.  These are still very common practices in her area.  Her goal is to send out mobilizers all over her region to stop these practices.

As Susan continues her mission 
no girl will suffer mutilation 
and early marriage 
Her beautiful household, water is far, 
getting charcoal is not enough to support 7 children (2 sets of twins)

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