The Samburu Girls Foundation (SGF) is run by Josephine Kulea, a child rights activist and the 2013 UN Person of the year in Kenya. Ms. Kulea is a member of the Samburu clan in north-central Kenya and was raised in a culture where early child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and a practice called “beading” are commonplace. “Beading is a centuries-old tradition of the Samburu. While the young males (morans) wait to be married (up to 15 years after their circumcision rites), they are allowed to select an unmarried girl from within their clan for an exclusive but temporary sexual relationship. After negotiations with her family are complete, the moran presents her with a collar of red beads, which marks her as “taken.” Girls as young as 4 years old have been beaded,” says Tia Rudd, an MPH student at University of Nevada and former Peace Corps volunteer. Ms. Rudd traveled to Kenya to lead an empowerment training program for girls protected in an SGF safe house.
Ms. Kulea’s inspiration came from her courageous mother who would feed and care for young girls fleeing from early marriage or FGM. She would watch her mother care for these children in their one-room hut and promised herself that one day, when she was old enough, she too would protect these children. Ms. Kulea soon began to safeguard young girls as they escaped the practices of FGM and beading. Eventually, as the number of girls she cared for grew, she founded SGF.
Today, when a child reaches out for support, Ms. Kulea immediately sends a vehicle for the rescue. The child is brought to one of the SGF safe houses, where she can stay until the organization is able to send her to a primary or secondary school. Many of these girls already have children of their own.
Ms. Kulea requested that Ms. Rudd incorporate sexual and reproductive health topics into the empowerment program. Many Kenyan parents, teachers and health officials are reluctant to speak openly about sex, making school-based sex and HIV/AIDS education nearly impossible to access. Ms. Rudd was excited to discover the TeachAIDS software online and learn that the educational material was evidence-based and had been tried-and-tested for high retention among learners.
Given that there was a single laptop and 20 girls in the program, they took turns watching the animations. “They loved the interactive animations and spent 4 hours sharing and interacting with the material.”
Over the years, TeachAIDS has showcased the efforts of several commendable organizations like the Samburu Girls Foundation who are working across Kenya to improve educational efforts. Some of these include A Better Education Club to educate children in regions inhabited by the Taita tribe; Dignitas Project as part of their leadership programming in Mathare; and Arché-ONLUS in its rural school education outreach efforts.
The TeachAIDS materials will be used again this summer at the SGF. We applaud local heroes such as Ms. Kulea and Ms. Rudd who have worked strategically and tirelessly to provide basic education and protect children's rights.
Photo: Samburu Girls Foundation in north-central Kenya