I recently asked a core supporter of Tareto Maa, as he had recently re-visited the project over the New Year, what had changed since his first visit in the early days of the centre’s birth and emergence. He said quite simply this:
” Then it was more like visiting a group of girls in a family, brought together over one core aim, to remain uncut and to have a better future, where they were safe from harm and from female genital cutting. Now, it feels so different. This time, it feels like an organisation, a refuge, an NGO, organised, structured, where there are now many girls and a team of people taking care of them.”
Since the rescue centre’s first origins back in 2009, when it first became a Kenyan NGO, a lot of water has gone under the bridge; a phrase the English say which means, a lot has happened. There is now a real bridge in Tareto Maa, one which was constructed this last year, so the girls could cross over from the refuge site, so that they can go to school, without fear of being drowned. Yes, this has happened. Who could think that in our Western World that a river stops someone from going to school, let alone them drowning.
This and many more obstacles are there in the lives of the girls and the hardworking and dedicated team of people working for them and with them. When I decided to write this blog post, it was suggested that an overview of key events to date would be a good way of commemorating International FGM/C Day 6th Feb but so much has happened. I have decided to look at events from Jan 2011, when the temporary new refuge was opened. This was to originally house about 35 girls in total after the circumcision season was over in the Christmas school holidays of 2010, in reality that number became 70. The sudden increase of girls, who had heard of the project from leaflets and posters that Tareto Maa has circulated amongst the community, caused its international supporters probably its biggest challenge and one of their biggest tests. To potentially turn girls away, after giving them hope. Or to keep accepting them but then not be able to deliver the promise of safety, shelter, food and an opportunity to go to school. We could not let them down and there were many late night discussions on the subject both in our home and with other key supporters. It was one of those exciting, agonising and tense times. No- one underestimated the seriousness of what we had done. For me, this was real. This wasn’t just writing or talking about it anymore. This was doing, and real lives were at stake.
To talk effectively about what was happening in Kenya, supporters in Germany and in the UK, first communicated by e-mail, then by phone, by text and now by Skype as the effectiveness and frequency of communication meant that once e-mails could fly to in boxes once a month, then every two weeks, 10 days, a week. Now, the change is such that e-mails fly into and out of in boxes daily. Net-working and constantly keeping in touch has been one of the biggest growth factors of Tareto Maa by those supporting it outside Kenya, as support grew and emerged, creating with it new ideas, new goals, new problems, headaches, heartaches, tensions, yes some fierce debate but a deep-rooted passion and commitment. The activites of this grass-roots project now spread among many nations, including the USA, its supporters were a key player in the fund-raising for the new Naitswang Riverside Academy, (Tareto Maa’s first school classroom) which opened in the New Year of 2012. www.Kiva.org was a central organisation in this development, with now over 800 members which brought in new supporters and new energy, as well as much welcomed funds to make the idea of a school a reality.
For me, one of the most incredible times of such a generous and magnificent effort both on www.betterplace.org and on www.Kiva.org was when the Horn of Africa was struck with famine in the summer of 2011. Whilst in England, London and major cities were seeing riots and burning, the heat and drought had seen the crops in Kenya dry to a cinder and fail, precipitating an international response to this crisis. The cheapest food in Kenya is Ugali, a maze meal. Its price had soared from 3,000 Kenyan Shillings to 10,000 Shillings. East Africa was in the grip of this food shortage and soaring prices. What was so remarkable was, not just about how much money was raised in such a short time, but that a far wider population could benefit from the effects of Tareto Maa. Food was not just reserved for the girls and the project, how could it be when the whole community was affected. Everyone could benefit. I realised then this wasn’t just about FGM/C anymore. This was so much more. This event was amazing for me personally.
The rains came and the Well build, that has been started, came to a halt as part of the walls fell in. Such is the fight of the elements. Roads soon became a mud bath. At the same time, the girls needed dry shoes,( trainers were donated by a German company in 2010) dry mattresses, ante-malaria protection with mosquito nets and de-worming tablets. People still die of HIV/Aids, a much taboo subject and the team now have run lectures and discussions about HIV awareness. While, there are many life lines of hope, death and illness can soon strike the heart of Tareto Maa. Our German friend and central supporter said to me awhile ago, that he had met a man over there who had since dies of Aids. And we have had girls with colds, malaria needing medical treatment and the need to sleep on dry beds. A solar panel, a fence and a security guard have all been added additions to the project this last year, along with Daisy the cow. One problem solved but another can be soon around the corner.
The challenge and opportunity of being part of Global Giving was a big break for us all. This competition to raise money on such a global stage was not to be missed. Months of hard work and preparation to be accepted went into it. The first two opening days were exciting as we leapt into an early lead but the struggle to keep the $2000 dollar bonus at the end was a fight like no other, where all forces were mobilised to find unique donors. A magnificent team effort was displayed.The team was so happy, when we in the UK were able to text a remote part of Kenya On New Year’s day to say what we had achieved, that we had secured that hard-fought bonus. We had reports that the girls sang and danced all day. A total of over $9000 jhas been raised currently on Global Giving so far.
The team in Kenya do not sit by and wait for the money to come in from the West. There is a common picture that Africa just waits for aid. A Harambee meaning “let us all pull together” was being conducted In November. This was an open day celebrating what Tareto Maa was all about and where local leaders, politicians and the community were invited to see the project. It generated 4,500 Euros. The future vision of the school is where fees can provide an income to Tareto Maa, as well as for educating the girls themselves without having to pay school fees. There has been a major effort to reach out to individual sponsors who can sponsor a child in return for two letters a year, news and progress about their child’s education. We have already seen girls grades improve since the rescue centre was opened,as they support and help each other in their studies. We have over 30 individual sponsors at present. But more are urgently needed. Get in touch with me by leaving a comment if you wish to know more about this.
The coming year: the aims are for a permanent rescue shelter, more sponsorships for the girls and forging links with other NGO’S and Foundations. The latter was started last year with a small response. We certainly need more success in this area. To sum it all up, one comment read on http://www. betterplace.org by a villager of Kenya stood out for me the most when they said:
” At first, we thought it was all talk, but once we saw the rescue centre going up, we thought this is happening. This is not just talk anymore but real and true.” As as result, the village donated clothes and food to the children. Since them Tareto Maa has become an established place in the Kilgoris community, where the church is a major focal point and hub of the work, and where real things do happen. Some of these events have been tremendously positive and some of real hardship and problems. But I and the whole team from inside Kenya to its supporters of the outside world are behind it every step of the way.