In 2005, I happened to meet a fellow-traveler at the Mennonite Guest House in Nairobi, and that meeting changed my life. The Mennonite Guest House is that kind of place: you meet a stranger, God causes a shift in your heart and you never turn back.
The woman I met, Leigh, was on her way to Kakuma Refugee Camp where she and her friend were going to work tracing the personal histories of Sudanese “lost boys” (child refugees) in order to help reunite them with their families. It sounded like exciting work, and we exchanged contact information, as one often does with new acquaintances at the Mennonite Guest House.
Months later, I got an email from Leigh. She and her friend had managed to reach Kakuma (not an easy thing to do, since the UN maintains tight control over access to the camp), but they were not particularly successful in carrying out their project. She didn’t say why, but she did say that she came away from that experience feeling that the most important thing she could do was to help children attend school and she asked for my advice in how to set up a scholarship program.
My email back to her listed a number of questions she should consider: one of which was, “girls vs boys?” I outlined in five sentences why I felt it was important to consider prioritizing girl-child education. Her response was an enthusiastic, “Yes, girls, girls, girls!!!!” She went on to suggest that if Turkana Friends Mission and FUM would administer it, she wanted to raise money for girls.
The rest, as they say, is history. She recruited her friends and family and that first year sponsored four girls in secondary school. Also, I became educated about the challenges facing girls in the developing world, particularly among the pastoralist (nomadic) communities. I learned that pastoralist girls typically marry at puberty, begin having children immediately and that the health of both the girl and her children are severely compromised. I learned that a girl who completes secondary school not only delays marriage and childbearing, she also has a much better chance of being able to feed, clothe, house and educate her children and will have fewer children overall than her uneducated peer. I learned that I had a passion for these girls.
This year, FUM has chosen girl-child education as our summer mission project. In the materials for the project, one can read about Esther, a 7th grade girl at Lokoyo Friends school in Turkana, and how I realized that we were losing the girls long before they reach high school. You can read about how individuals, families and communities are changed when a girl gets an education.
As you read through this issue of Quaker Life, with its theme of “Equipping to Serve,” pray with me for the girls of Samburu and Turkana. As Friends, we believe that God has uniquely gifted each and every one of them. God has a plan for each girl and woman to serve Him and to serve their communities. What more basic equipping is there than an education?