A girl’s period should not be an obstacle to education

During my time consulting for the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), I had the privilege of working with Neema Namadamu, the founder of Maman Shujaa, an organization that uses digital media to broadcast the voices of women peacemakers from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Ms. Namadamu is involved in other endeavors as well, including piloting the Girl Ambassadors for Peace (GA4P) program in DRC with GNWP. She is a tireless advocate for women’s rights, the rights of the disabled, for her community and for the environment. She advocates for people’s rights around the world and often speaks on panels at the United Nations in New York and at conferences globally.

Recently, while promoting a new film that she appears in, Merci Congo, by Paul Freedman, she provided updates on programs at Maman Shujaa in Bukavu, South Kivu (DRC), including the GA4P program.

GNWP’s Girl Ambassadors are educated young women who undergo training on how to conduct literacy education, as well as learning about leadership, and the principles of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1325 and 1820.While the GA4P program has a core curriculum it also allows for additional activities to be adapted for each country or regionally inside of a country in order to focus on the most relevant issues to the community. For example, the activities of the Girl Ambassadors in one community might focus on public events for World Literacy Day and World Day of Peace, while another would focus on involvement in radio broadcasts and PSAs to promote women’s empowerment and peacebuilding.

One of the main objectives of the GA4P program is to raise literacy rates of girls and young women in rural communities where girls are often marginalized and receive little to no education. After the program had been implemented, Ms. Namadamu identified another often-overlooked obstacle to girl’s education that in most developed countries would not prohibit girls from attending school — menstruation.

Because of cultural traditions, rural women in DRC often have a difficult time discussing menstruation with their daughters, creating a lack of awareness about the importance of hygiene and health care. Most girls do not understand the how’s and why’s of hygiene products. Moreover, women and girls in some developing countries do not have access to basic feminine hygiene products such as sanitary napkins and tampons, or reusable sanitary pads. If they do have access, the store might be too far to travel to regularly or the products are too expensive to purchase; relegating girls to use fabric from old clothing in poor condition, or cornhusks, newspaper, mattress stuffing and leaves. When girls start their periods at school, there isn’t a nurse or anyone to explain what is happening to them. In many cases at home they are told that they are now a woman and ready for marriage, which signals an end to their education.  If the girl returns to school, she is often teased by the boys causing feelings of self-consciousness and low self-esteem.  In DRC, a girl’s period often disrupts daily activities with some girls missing four to five days of school per month.

In response, Ms. Namadamu started the Keep Congolese Girls in School program in Itombwe, Eastern DRC, and held fundraisers in Europe and the United States to send three of the Girl Ambassadors to a four-week training in Kampala, Uganda at Days for Girls Uganda. The young women learned how to construct and sew “The Days for Girls Menstrual Hygiene kit (DfG kit),” and also how to make soap in order to clean the reusable sanitary napkins. The washable kit includes two shields, eight reusable liners, a cloth bag to carry the kit, and costs approximately $5.00 to produce one kit.

The Girl Ambassadors initially made 300 kits and conducted training in Itombwe on how to make and use the kits, along with the importance of hygiene. The young women made a second run of 750 kits, as well as collecting 600 bras for distribution.

Menstruating is a normal function of womanhood and in most Western countries, it is not an obstacle to girls attending school. This is a preventable issue that should not continue to be an obstacle to girl’s education. Programs such as Keep Congolese Girls in School fills a gap that has been overlooked for some time and provides an inexpensive solution that focuses on knowledge sharing, training and use of accessible materials. The project has also created employment for young women in the region.

Programs such as Keep Congolese Girls in School would be an excellent component of the GA4P program in South Sudan and other countries where girls struggle to attend and remain in school. Hopefully GNWP will be able to pursue this project with the GA4P in South Sudan, where menstruation is also an obstacle to a girl’s education.

For more about Neema Namadamu and the Keep Congolese Girls in School program click on the link to watch this interview with Neema by Catherine Gray of 360 Karma for the You Go Girl series.

Donations for the Keep Congolese Girls in School program or other Maman Shujaa programs can be made at: https://herowomenrising.networkforgood.com/.

 

No food, no friendship

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While in Nairobi, a friend and I visited the Giraffe Centre. The African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (Kenya) breeds giraffes at the center and reintroduces them on the protected wild areas of land surrounding the center — 140 acres of indigenous forest. Their main focus is to provide conservation education to youth while providing a safe haven for the giraffes.

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The center offers several areas, including elevated platforms where visitors are able to feed food pellets to giraffes and watch warthogs scramble around near their feet. There is a snack bar, gift shop and outdoor area where large pieces of art are available for purchase. They also have a hotel, where the giraffes wander the property and occasionally poke their heads through windows looking for snacks.

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Though I love being able to see animals up close and interact with them when possible, I am very conscious of our responsibility as humans to act appropriately and not do anything to interfere with or disrupt their habitat.

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While at the center, I had the opportunity to feed several of the giraffes and it was fantastic; they are full of personality. However, there were a few cringe worthy moments. One tourist attempted to put his arm around the neck of a giraffe to take a photo and received a headbutt in response, as one of the trainers politely remarked – “No food, no friendship.” A woman also tried to feed a pellet to a giraffe from her mouth. I kept my inside thought about what I hoped would happen to her to myself. How to feed the giraffes is clearly spelled out to people before they receive the food, but does it really need to be? Does an adult really need to be told that they could spread germs to the giraffe and that it is potentially dangerous to feed an unsupervised wild animal from their mouth…why can’t adults just follow the rules? The magnitude of people lacking common sense never ceases to amaze me.

Aside from people behaving badly, the experience at the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (Kenya) is fantastic and worth the visit.


Our final excursion was to Kazuri beads in Nairobi. Kazuri is the Swahili word for “small and beautiful.” In many countries around the globe, including Kenya, it is often quite difficult for women, especially single or widowed mothers to find decent paying jobs. Kazuri, founded by Lady Susan Wood, provides training and skills for a permanent career for women. Kazuri currently employs 350 women and their crafts are sold around the world.

We visited on a Sunday and were unable to watch the women make the beads but they did have guides on hand to provide a tour of the compound and show what happens in each building, from shaping, polishing, firing to painting the beads and ceramics. The tour ends in the gift shop. The jewelry is exquisite and the pottery is gorgeous, needless to say, a little shopping took place.

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Exports and infrastructure ~ Kenya

The drive from Isiolo County to Nairobi offers a relaxing scenic landscape. The view of Mount Kenya alone, an extinct volcano at 5,199 m, is worth a look see. Mount Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage site – it’s stunning.

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We also came across many fruit and vegetable stands along the way. As a tourist it’s best to go with easily peelable fruit at the stands, if it’s meant as an immediate snack, otherwise it needs a good scrub.

Kenya is one of the largest flowers producers in Europe, thanks in part to its ability to produce flowers year round without using greenhouses. Though known as a pastoralist area, numerous farms stretch along both sides of the road between Isiolo and Mt. Kenya. As we drove toward Nairobi at 6:00am we could see men and women walking to the farms to begin their workday. Children were also out in droves walking alongside the road in their red, green and blue uniforms on their way to school.

One of the other sights that caught my eye was the roadside garden center. In the United States (U.S.), the equivalent would be if garden centers were set up on the shoulder or in the median strip of the highway. The Kenyan garden centers carry trees, plants, flowers and gorgeous colorful pots and other accessories. The centers seem to be quite popular. We passed several on the way to Nairobi and later found more of them along main streets in a more urban center near Bungoma.

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For our journey from Nairobi to Bungoma, we flew from the Nairobi Airport to the Eldoret airport, then drove to Bungoma. It’s about an hour flight, and another two – three hour drive depending on traffic, versus a nine-hour drive. We flew Fly540. Eldoret is a small airport but clean and efficient. The Nairobi airport is also a breath of fresh air compared to some of the more rough and ready airports I’ve travelled through in the past two years.

Kenya is more developed than many of the countries that I have spent time in recently. Though, that doesn’t matter to me most days, when it comes to extensive driving — infrastructure starts to matter. For example, the lack of paved roads in some countries turns a 1.5-hour drive in the U.S. to a 7-hour drive on dirt roads. It’s also rough on the body as the vehicle slams endlessly into ditches that resemble moon craters and tosses a (hopefully) strapped in body around the entire time. Let’s just say, it was a pleasant surprise to find that Kenya’s main roads outside of Nairobi and across the country are paved.

Kenya’s investment in infrastructure is apparent — roads, aviation, ports and a foray into energy and solar power. That said, Kenya isn’t without its issues and poverty does exist. However, investment in the country by the government, coupled with its focus on exports, such as flowers and coffee is a good formula for continued development and makes Kenya a solid example on the continent for other countries struggling with growth.

Food and lodgings in Kenya

Kenya is a place I could easily overstay my welcome. For the past two years, a great deal of my time has been spent traveling across Africa for work. Unfortunately, the Kenya trip was probably my last time in Africa for a short while.

On this latest adventure my time was split among Nairobi, Bungoma and Isiolo in Kenya.

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While in Nairobi, our group stayed in the city center at the Sarova Stanley, an amazing hotel built in 1902. The staff is friendly and accommodating. The hotel is elegant and comes with all of the amenities of a luxury hotel at a decent rate. It’s in a great location surrounded by plenty of restaurants and shopping. The outdoor Maasai Market is about 5 minutes walking distance. The market sells arts and crafts, textiles, jewelry, etc. It is definitely worth going but sellers are aggressive with tourists — be prepared to haggle and have a good grasp of the exchange rate before going in. If you can find a local to go with you, that will make it a more relaxed experience.

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Nairobi has a treasure trove of restaurants, and though my dining experiences were limited to the downtown area, but there were plenty of vegan options.

A favorite casual spot — Java House — not only do they serve great coffee and pastries, they also make full meals. The curry vegetables and Mexican fajita veggie plate hit the spot. They also sell bags of coffee, and I bought a few. My suitcase heading to Africa always includes clothes and workshop materials; the return suitcase is full of clothing, coffee and spices – always!

One night after wandering around downtown, I wanted something quick to take to my hotel room so I stopped at Teriyaki Japan. They sell spicy fast food noodle bowls, with a hint of African spices. Yummy, fast, cheap, and filling.

For breakfast, the Sarova Stanley’s restaurant is a great option especially for business meetings with their spacious indoor and enclosed patio dining. It has a fantastic buffet with hot vegetable options, Indian food, pastries, fruit and typical western breakfasts. The hotel also has a fantastic Thai restaurant; the Thai Chi. The food is traditional Thai, accompanied by options of soothing hot green tea as well as a wonderful wine list. The restaurant also has a masseuse on staff to offer a short shoulder and hand massage while waiting for the food to arrive – yes, please.

 

Outside of Nairobi, we stayed at the Northern Galaxy Hotel in Isiolo, about 3.5 hours from Nairobi at the foot of Mount Kenya. This is a main thoroughfare for those traveling to more rural areas including the savannahs of northern Kenya. The organization I work for held a workshop at the hotel and while the Galaxy is not the Sarova, it is a clean, safe space with an accommodating staff. Myself, and two colleagues have various food allergies and the manager made sure that we all had fantastic food that we could eat at every meal, including Mukimo – a mixture of mashed potatoes, greens and beans. I could eat that all day long…

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Frequent travelers with food issues will understand how important it is to find hotels and restaurants that will accommodate allergies. I’ve had my fair share of bread and peanut butter or french fry meals. Luckily, in this modern world we have many options for snacks that have some protein. I always bring dried fruits, nuts, as well as spreadable nut butters by Justin’s — they have started making snack packs with pretzels and dried fruits as well, thank you! Many hotels in Africa either have electric kettles in the rooms or will bring you a large thermos of hot water for tea, so I always pack a few Asian noodle soups just in case. I won’t say who…but I will out my friend who travels with a small suitcase dedicated to snacks because of her food allergies. Those with wanderlust do what they have to in order to travel. No one wants to have stomach problems while traveling, especially if there isn’t a hospital nearby.

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Next we headed to Bungoma, which is a full day drive from Nairobi or a short hour, hour and a half flight, then two-hour drive from the closest airport. We stayed at the Elegent Hotel. It’s a nice hotel central to the city. It is quite large, clean, safe and has Wi-Fi. The staff also took very good care of us and made sure there were dishes that we could eat. In walking distance are local street vendors and a large grocery store. Pay attention to where you are walking, as the boda boda’s (motorcycles) have a tendency to zip along on the dirt walking path, it almost ended badly for me one night.

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Now for a short rant — honestly, as much as I enjoy a luxurious hotel, I am always grateful for a clean, secure place to stay. It bothers me how often the smaller hotels throughout Africa, especially in developing countries are criticized on travel websites for their lack of amenities. For those hoping for a positive travel experience in non-western countries, perhaps adjusting expectations will be of great benefit, and a little kindness goes a long way. That is all.

Raising Orphaned Elephants in Kenya

While in Kenya for work, a rare day off emerged. A colleague and myself decided to go to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, a short car ride from our downtown hotel.

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The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescues and rehabilitates baby elephant and rhino orphans. It was founded in 1977 by Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick D.B.E, in honor of her late husband, naturalist and founding Warden of Tsavo East National Park, David Sheldrick MBE. The Wildlife Trust operates within Nairobi National Park. The organization rescues baby elephants and rhino orphans from poachers — often a baby elephant’s mother and family have been killed for its ivory and the baby has been left behind to die. Other pitfalls of living in the wild include situations such as, baby elephants falling into wells and their families leaving them behind.

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We visited during the feeding of the baby elephants and did not see any of the rhinos during our visit. The keepers explained that the youngsters arrive very traumatized and depressed.

Elephants are intelligent and social creatures that bond with humans in a similar fashion to children. When the orphans first arrive at the preserve, a keeper is with them at all times, they receive 3-hourly feedings of baby formula, have blankets for when they sleep, and sunscreen and umbrellas for the sun.

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As they acclimate to their new home, they are slowly introduced to the other orphans and eventually rotate between the nursery and the other rehabilitation spaces.

After the orphans have been integrated into the group and no longer show signs of distress or problems feeding they join the two groups of elephants, categorized by age, that participate in the feeding in front of the public, as we experienced. They have such personality. The babies exhibit childlike qualities over sharing time with the keepers, bottle-feeding, eating leaves and playing in the mud. It was cute to hear the babies make loud noises once their bottles were empty and they were still hungry, as a child would cry.

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Some of the orphans would come over to the visitors lined around the feeding area so that people could pet them, while others were a little unsure about getting close to strangers. Elephants like large dogs, are leaners, it seems to be a source of comfort. Though they are babies, they are hefty babies, so it wouldn’t be good if they stepped on a person’s foot. The keepers told us not to squat down below them because that is taken as play and they will kick people as if a person was a ball. They are quite playful.

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Eventually, the elephants are reintegrated into the wild elephant community and join/form new herds in the National Park.

For $50.00 a year, it is possible to Foster an orphaned elephant or rhino through the ‘Orphans’ Project. While there, I adopted Dupotto, a female orphan, found alone, most likely a victim of poaching.

Traveling in Liberia post-Ebola

Recently, I traveled to Liberia, Africa for work. This trip was supposed to take place in 2015 but the Ebola outbreak sidetracked the plans of our organization. The World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola free on January 14th 2016.

Before the Ebola crisis Liberia was experiencing economic growth and more children were receiving an education. Regrettably,  this progress was severely impacted, food prices surged, foreign investors withdrew and the border closed stopping women from selling goods and earning an income.

The combination of soaring costs for treating the outbreak, caring for the sick and limited resources shifted the focus of the government to ridding the country of Ebola. The positive momentum of growth and stability post-conflict (war) came to a halt. Yet, in the face of adversity the Liberian people remain positive and resilient.

The national and international responses to the Ebola crisis have resulted in a number of public health improvements within the three West African nations fighting outbreaks, including safer burial practices, earlier case detections, an increase in health workers and treatment facilities, public awareness campaigns and rigorous tracing of those who interacted with the ill. These responses have contributed to a lower risk of spread across borders.

Most of my time in Liberia was spent in workshops with government officials and civil society members working on local action plans that assist in better integrating women, peace and security elements from the Liberian National Action Plan (LNAP) and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 into local laws.

Monrovia is a busy city with numerous hotels, shopping and lots of traffic. Also, there is one main road to and from the airport, so no matter what day or time allot more time than necessary for the journey – it’s a good opportunity to see the countryside.

While in Monrovia, we stayed at the Bella Casa Hotel near the coast. There are a few grocery stores in walking distance from the hotel and the hotel itself has a lovely restaurant. We arrived from the airport the first night to find the restaurant closing but they kindly made me hummus, which was greatly appreciated. They have several additional vegetarian options including pasta and vegetable fried rice and a nice breakfast buffet. The Palm Spring Resort also has a good menu– and a casino — and is another good hotel option.

If staying at the Bella Casa make the short stroll over to the Golden Beach Restaurant, the seating is on the beach under palm trees — it’s a gorgeous view.

 

Highlights from the GIMAC and AU 8th Gender Pre-Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Highlights from the GIMAC and AU 8th Gender Pre-Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

~ A glimpse into my work world

By Lori Perkovich, GNWP  

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New York, February 5, 2016 – The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) and delegates Robinah Rubimbwa from CoAct1325 (Uganda) and Emma Mogaka from Rural Women Peace Link (Kenya), travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to participate in the Gender is my Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) that took place January 17-18, 2016 and the official opening ceremony of the 8th Gender Pre-Summit, 19 – 20 January 2016. Attendees from Africa and abroad gathered at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Union (AU) for the four day summit to discuss this years theme: “2016 African Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the rights of Women.” The series of meetings allowed stakeholders and other actors advocating for gender equality and women’s empowerment, to unpack critical developments on the continent and influence the subsequent deliberations and outcomes of the 26th African Union (AU) Summit.

Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS) organized the two-day (GIMAC) conference and the Directorate of Women, Gender and Development of the AU Commission in collaboration, with H.E Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) organized the AU Gender Pre-Summit .

Many distinguished panellists spoke during the GIMAC, including Ms. Bineta Diop, President, Femmes Africa Solidarité, Ms. Elisabeth Rehn, Minister Of State, Finland, Commissioner Lucy Asuagbor, Special Rapporteur on Rights of Women in Africa, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Ngone Diop, Chief Gender Equality and Women in Development, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, H. E. Mrs. Fatima Haram Acyl, Commissioner for Trade and Industry African Union Commission and Ms. Hendrina Doroba, Executive Director, Forum for African Women Educationalists, among others.

Objectives for the two-day GIMAC conference:

  • Gain a good sense of the status of women’s rights – gaps, challenges, and successes
  • Strong and concrete key recommendations for the AU and going forward
  • Accountability, law and justice

The Case of Burundi was also a focal point and the only state to have its own session. Interventions were made from the floor by speakers such as, Julienne Lusenge, Director of the Fund for Congolese Women (FFC) and President of SOFEPADI in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Young women such as Victoria Mokisi from YWCA South Sudan also took this opportunity to advocate for their organizations and in this case, the on going South Sudan peace process. It was encouraging to witness these young women creating their own space to participate immediately following the adoption of UNSCR 2250 on youth, peace and security in December 2015.

During the AU meetings a call was made for Members States to ensure that the continent ends gun violence by 2020 and Chairperson Zuma spoke of the importance of strengthening the Pan-African Women Organizations (PAWO) in local communities for better integration in the Continent. Emphasis was repeatedly placed on focusing on the implementation of existing legal frameworks instead of creating new resolutions and documents calling for the same changes. Agenda 2063 and the Maputo protocol were also frequently referenced as targets for implementation by the AU.

GNWP and its delegation advocated for its members and partners on the ground in South Sudan who are focused on rebuilding the country post-signing of the peace agreement (August 2015). One specific issue discussed while in Addis Ababa was the current call by the Consortium of Organizations for Women of South Sudan, to President Kirr, to appoint a female speaker to the Transitional National Legislative Assembly, and also for the president to commit to implementing the 25% women representation in the TGONU. Additionally, a meeting about the creation of a hybrid court and the Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Commission in South Sudan took place. Examples of processes in other states were discussed, along with best practices and potential obstacles.

GNWP finished the week by attending a pre-consultative meeting on CSW 2016 where those on the continent intending to participate at the CSW in New York, March 14-24, discussed objectives and events.

Please visit gnwp.org in the upcoming weeks for regular CSW event updates.