Virtual Delegation to Kenya
MADRE Executive Director Yifat Susskind recently traveled to Kenya. With MADRE Program Director Natalia Caruso, she met with our sister organizations--and we’d like to give you the chance to relive the trip!
Some of you became a "virtual delegate" and received updates from Kenya. If you would like to sign up for future updates, click here.
We shared photos and short updates from our sister organizations. To take a look at them, click below:
After several long flights, I've arrived in Nairobi, Kenya. There are already so many updates I could share, about what we’ve already seen, the meetings we’ve already had and the plans we are making for the coming days. But first, I want to tell you about my meeting today with Hubbie Hussein Al-Haji, of our partner organization Womankind Kenya.
MADRE is working with Womankind Kenya, an organization of Somali pastoralists, to confront the brutal famine in the region that now threatens millions of people’s lives. Womankind Kenya has strong links to the local communities in northeastern Kenya, where thousands of Somali families are fleeing. With our support, they are able to purchase and distribute emergency food, water and medicines—the bare essentials that save lives.
When I met with Hubbie today, I was so glad to bring with me a contribution of funds, raised through MADRE supporters, to help bolster their crucial relief work. What’s more, meeting with her today gave us the chance to further strengthen our work together.
She told us that the people coming across the border from Somalia are running for their lives from famine—but even once they make it to Kenya, they are still vulnerable. The children, who are the hardest hit, are often too weak to even lift up their heads. People are on the edge and barely hanging on.
Hubbie shared stories of the women she has met who set off from their homes in Somalia, carrying with them just a few possessions that they hoped to exchange for food. But instead, many of these women were robbed by bandits and Al-Shabaab militias.
During these attacks, many of them have been raped. They cross the border into Kenya traumatized from the violence they faced along the way. And when they get to the refugee camps, it is almost impossible for these rape survivors to access the medical and psychosocial services they need to recover from their attacks.
This famine is also threatening countless local communities in northeastern Kenya. Desperate for food and water, many people from these communities have also joined Somali refugees in trying to access resources from the displacement camps. But like many families arriving from Somalia, they are also being turned away. Simply put, the camps are overcrowded and lack the resources to meet the overwhelming need. This is where Womankind Kenya plays an invaluable role, reaching out to people who have been turned away and providing them with the vital resources to stay alive.
There is one danger, Hubbie said, that looms larger than anything else: the lack of water. This is why bringing water to these vulnerable communities is the number one priority for Womankind Kenya. Time and time again, women have told her that their primary concern is the search for water, because without it, they can’t survive for more than a few days.
When people have reached a certain level of malnutrition, they lose their ability to digest regular food. In response to this, Hubbie explained how Womankind Kenya has focused on distributing special therapeutic food, which is dense with calories and easier to digest. Then, once a person has been pulled back from the brink of death and has regained their ability to absorb nutrients, they can reintroduce other forms of food, like rice and beans.
With just a little support, the incredible women at Womankind Kenya can do so much. For just $50, they can give a family of six the basic staples to live for a week. In the coming days and weeks, MADRE will continue to channel the urgent support that we raise to Womankind Kenya. (To learn more about our ongoing famine relief efforts with Womankind Kenya—and how you can help—click here.)
We also talked about the fact that we are in the middle of Ramadan. One of the holiest celebrations of the Muslim faith, it is meant to be a time of celebration. After each day of fasting, after the sun has set, people are meant to gather to feast and to come together as a community. But now, there is no food to break their fasts. What a terrible and sad Ramadan this is for these communities.
Before I sign off, I want to share a personal anecdote. Today was actually my second time meeting Hubbie. The first time was years ago, when she came to New York as part of an international delegation. During that trip, she met my then-one-year-old son Eli. And today, when she met me, the first thing she said to me was, “Oh, how is Eli? He must be so big now.” I was so touched that she remembered him after all these years. We had a short conversation about how hard it is to leave your young children to do this kind of work. She told me about her two daughters, now both grown and attending university, both role models for young girls in their community.
I was reminded of what has kept MADRE strong through all these years—the friendships sustained across distances and the personal connections between MADRE, our sister organizations and all of our supporters.
Thank you for taking the time to join me, virtually, on this delegation. Tomorrow, I will be traveling to the Transmara region to visit some of the clean water projects that we support, but I will send you another update before I leave in the morning.
August 16, 2011
It’s early in the morning here in Kenya, and we’re about to leave for the next step in our trip. Yesterday, I sent you some updates from the meeting we had just had with Hubbie Hussein Al-Haji, but today I want to share some general information about this trip.
I’m here with a small MADRE working group: Natalia Caruso, our program director, who you may know; Rose Cunningham, the director of our sister organization in Nicaragua, Wangki Tangni; and Henry Chalfant, a longtime MADRE supporter who is also a wonderful photographer and videographer.
Henry will be helping us to document some of the work we do here, and I hope to send you some snapshots and maybe a few short rough-cuts of the videos we’ll make this week. (Click here for one video we uploaded, of me describing the trip.) I hope I’ll also have a chance to introduce you to him, virtually, because Henry is a true friend of MADRE and a strong advocate for the rights of women and girls everywhere. He’s also a total sweetheart, and I’m lucky for the chance to travel with him.
The same goes for Rose, who has been a key part of MADRE’s work since we were founded back in 1983. This is actually the fifth time that Rose is in Kenya with MADRE. In addition to being an amazing community organizer, Rose is a world-renowned popular educator. She has a genius for working with women in communities and enabling them to tap into the power they need to make positive social change—in their own lives, in their families and communities and even at the national and global level. Sometimes, this is power that the women don’t even know they possess until Rose shows it to them through the trainings we do together.
I’m excited to head out to the communities of our sister organization, the Indigenous Information Network (IIN), and to see Rose in action. She’ll be leading trainings on women’s rights, Indigenous rights and the right to water. I’m not sure how much internet access I’ll have out there, but I’ll do my best to share highlights. (In the meantime, click here to watch a short video of a great discussion we had with Rose and with Lucy, the director of IIN, about the power women generate when they come together to share their stories and their knowledge.)
Some of what we will encounter this week will be very sad, as we hear from our partners who are struggling to access clean water and to build healthy communities. But you should know that here in Kenya, and in all the communities around the world where we work, women tell me that MADRE helps keep them from despair. That the support you give makes them feel strong, and heard and cared about—and that means the world to them. So, thank you for that support, and thanks for joining me as a virtual delegate on this trip to Kenya.
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August 17, 2011
Yesterday, on the drive from Nairobi to the Transmara region where we'd be visiting the communities of our sister organization, we drove through the Rift Valley, a beautiful stretch of landscape.
As we drove through, I looked at the green farms, where people are growing wheat, vegetables and more. I was struck by the knowledge that – just a few hours’ drive away – women and families are suffering from a terrible famine. But there is food right here, so close by. The fact that this locally-grown food is not getting to the people who need it is stark evidence of how dysfunctional the international aid architecture has really become. (I’ve written about this before, how buying food aid locally is essential to saving lives.)
I’m excited to also tell you about today’s activities. Today, the amazing Rose Cunningham, our partner from Nicaragua, led a training, and it was a great success. About 25 women participated from seven different Indigenous Maasai communities, learning about women’s rights, Indigenous rights and human rights. I’d like to introduce you, virtually, to just a few of the women that I met here.
I met Caroline, a nurse, who told me that she had come to the training directly from the night shift she had just worked. She had not slept, and she had traveled hours to get here—but you would never have guessed it from the energy with which she threw herself into the discussions.
I also met Mary, who was pulled out of school when she was a teenager in order to get married. She said that now her number one priority in life is to make sure that her own children finish school.
And then there was Elizabeth, who started out this morning experiencing the early stages of labor, but she was determined to take part in the training. Luckily, there is a little clinic nearby, across the path from where the training took place. And by this afternoon, Elizabeth had a baby girl!
It was an incredibly special day, and much of the credit for that goes to Rose. Just as I expected, it was really great to watch her do what she is so marvelous at. She created an atmosphere that was comfortable, and all of the women there felt free to talk and to share their experiences with one another. We had a good discussion about the difficulties that they all face – from finding clean water for their families to finding the means to educate their children. And they also talked about how to change things for the better, to make human rights a reality for themselves and for their children.
I’m glad I got the chance to send you this update. The electricity has not been very reliable, and since the power goes out often in the evenings, we’ve been doing a lot of planning sessions in the dark. Luckily, there is enough electricity right now to send this email, and I’ll try to send pictures along soon.
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August 18, 2011
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Yesterday, I shared with you the happy news that a healthy baby girl was born during our human rights training. We had spent the day talking about how women can use human rights to change abusive situations in their homes and in their communities, and her mother, Elizabeth, stayed to participate, even as her labor progressed. Then, in the afternoon, the little girl was born at a clinic just across the dirt path from the place where we’ve been doing the training.
This morning, I had the really fun job of accompanying the baby, her mother and her grandmother on the car ride back to their village. When I arrived at the clinic, Elizabeth told me something so inspiring: she had decided to give her daughter the name Rose Mulenkei, honoring two leaders of MADRE’s sister organizations.
Her first name, Rose, ties her to Rose Cunningham, our partner from Nicaragua who has led the human rights trainings where we first met Elizabeth yesterday. Her middle name, Mulenkei, recalls Lucy Mulenkei, the director of our Kenyan sister organization, the Indigenous Information Network who also guided the trainings. Little Rose Mulenkei is beautiful, and with these two namesakes as her inspirations, she’s off to a good start.
Elizabeth, who is a pre-school teacher and a human rights activist in her community, is doing great after the birth. We all rode back to her village over a bumpy, unpaved, muddy road, and I sat in the backseat with Elizabeth and her mother, Nonkipa. And I got to hold the baby the whole way!
During the ride, I talked with Elizabeth about her new baby and all of the things that she wishes for her daughter. The thing that she said was most important was for baby Rose to be able to go to school when she gets older. She told me that a lot of parents in her community don’t send their daughters to school. Instead, they keep them at home to work and then to get married, often before they are 15 years old. She said she wants a better life for her daughter.
I said to her, but you had a chance to go to school. You’re a trained early childhood educator and now a pre-school teacher. In reply, she put her arm around her mother, who was sitting between us in the backseat, and said, “Yes, because my mother also wanted a better life for me.”
Our conversation in the car also turned to discussing what Elizabeth and her community need to build strong and healthy lives. We talked about the water project that MADRE supports in her community, and I told her that I was very excited to see it. She described the nearby spring that people had long relied on for water, but they had been getting sick for years drinking from it. That’s because the water became contaminated and not fit for people to drink when the livestock used it.
But since we built a pipeline separating the community drinking water taps from the animal troughs, the whole community has become healthier, and cholera and typhoid have disappeared. Elizabeth said that she is so relieved to bring her baby home knowing that, when she stops nursing, there will be clean water for little Rose to drink.
As we were getting out of the car, I passed the baby back to Elizabeth. I told her that our deepest wish – from MADRE, from you and all of our supporters, from all of the women we were in the training with – was for Rose Mulenkei to enjoy all of the human rights we are fighting for together, so that she can have a healthy and happy life.
Thank you again for giving me the chance to share this experience with you.
P.S. A few days ago, I updated you on our conversations with Hubbie Hussein al-Haji, our partner at Womankind Kenya, about our on-going famine relief for Somali refugee families in northeastern Kenya. We were able to send over a video of that conversation, now posted on our website. Click here to watch