Kenya and Beyond: Including Human Rights in Conservation

Nelson and Maggie Reiyia watched in despair as their community slowly fell into decline despite tourism profits from nearby Maasai Mara National Reserve. As indigenous Maasai themselves, the Reiyias were determined to reinvigorate their community despite the massive forces of ‘big’ conservation and outside development. Thus, they set out to create the first Maasai-run conservancy in the history of Kenya and reconnect their people, culture, and livestock to the land and its wild inhabitants.

A Maasai man in traditional red clothing overlooks the Sekenani River. Nearby vegetation reflects off the water's rippled surface.
A Maasai tribe member overlooks the Sekenani River. The Sekenani restoration project is one of many local initiatives conducted by the Nashulai Conservancy. (Photo credit: The Nashulai Conservancy, http://www.nashulai.com/sekenani-river-restoration)

Historically, the Maasai and other Kenyan tribes occupied these lands until Western colonial powers began to forcibly move people to make room for themselves and their ever expanding game reserves. Sadly, there is a long history of colonial and post-colonial entities removing people from their lands in the name of conservation and game management. This tendency to ‘Other’ people unlike us – that is, to assume their inferiority as humans – continues to taint conservation and often results in counterproductive efforts to save endangered species.

Sadly, this model of conservation has been adopted the world over and partly stems from the assumption that Indigenous people lack the ability to govern themselves or the knowledge to sustainably manage their lands. Yet, in the case of the Maasai, they have occupied the landscape long enough for it to become an integral part of their culture and worldview. Of course this is hardy meant to reference to the outdated ‘noble savage’ cliché; rather, it is an attempt to force us to consider who was already managing these lands and critical resources before the colonizers arrived.

A herd of wildebeest and zebras meandering about the vast and empty Maasai Mara National Reserve.
A herd of wildebeests cross the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Every year the migration of these animals attracts tourists from around the globe. (Photo credit: Sherrie Alexander)

An additional assumption held by Western society and much of modern conservation is that people should be removed from their lands in order to establish pristine areas for wildlife. Enter the additional force of tourism – a massive economic influence that often turns sentiments against local populations thought to be spoiling the landscape, competing with wildlife, and over-hunting the animals we so desperately seek on our travels. Don’t get me wrong, tourism can be a positive source of income for a region. But when money takes precedence over people depending on ancestral lands, it is unethical at best.

Finally, we cannot forget the horrid calls to shoot poachers on-sight and emotional outcries against trophy hunting. In our Western need to anthropomorphize wildlife, especially the ‘cute’ or charismatic animals, we fail to see the socioeconomic complexities of people and place. We also have to remind ourselves these are not our animals to govern. These animals – if they can be thought of to belong to anyone – are clearly in the domain of the countries in which they reside and the people living among them. In other instances, certain animals represent a critical source of local income through legal trophy hunting. But as we saw with the ‘Cecil the Lion’ outrage, the Western world is appalled at the thought of killing a lion for any reason while giving little thought to the ribeye steak on our dinner plate.

Two zebras graze in the vast Maasai Mara National Reserve where the grass and sky both seem endless. Few people are seen aside from tour guides and tourists.
Zebras graze in the vast Maasai Mara National Reserve where few people are seen aside from tourists and their tour guides. (Photo credit: Sherrie Alexander)

Conservation is complicated so we have to look at the bigger picture. It is often as much about humans as it is about wildlife and ‘wild’ spaces. The combined result of ‘Othering’ indigenous populations and disregarding their traditional ecological knowledge, while simultaneously anthropomorphizing wildlife and claiming ownership over entire ecosystems, has led us to our current circumstances. While many conservation initiatives are beginning to take local and Indigenous voices into account, the unfortunate fact is that neocolonial conservation is alive and well.

Over the last decade I have watched as the push for social science integration with conservation biology has slowly gained momentum. Such calls for interdisciplinary approaches have arisen from the desperate need to better understand the multifaceted human dimension of conservation. ‘Fortress conservation’ and the forced removal of people from their lands, or lack of access to resources and profits from their lands, are outdated practices and clear human-rights violations. From conservation to tourism, local cultures have a right to be included. In fact, research from myself and others has demonstrated that when communities are intimately involved there is an increased likelihood of long-term conservation success.

The Nashulai model diagrams depicts their commitment to helping both people and wildlife while also preserving cultural heritage.
The integrated Nashulai model emphasizes the need to help both people and wildlife while also preserving cultural heritage. (Image credit: The Nashulai Conservancy, http://www.nashulai.com/)

After hearing Nelson and Maggie Reiyia speak at UAB about their indigenous-run conservancy and the advances they have achieved for both their cultural and biological heritage, I believe there is hope that we can shift the narrative of conservation to one that is more inclusive and ethical. Simply put, supporting initiatives like the Nashulai Conservancy can help push back against ongoing injustices and bring human rights to the forefront of conservation.

Sherrie D. Alexander, MA
University of Alabama at Birmingham, Researcher and Instructor of Anthropology
IUCN Primate Specialist Group, Section for Human-Primate Interactions, Member
Barbary Macaque Awareness and Conservation, North American representative

Land acknowledgement: The University of Alabama at Birmingham is located on the traditional lands of the Muskogee Creek Indians.  

 

 

The Drive for Quality Education in Kenya Faces Massive Challenges

by Grace Ndanu

A teacher looks on as a young African girl does her school work.
Source: Yahoo Images

When everyone gets to know and understand the importance of education, they are interested to be part of it, and parents or guardians (those who understand the need to have a learned child) try to fight for them so that they can be educated. There is a very big knowledge gap and also the quality of education between the advanced areas and the areas that are trying to come up. I will name it a crisis.

In Kenya we had a curricula that really didn’t consider every kind of person. I think everyone is intelligent on their own way, but this curricula focused on children who sit down, listen to a teacher and are able to solve a mathematics equations. It didn’t consider the capability of every child. Thank God the curricula was changed and it was effective as early as last year so that at least now there are classes that can help children discover what they like and most of it all, what they can do best. But still, it is tiresome. The kids need to be in school as early as 6am and they are off school at 6pm.

Every year there are children who needs to join high school, but you know what, those who make it are children who come from the wealthy backgrounds, and we developed a saying that said ‘education is for the rich.’ I believe there are funds that are kept aside by the government to educate the needy students. But the ones who are in charge of issuing the funds to them are guilty of using the money for their own benefit. I have heard of two cases this year.

One, there is a boy who scored very high marks in primary school, and what his mother could afford are two bars of soap. The poor mother took his boy to school with two bars of soap with no school fees nor shopping. Another incident was about a disabled boy who was abandoned by his mother and since he has been living with his grandmother. The boy also had scored high and he absolutely qualified to join high school. The grandmother was old, so the boy had to walk to the school, which started at 8:00AM. Keep in mind that he had nothing with him. These are the cases that we know of because the media reported them. I know there are still those who suffer in silence maybe they really don’t know what to do. All this happens because there are people somewhere who are using money that is meant to help the needy. And I will add that this also happens in employment. And with this we have another saying, ‘if you have no connections stay with your mum.’ This is because you will find almost the whole family in good paying jobs.

Another big challenge, is about teachers being so serious which to an extent I may call it being harsh. There are teachers who beat the children, and as a result, children lose interest in school or even completely hate everything about school. Recently somewhere in Kenya, 14 children died and 39 injured in a stampede. The pupils reportedly started running out of the classrooms after a bell rung to go home. Some pupils said a teacher, who was carrying a stick behind them, ordered them to leave quickly and they started running down the stairs. The pupils in front stumbled and fell and those behind also tripped. And that’s how the children met their death. With this you may find some parents may fear their children attending class in the name of keeping their children safe.

Among the disadvantaged families there are also girls who don’t attend classes due to lack of sanitary towels. They are forced to stay back home for at least a week so that they can get through their menses. This makes some of the girls fail their exams because they have missed several lessons and as a result they may end up dropping out of school due to their low self-esteem, which probably developed due to poor results. At the end, men remain on top of women in everything. There is a lot of gender-based violence, and the affected are the women, while the top positions in every sector are for the most part held by men. Hopefully we will get out of this because the government and some NGOs are trying to distribute sanitary towels to school. Thanks to them.

Young African girls in the classroom
Source: Yahoo Images

In the map, among the countries that borders Kenya are Somalia and Sudan. These countries war still exists, note that it is not a one time thing. The fate of school children trapped in conflict areas deserves even more agent attention. According to my research, there are many attacks staged on Kenyan schools that are around the boarder.in ¾ of those, troops and rebel forces turned classrooms into military posts. Hundreds of children are recruited to fight, sometimes made to serve as suicide bombers, or forced to endure direct attacks. The learning environment is not be at peace if learning continues because of the gun-shots, gangs, and unruly youths and by sexual predators on school premises. This is another reason why parents won’t let their children go to school, and of course, girls are the most affected.

In every society there is what they believe which may be considered not to be true. There are some communities that are tied to culture. In the Samburu, Masaai, Pokot, to mention but a few, believe that girls are meant to be wives and not to be educated. Boys are taken to school and even they are lucky enough to attend university while the girls are forced to stay with their mothers at home so that they can be taught how to be the best wife.

Sustainable Development Goal 4 says, ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning.’ Despite the considerable progress on education access and participation, there are children and youth who are still out of school. For us to reach the goal, they should fix the learning crisis. Maybe the following should be considered: Promote gender equality, social mobility, and intercultural understanding. Safeguard that persons with disability are included in the education. Respond to those learning challenges caused by conflict. Align school curricula and work needs for competencies and skills. And most of all fight corruption.

I believe that education has the power to shape the world. A quality experience in the classroom helps promote mutual respect and understanding between people. It can help change behaviour and perceptions, thereby fighting unsustainable practices. Above all education does not choose because it empowers everyone, meaning that it protects both men and women from exploitation in the labour market, and the empowering of women enables them to make choices. Everyone needs freedom, and education sets us free.

Community and Conservation in Maasai Mara

On Thursday, January 23rd, the Institute for Human Rights co-sponsored an event alongside Sparkman Center for Global Health to present Nelson Ole Reiya (CEO/Founder) and Maggy Reiya (Education and Gender Coordinator) of Nashulai Maasai Conservancy. During their lecture and discussion with the audience, they addressed their remarkable mission to protect wildlife, preserve culture, and reverse poverty within their community in Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Nelson began with the admission that, amid farming and development efforts in the region, a group of Maasai elders convened under a tree and decided to start a conservancy. In response, Nashulai began in 2015 after a meeting with landowners resulted in the leasing of their land for conservation.

Most Maasai face severe poverty by living on less than one dollar a day, while girls and women are particularly vulnerable. More specifically, many girls are subjected to the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) which is to prepare them for marriage. Additionally, young women who menstruate without pads are prevented from attending school. In addition to these social issues, because 68% of Kenya’s wildlife lives outside of parks and reserves, the country has lost nearly 70% of its wildlife over the past thirty years. These social and ecological issues demonstrate the need for a ground-up approach that advocates for the Maasai’s people, wildlife, and environment, hence Nashulai.

This is a picture from the event with the speakers facing the attentive audience.
Nelson Ole speaking to the audience. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

Nashulai means, “a place that unites all of use people, wildlife, and livestock in common hope for a better world, today and in the future”. Nashulai offers an array of social projects that benefit the Maasai community. Among those projects are: 1.) Nashulai Academy – subsidized education for adolescent girls and a safe house for girls avoiding FGM and early marriage, 2.) Community Water Project –  clean water retrieval system from the spring which reduces the distance to fetch water and incidences of waterborne diseases, 3.) Tourism for Social Change – two safari camps where many proceeds support community projects, 4.) Sekenani River Restoration Project – rejuvenation of the main river that support the Maasai community, 5.) Nashulai Cultural Training Centre – knowledge center to preserve indigenous practices of the Maasai, and 6.) Cattle Breeding Project – ecologically sustainable project to support the Boran and Zebu herds of the region, and 7.) Stories Café – upcoming facility where Maasai elders can manage and pass on local culture to the youth.

This is a picture from the event with an audience member asking the speakers a question.
Audience member engaging with the Reiyas. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

Particularly within these remarkable endeavors are the Women Empowerment Projects which address anti-FGM, creating lady pads, education, an ambulance for expecting mothers, soap making, and a drama theater club. These efforts highlight the human rights fundamentals to support the education and autonomy of girls and women. Additionally, Nashulai’s ecological efforts demonstrate the need to protect vulnerable environments that threatened by habitat destruction and wildlife depopulation. In sum, Nashulai’s community-based conservation model conveys the importance of ground-up human rights approaches that reject external influence and place community first.

If you would like to support Nashulai Maasai Conservancy, please follow this link.

Do Resolutions Really Work?

by Grace NdanuJanuary

a list of tasks with check marks
Source: Yahoo Images

At the end of every year until the beginning of a new year, I have always been listening to the same message which is said by everyone. Everybody talks about how they are going to do great things in the coming year and that they are going to do what they never did during the year that just ended. At the beginning of every year people write resolutions; that is, the list of what they would like to have accomplished at the end of the year. And now allow me to take this on a higher notch. Do people include humanity points in their list? Is there a point that says, “feed some street families, foster a kid for a few weeks, volunteer in an orphanage and also involve in a activism movement”? This gets me so motivated, and I run to my diary to put down my resolutions.

Now I don’t have to tell you the shock that I find every December when I get back to my diary to see whether that which I put down on paper at the beginning of the year has come to pass. It really pains me that each time I go back to revisit my resolutions, I am still on the same page as the year started. As I listen or read news in the newspaper, there are cases that involve people that need to be shown some love. This is what motivates us to write some resolutions at the beginning of every year. But what really matters is…did we get to know someone or make someone smile as we promised ourselves we would?

It always go back to procrastination and we all know it’s a thief of time…getting to actually commit to your resolutions is really hard. The excitement makes us think that we can actually do what we have written down in a jiffy. I have had some little meetings with myself several times, and I came to a conclusion that resolutions are like trying to change my life for the better and at the same time make someone forget their sorrows and at least smile for a while. But change is not easy, and we should actually try to define resolution as change. Taking a step to a better you will require a willing mind, a willing heart, commitment and sacrifices.

Do we really need to share out the resolutions that we come up with at the start of the year with our confidants? No, I don’t think so! I really don’t understand who else should have a look at my diary or have the information that is inside my diary apart from me who I own it. I strongly feel that I am the one to work on what I really want just like any other person who has visions and as a result every one wrote their resolutions and should work towards accomplishing their resolutions.

As the year goes by and February sets in, reality also sets in. I wrote what I wanted that year but is there is no a hint of progress. This really hits me so hard and start thinking maybe I should go back to the list and may be do some changes on what I had written, or I should at least wait a little bit longer to see what happens or maybe I should just terminate the list and just go by the flow with an excuse of, I am busy and I will do it whenever I get some time. Others have an excuse of not forcing things and just wait for that time to come and they precise it to be magical, for me I feel like it is luck of commitment and sometime I may call it selfishness.

As I said earlier, the news is everywhere. There are cases that makes us sad. It hurts me so much when I recall of a certain girl who was recently raped, killed and dumped by a known politician. When the story was aired in all forms of media, everyone was very angry because of the incidence, the politician was caught and taken to court. After a week everyone forgot what had just happened and they were back to their businesses. Up until now I still don’t get how it just went. Because the politician was set free. Where is everybody who thinks that they are advocates against Gender Based Violence? There are only 16 days that are set for activism. Why shouldn’t these days be everyday instead of just writing things that we will never take seriously?

Allow me to challenge those who are in charge of spearheading Human Rights in Kenya. I do appreciate the Human Rights authorities who have their five year strategic plan that is 2018-2022. They have passed their first test. However what are some of their accomplishments for the two years that have gone by? Have they been able to implement that which they had discussed or the plans are just good on paper and nothing is been done about it. For instance the Kenya National commission on Human Rights had promised to put measures that are going to prevent abuses, improve on their investigations and put those who infringe on other people’s rights behind bars. I really don’t know how to put this across and tell you that there are so many people out here who go scot free after they have done heinous acts. Men and women who are fond of raping young boys and girls are still not locked up. When you ask the reason behind this, you will be told that there was no enough evidence to prove the rape case and even when there is enough evidence to lock up them, the judges get bribed and the story is swept under the carpet.

a group of young children help push a man in a wheelchair up a dirt road
Source: Yahoo Images

Do you even believe in resolutions? Do you even write something at the beginning of every year? If you do does the year end when you are satisfied? If nothing came to pass is it the same list that you are going to use in the following year, or are you going to change your list to something that you think is easy for you to accomplish? Nothing comes easy, there must be a struggle in order to archive what you really fill is important and more of helping others.

What Will It Take to End Child Marriage in Your Country?

by Grace Ndanu

The silhouette of a young girl with her head hanging low in her lap
Source: Pixabay

Justice is coming! As I continue growing old I keep asking myself, why child marriage? Is it really necessary? And if not, what do I or we have to do about it? I understand that child marriage is a result of male dominance at large. I think it’s best if we bring men on board first. Working with men can be very effective in reducing child marriage if not ending it. It will help to change ideas and behaviors, especially dealing with patriarchal attitudes. Once men are on board, they can use their influence to pave the way for positive change.

Adults have groups where they get to share what they are going through. Children also need safe spaces in schools. This will help them build their confidence and trust amongst themselves and also with their teachers. I’m sure there are girls who wouldn’t have gone through early marriage if they had a chance to escape. But they didn’t. Simply they didn’t have anyone to tell regarding what their parents were planning for them. This is why they need that space, it’s the window to their success.

Corruption has deep roots in my country, Kenya. For example, I would like to know where funds meant for educating less fortunate girls go. Culture is not the only reason for early marriage, but also poverty. There are girls who sacrifice themselves to go get married in an effort to reduce a burden on their parents. It has come to my notice that the leaders or people responsible for the education funds tend to accuse these girls of bad behaviour, but they are trying their level best to do what is right. Can’t the funds holders use the funds to educate the girls instead of them using the funds for their own benefits?

Not all problems are solved through fighting. Why shouldn’t we mingle? As they explain why early marriage we have a chance to convince them how early marriage is harmful and the advantages of not doing it. At some point there will be some girls listening, them knowing the advantages of not being married off, they will always want to go for their success and thus they will always report whatever harmful plan is made for them.

I don’t know who is with me! I consider myself as the second doubting Thomas. If am not sure of what am told I will ask for a success story if not stories. The girls who escaped the scandal of early marriage should be advised to go back to their communities and villages. The parents will be so proud until they will shout for the whole community to hear and come and see. Other parents would want their daughters to come home successful and hence they may change their attitudes towards early marriage. On the other hand there will be role models for little girls and the whole society.

Wiki yangu na Kenya

My week spent in Kenya was amazing and profound, yet I find myself at a loss for words when trying to describe my time there.” I have been told that I am not a good storyteller. Details of the stories I tell that seem crucial to me turn out to be utterly unimportant to others, often causing them to lose interest and miss the significance of my experiences. Upon my return from a week-long study abroad trip to Kenya, I was asked all the predictable questions that one receives after a travel excursion: What did you do? How was it? Did you love it? Will you return? Can you tell me more about your trip? These are the questions that I cannot answer…how do I summarize a week’s worth of moments into interesting, well-constructed narratives that completely capture the beauty and wealth of knowledge I learned while away?

The truth is I can’t, so I don’t,  leaving both me and my friends unsatisfied. So when my professor who led the trip to Kenya reminded us of our living dictionary assignment, my plan began to take form. The Living Dictionary assignment was to select words in Swahili and translate them to English and turn in that list of words we had collected while there. Nelson, who started the camp and worked tirelessly to coordinate our trip and helped me translate the words for my Living Dictionary. This is not a commonly used phrase – in the United States or otherwise, so it took Nelson a minute to compose it. My mind starting whirling as to how I could take the assignment and make it into an art project. I realized that each day of my trip could be summarized into two Swahili words, and those words could tell the stories of my trip, along with accompanying the artwork.

While I was in Kenya, I chose nine words and phrases to tell the stories of my experience. Then I created images to accompany the words using different art mediums. These phrases and words were translated for me by the people I met while I was in Kenya. I found it liberating to express my experiences through creativity, and then use those art pieces to tell a story of my time abroad. Organizing my thoughts through the words and pictures ordered the information I shared. Reflecting on my week in Kenya, I knew there was some core knowledge I had observed while there that left an impact on me, I wanted to leave an impact with this art.

Kamuzu ambayo ni hai “Living Dictionary”

The watercolor is inspired specifically by an image from the safari we took; however, it also represents the vibrancy of color in the Kenyan landscape. We spent a majority of our time in Kenya out in the Maasai Mara, which is about four hours from Nairobi. There we stayed at Oldarpoi Camp, a sustainable tourism camp run by the community for the community. On the safari, I saw animals in their environment and on their own terms. The land and animals there are demonstrating an authentic ecosystem, something I have never seen firsthand before. My lion and elephant viewing could be confined to the zoo, but the safari was the antithesis of the zoo. There were no glass windows separating the animals from the observer, nor regularly scheduled feeding times. It was as if I stepped into a city where the skyscrapers were trees and sidewalks were flowers and bushes. Like any great city my presence did not interrupt its typical course, nor will my individual presence ever be remembered by the occupants. The natural beauty of this place never failed to leave an impression on me.

Moja & Billie (Mbili) “One” & “Two”

The image I chose to depict these words was inspired by all of the nights I spent looking out from the window above my bed. I could always see the milky way, and it was an unreal, magical sight that I have never been able to appreciate while in the States. Looking up at the universe I saw light and contrast that I cannot name or begin to understand. I could not tell you why stars burn in the night or the difference between celestial planets, but that does not mean I cannot appreciate it. I ended each day in Kenya grateful and full of love for all that I had seen and learned, even if I had not yet begun to process it. Like this trip, those evenings staring at the expanse was a singular experience The highlight of my evening was when I picked out Orion’s belt, a constellation made of three stars. It was so clear and easy to pick out that I wanted to add it into this piece.

On our first day in Kenya, as we were driving out to the Mara, we stopped on the side of the road at a shop. There, I met Joseph, who taught me how to count in Swahili. This is the first of many instances where my English ears did not hear or understand the nuances of the language. Two in Swahili is spelled “mbili,” but to my ears, it always sounded like “billie.” Language was an important tool to use when making a connection with others in Kenya. I often did not speak the same language as them, but something I have found to be true everywhere, in the United States and Kenya, was that others are eager to teach. Never once did I ask how to say or spell something in Swahili and the response was “No.” Each time, the person gleefully and patiently waited with me as I stumbled over sounds trying to repeat what they were teaching me. Not only did I learn Swahili words from this, but I learned the power of teaching and how it provides connection and bonds with humans.

Sawa Sawa & Twende “Ok? Ok!” & “Let’s go!”

During our trip, Sam and Joel not only drove us all over the country but also became our friends and guides. They fearlessly leading us all over the Mara through a safari. They knew so much about the creatures we were seeing. They knew where they would spend time and were able to find the best spots for viewing. Whenever we would stop to look at an animal, Sam would ask us, “Ok?” and we would all respond “Ok!” letting him know we were ready to move on. Sam was an expert driver and wild animal spotter as we witnessed many animals such as lions, giraffes, zebras, and warthogs in their natural habitat.

Much of the way people make money is through tourism, and often the safaris and the promise of animals is what brings the tourists. In order to see the animals up close, it is vital that you respect and understand their patterns and habits.

Sopa & Asanti (Asante)“Hi” “Hey” Hello” & “Thank you”

A majority of people that I met while in Kenya were able to speak three languages: English, Swahili, and their local dialect. We were staying in the Maasai lands where they speak Maa, which is that region’s local language. A common greeting for them is “Sopa” or hello. When we first arrived at the Oldarpoi camp, we were greeted by the people sharing their culture and traditions with us. They always warmly welcomed us with a friendly “Sopa”. When beginning to learn a new language it seems that some of the first phrases you pick up are how to welcome and how to be grateful. This made “Thank you” a vital phrase, and gratitude a universal concept, which is one of the most insightful realizations I had while in Kenya. I might not speak the same language as them, or fully understand their culture, but there are mutual understandings of humanity that persist across cultural boundaries. The sound of children laughing and playing is the same in any country. Friends teaching each other popular dances is the same in any country. Being grateful for life and connection is the same in any country. Asanti, or Asante as it is correctly spelled, was given freely and frequently during our time there. How could it not be? We had so much to be grateful for.

We we ni rafike yangu & Nakupenda“You are my friend” & “I love you”

On the first afternoon of our arrival in the Maasai Mara, we asked the warriors if they could show us around the camp. There was a village below where we stayed and as we were walking down the road the children were arriving home from school. We stopped and began to talk to these bright and inquisitive children. They drew their names in the dirt, as well as an outline of Kenya with a star where they lived. They wrote out long division problems with a stick to test my “college education”. The children giggled as they posed for photos and excitedly crowded the cameras. They opened their home, their lands, and their hearts to us without hesitation.

It was important to me that there was not a white savior mentality on this trip. I personally think that not only is the idea or concept of entering a foreign country and being a “savior” detrimental to the community, but also spreads this harmful to other Westerners considering trips to Africa. Dr. Stacy Moak and Dr. Tina Reuter, the professors who led this trip, ensured that we worked collaboratively with those in the community to provide them with the resources they needed. Change in a community does not come from a group of students visiting for one week. Members of the community are the true agents for change, and to have an opportunity to learn from them is an unforgettable experience. In many depictions of non-Western countries, the people are displayed in images of despair and poverty. This fuels the white savior complex but placing pity on these countries and the utmost need for a Westernized hero. Is there despair and poverty in Kenya? Yes. Is there despair and poverty in the United States? Yes. Regardless of where we are, considering what the photos you take and share are actually depicting is a measurable action you can take. Does the photo reflect the strength of the person? Does it treat humans in the photo as entertainment only? When someone is wanting to use imagery to advocate and empower for change, is the photo reflecting the true nature of its subject, or whatever sensationalized image will get the most emotional response?

I can’t speak to all the plights of the Kenyan people, nor can I summarize everyone who lives there within a week of being there; all I know is what I observed from my week-long trip: The people I met in Kenya are smart. They are curious. They are happy. They are resilient. Maybe if others had more opportunity to engage with non-Western worlds in an accurate and authentic way some of the negative mentalities and complexes surrounding how we view the rest of the world would begin to be transformed. I was fortunate to get physical proximity to the people of Kenya and the characteristics they exhibit, and hopefully, the visuals I shared will begin to give others a sort of pseudo-proximity to the humanity in all.

The Evolution of How I Defined a Global Citizen

Maasai warriors
Maasai warriors. Photo by Emma Laurence.

As the world has grown smaller, and the global economy and policies have pushed their way to the focus of peoples concerns, many citizens have altered their attention from the nation to the globe, defining themselves to be a global citizen. Since the introduction of social media, I have seen how easy it is to know what is happening around the world. With easy access to international information, I have seen more of my own generation focus on what they can do to help people on the international stage. Specifically, when my friends and I began deciding what we wanted to study as undergraduates, we were not focused solely on what we wanted to do but also how we could use our major to help others around the world. We would consider ourselves to be global citizens. What does it mean to be a global citizen?

Over spring break 2019, I traveled with the UAB Social Work Department along with Dr. Stacy Moak and Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter to Kenya. While we were there to work on projects that centered around a multitude of social work topics, I learned what it means to be a global citizen and how my definition of that changed throughout the trip. Before leaving for Kenya, I considered myself a global citizen, but I was not certain about what it meant to be one. From my experience in traveling, I defined a global citizen to be someone who understood that there were cultures and communities outside their own community that should be appreciated.

Before the class began, my knowledge of African culture was limited to what I saw in movies like the Lion King and Black Panther. During the class we prepared for our trip by creating lessons on our projects, expanding our knowledge about Kenyan culture, and preparing supplies to take to the groups we were meeting in Kenya. This knowledge helped me establish a basis of understanding for the communities we would be visiting. As part of our class, we read My Maasai Life: From Suburbia to Savannah by Robin Wiszowaty which educated me on many Swahili and Maa words as well as specific cultural details within the Maasai Mara. We also had a lesson on human rights and what should be available to all humans. This lesson opened my eyes to a part of global citizenship that I had not thought of because of my little education on human rights. To help communities around the globe, I must know what’s going on in international and national legislation to know where those human rights are being violated or taken away. This knowledge grants the ability and responsibility to work towards a better world where everyone has their basic rights as a human.

Emma and the Maasai women sitting in a circle having conversation
Photo by Emma Laurence

Before this trip, I had believed that this understanding would be enough to establish an appreciation for the community of the Maasai Mara. While I did appreciate the culture, I soon realized that fully experiencing a community is far more important than learning from documentaries and online sources. The experience that creates a deep connection towards communities of the world is one that is achievable when you focus on the people around you. Throughout our time in the Maasai Mara, my definition for a global citizen was redefined. From getting to go inside a Maasai community to doing beadwork with some of the hardworking Maasai mothers, I began to create relationships within the community, some even without a common language to speak.

One afternoon the students and professors sat down with the Maasai women to learn how to make soap and do beadwork, we had learned that these women used these skills to make money for their families. The woman who was tasked with trying to teach me how to do the beadwork was very patient and kind, and we didn’t even speak more than a few words to each other. I know little to no Swahili or Maa, and the woman knew no English. We were able to find a way to establish a friendship through unspoken communication, involving a lot of laughter at my inability to put beads on a string. It seemed impossible before I came to Kenya to establish a friendship with someone who came from a vastly different culture and background from mine especially if there is no common language spoken. I quickly from the trip that not only can you form relationships with people from all walks of life, but they are necessary to understand and fully appreciate the communities you visit when traveling.

While at Cara, a women’s rescue facility outside of Nairobi, I learned more about the role that I play in communities around the world. As we sat around a table where students were discussing social work practices with the counselors at Cara, I saw how the exchange between communities is important as well. We learned that the women at Cara, had the experience to help the young ladies in their facility but they needed supplies, as well as some specific lessons, plans that they hoped we could develop later for them as a future project. This exchange taught me that first, to help a community, you must be told what they need from the community itself, you cannot interpret this yourself. As an outsider in a community, I would never know what people need; therefore, by being told by the community, our group was able to help with the specific needs of the community. Second, as a global citizen, my role is not to go into communities and change them to look more like mine. My community is not always right. Therefore, you must communicate and exchange information to meet the community where they are at. Thus, I redefined a global citizen to be someone who sought out friendships so that they could enhance their love for a community and exchange knowledge to put in place future projects that would aid members of the community.

a group photo of the team from UAB
Photo by Emma Laurence

Once I returned from Kenya and quickly fell into my daily routine as a student, I found that a few more things about how I was defining a global citizen changed. The definition is not simple or short because to be a citizen of the globe involves a lot of thought and appreciate as well as work. As a global citizen, it is important to create relationships in a community to see the community as your own because as a global citizen your community is the globe. This leads to the service aspect of a global citizen. Because these communities are part of your community, you must work to help those communities where they need it, if that need is established from the community itself, while working to preserve the beauty of the culture within the area. It is your responsibility to make sure the people in your global community have the rights they deserve as a human. Therefore, you must say up to date on current events surrounding legislation around the globe especially when that legislation infringes on human rights.

While I was only able to spend a week working on the projects, my trip will be able to impact how I see myself in the world for years to come. I know now what my job is as a global citizen and how I can do that job to the best of my ability. I hope soon more people will see their role as a global citizen so we can move towards furthering knowledge for the different cultures around the globe, access to human rights for all, the exchange between communities, and international friendships.

WILL MY STORY AND HOW AM PLANNING TO HELP THOSE WITH THE SAME PROBLEM EVER RULE THE WORLD?

by Grace Ndanu

Over spring break 2019, UAB students traveled to Kenya with Dr. Stacy Moak, Professor of Social Work, and Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter, Director of the UAB Institute for Human Rights. They visited CARA Girls Rescue Center where they met Grace, a student and former resident at CARA [she is behind the lady in the orange dress]. Below is Grace’s narrative which includes sexual violence. 

Photo by Stacy Moak

As humans, we are born to expect much than to face reality. We come to learn that everything has a purpose.

I was born in 1998 and raised by a single mother till 28th November 2004, where I got a daddy who I thought was loving and caring. Instead, he became a monster. Before my sister who was born in 22nd November 2005, the man started beating me for no reason and not just a child beat, it was a criminal beat whereby he used an electric wire to beat me up. As a child, I expected my mom to get in between and talk to her husband about the matter. My expectations became a fantasy and the beating became a habit. In 2006 in grade 4, I was supposed to go for tuition on weekends, but instead, I was forced to stay with my little sister at home so that my mom can go for work or church meeting. When I refused I was given a thorough beat and asked why I didn’t love my baby sister.

Sometimes the man volunteered to stay with the baby but insisted I remain so that I will help him with the baby. His agenda was opposite and he started molesting me. He started touching my private parts and when he knew it was time for mom to come back, he beat me up so that I should not say. As this was going on, we had a male neighbor who was doing the same as what my dad was doing but didn’t beat me. Until one Sunday, I refused to go to church and now I was left with the neighbor in the compound where he got a chance to rape me and asked me to keep quiet. Later in the evening, I decided to open up to my mom and she said that I was lying. She talked with my dad about the issue and they decided to ask the neighbor. Definitely, he denied. From this point, my parents started calling me a liar. This made my dad more comfortable in continuing what he was doing to me that is threatening me and sexually harassing me. This was still going on and my little sister grew up knowing I was a bad girl. It came to a point where anything happened to her she would say it is me.

a group photo of Grace and two of her friends
Photo by Grace Ndanu

On 22 April 2008, I got a baby brother and now I felt my life was at the peak. I didn’t want to live anymore and attempted three suicides. God remained faithful and kept me alive. It was on the second term of my grade 6 and I was transferred from a private to a public school which was 8km away from home. I was forced to walk all the way and come back home remember no lunch for me. In 2009, it was time for my sister to join [to go to] school. She was brought to the school I was which made my life more and more difficult because I carried the girl at my back every morning to school. My going to school late and tired became a habit and whenever I raised the issue, I was beaten and threatened that I will not join high school. I faced rejection, hatred, insult, and isolation. My brother and sister were growing knowing am the baddest person on earth. I went to a different church from the family so that I can come back home and do the house chores at this time. I was not allowed to stay with my siblings become it was believed I had no good intentions towards them.

In 2010, a church friend of my mom noticed she hasn’t seen me for a while and decided to visit us at home. She asked me if am fine and my response was positive but she was not convinced. She decided to pay my school fees and she ordered that I go back to my previous school. My dad was not happy and started accusing me of witchcraft, asking ‘why it is only me and not any other person.’ At this point, I decided to run from home – hoping after five years of tears and pain, I will come to my rescue. I didn’t know where to go but I started my journey in February on a Tuesday. I boarded a bus to a place called Kiserian and another one to Nairobi. I had no money but I reached Nairobi. I stayed in Nairobi for three days without food, just loitering and later I decided to call my mom with a stranger’s phone and she came to my rescue. The following Monday I was taken to school. I tried being strong by working hard but my life was miserable until I was through with my primary school. I promised myself that I will not live any longer and attempted another two suicides; I found myself alive.

I was enrolled in high school in 2011 which made me happy but inside I was dying. I knew the battle isn’t over yet because, during the holidays, I would go home. [In Kenya, most high schools are boarding schools.] My first holiday that was in April, I went home and this gave my dad a chance to rape me. He threatened me with a knife that if I said he will kill me. After four weeks, I went back to school. While in school, I started developing ulcers and depression. I started falling sick each day and this forced me to go home. While my mother was nursing me, I opened up to her about what dad was doing. [I thought she would defend me but] It came out the opposite and she defended her husband. She told me that I was lying. Later that evening she told the man what I told her during the day. The man denied and told my mom that I am cursed and that she should let me get married because I was a grown up at 13 years. I got well and went back to school. I got more depressed and started fainting. One of the teachers realized that nothing was going well with me. She decided to call me and ask me [about] the problem. I opened up to her. She went ahead and explained the matter to the principal. The principal made an arrangement of visiting a counselor and a doctor at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. I started the medication together with the counseling sessions which was of great help.

a photo of Grace
CARA. Photo by Grace Ndanu

The principal did not only helped me get well. She also [helped me] find a good home for me at the Cara Girls Rescue Center. The center took good care of me and they also counselled me. After some weeks, I had no one to pay my school fees there. I was transferred to AIC girls where I would get a sponsor and continue with my studies. After I got someone to support me, I went back to Cara Girls Rescue Center where I am till date. Being suffered for eight good years–my all childhood life has been a hell. There was no love, no care, and no mercy even from my own mother. I promised myself that I will never allow any child or anyone go through what I went through. Through this, I have always admired to be a Gender and Development CEO. I am working towards the goal. I am in my second year of studying in Gender, Women, and Development Studies. I have joined Egerton University Human Rights Club and an organization, Family Health Options Kenya, which deals with sexual health. It involves educating peers about sex and what they should do when their rights are violated. In the future, I am planning to do a Masters in Gender, Peace, and Security. I must ensure children especially the ones living with their stepparents to have full access of their mental peace, and the young girls and women who can’t raise their voices. I aspire to give people light and hope and reasons to enjoy their lives. I have realised I never enjoyed life. I just lived because it was a must but now it is time to live in reality. This is what am supposed to do: make people live the reality life, the life they deserve and deal with the ones that come in between their peace, joy, happiness and their rights.

I believe I am an agent for change. I must bring a change AND WE WILL RULE THE WORLD.

If you would like for girls like Grace to stay in school, please consider donating to our LadyPad project, during the UAB Giving Day Campaign, by using this link https://www.uab.edu/givingday/?cfpage=project&project_id=27174