It’s hard to put into words what today was like. It isn’t one I’ll soon forget.
The all female group I’m traveling with on this trip, there are 17 of us, packed into our three vehicles and traveled about 15 km down the road from our tented camp towards the Olmalaika Home. This would be the first real on the ground outreach our foundation would be doing on the trip. We were all a little anxious and certainly excited to meet the girls and learn about their existence here.
My mom, who again is the head of our foundation, introduced us to the beautiful man with the brightest eyes and deepest laugh. Dr. Marcos would be our leader for the day. He explained the history of the school to us, who these precious girls are, and why our visit would be so meaningful. In a nutshell, the girls at Olmalaika have been rescued from their communities because many of them were suffering from lack of education, extreme poverty, and the majority of them victims of Female Genital Mutilation. This cultural tradition if you are unfamiliar, is very controversial. Most see this as a barbaric, painful, demeaning practice and want to see it eradicated. But believe it or not, even the grown women within the community sometimes encourage this act because it means their daughters are more valuable. If they’ve been circumsized then they can be married. If they are desirable for marriage, then the families receive money and/or a number of cows (which are considered sacred and valuable here). I am no expert on this subject but this is my understanding as of now.
What transpired when we got to the school was beautiful in every way. The girls sang for us and then we broke into groups and experienced life as they know it. We washed clothes with them, helped them prepare lunch, participated in beadwork, and fetched water from the river. I spent most of my time washing clothes and whoa, I mean, what a wimp I am. These girls were bent over in the heat, laser focused on the task before them and washed the clothes in an assembly line fashion that they had down to a science. I kept imagining how my boys would do at this chore and sorry, but they wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. Their mother was struggling herself! The girls go about their work without complaint, smiling, talking, and this time mostly giggling at my poor technique.
I believe I mentioned we are making a documentary about our travels, directed and produced by Women Like Us board member, the incomparable Sally Colon Petree. So while we were there at the home I conducted a few interviews. First, with Faith, the girl with the voice of an angel. She is the song leader and has one of the most amazing voices I’ve ever heard. She is 12 years old and bravely shared her story with me. Mostly about her life before the Olmalaika Home and her life now. She made it painfully clear that in her past life she couldn’t receive an education. Her father died when she was small and her single mother couldn’t pay for her schooling. Faith wants to be a doctor and believes within her soul that this is her right, her future. She is highly disciplined in her every move but also one of the warmest humans I’ve ever come in contact with. Her story didn’t make me sad, but so hopeful.
Next I interviewed 14 year old Jacquelyn. What a stunningly beautiful and very tall girl. She had only been at the home a year and a half. She was a victim of FGM and told me that she only remembered bits of the procedure as it literally is so painful I believe she blocks out the memory. She too didn’t know her father and needed refuge from her earlier life with no education and no future other than being “married off” like so many. She, like so many of the girls, wants to go to school. She wants to learn. She understands that an education is her power. She and the others are so grateful for this protected sanctuary that is bit by bit empowering them and promising brighter days. What I didn’t expect while interviewing Jacquelyn was to “lose it”. I started crying and I think it may have spooked her a little. What I explained was that my tears weren’t ones of pity, but tears of hope. I saw the light around this child and was just so emotional about the possibilities for her. I explained to her that she could do it, she will do it, and to hold tightly to the hope of what will be.
As the day wrapped up my mom thanked the girls for sharing Olmalaika with us and presented them with the supplies we had brought to share. Our donations - collected by many generous people back in the US - included tooth brushes, toothpaste, new underwear, hair ties, and lovely butterfly back packs filled with supplies inside. (A very special thank you to Leon Rubin from Office Depot for his continued support of the Women Like Us Foundation and our causes.)
A huge thank you to the woman who had the determination and drive to bring this place to life. Kim Dewitt of Global Village Ministries, you ARE an angel. Your work has inspired us all.
I think the girls had fun today. I know we are forever changed.