“But We Need Water!”
March 1, 2013
Coming to Africa always puts me in a reflective state. Sometimes I feel sullen and hopeless, but mostly it’s an experience that balances and cleanses my spirit. It reminds me of our fragility and grit, of our failures and victories. I am always open to the wisdom gained from stripping away the things that are “normal” to us in the Western world and all that we take for granted. I always amazed by the paradox I perceive within those who have been abused: they have seen the depths of deprivation and yet I witness their pure, unadulterated joy and gratitude.
I have become a warrior for women and children of violence. My own experiences of sexual abuse and violence push me to do the right thing, to use my voice, to advocate for awareness and change. I believe that one day at a time, something will change – we’ll evolve as human beings, we’ll learn compassion and understanding – and the test is remaining present to the atrocities and finding the willingness to be adaptable the deeper I go. I’ve realized on my journey that what I thought was true or “the answer” is far from the target. I am humble and open to more learning, and yet I often feel so small within such an enormous dilemma. When I encounter those moments – and there are many – I show love. There is not a cure or any simple answers right now.
This 2013 stay in Kenya has been another experiment of trial and error. The ability to raise money to influence change and awareness around gender based violence is challenging. I don’t know if speaking candidly about rapes of women and children is so raw and disgusting that people turn their heads to shut it out, or are we desensitized, or in denial? Even in my own country, presumably a leader in the world, violence against women is a controversial issue. Uninformed leaders in our government minimize and ignore the cries for help and try to create policies for what is right and wrong for women. This makes every cell in my body scream with rage. I am here in a third world country, dedicating my time, money and efforts to try to be part of the solution. I’m embarrassed to admit that these issues and lack of support not only exist in the US, but are seemingly sliding backward there. I do not have answers, but I refuse to give up.
What I’ve learned on this trip has turned my well-meaning solutions upside down. We drove 5 hours from Kenya to Isiolo, an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp north of Nairobi. We sat with community leaders, pastors, and women and children from the region. Their echoed response was, “We need water”! When questioned about gender based violence in the home and their community, they responded, “Yes, of course! But we need water”! Disease, death, lack of crops, and family splintering due to members leaving in search of food and water was the prevailing message. I understand a new paradigm that children, wives, and sisters are being forced into transactional sex for food and water, and thus gender based violence isn’t the priority – staying alive is. We need water! The silence and humility engulf my soul and I see I have lost grasp once again of how to help them.
In the region of Lodwar, where I have worked tirelessly to raise funds for a GBV resource center, the learning curve shoves me back to the beginning. I am able to see that jumping ahead to a resource center may be futile. Further assessment indicates that the empowerment of women should rightly begin by putting in a sustainable agriculture project. Providing these families with consistent food and water is necessary before delving into the problems of rape and violence. I drop my head in my hands, recognizing my discovery: there are more pressing things to address than rape and violence and little girls being sex trafficked.
The Kenya Gender Based Violence Partnership consists of UNICEF, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Tough Angels, SAI, and 2 faith based organizations. We are all combining efforts to install a women’s sustainable agriculture project, a GBV trauma center, and a therapeutic resource center. The solar powered water system has been installed and is operational on 50 acres of land. The next phase involves raising funds for the fence, seeds and trees, tools, and piping for drip irrigation. The project will feed 700 families, giving the women a means to support and feed their children, elevate their cultural status, and empower them as influential members in a patriarchal society.
With the irrigation system, quality of the soil, and the location, 4 harvests a year can be expected. Once the agriculture phase is complete, focus will then become the GBV resource center.
I remain a vigilant advocate for women and children. I know my work will not end. I believe it was Alice Walker who said the day needs to come when rape is as foreign and reprehensible to men as cannibalism. We aren’t even close – so we continue chipping away at the ignorance, refusal to acknowledge, and the absence of honoring one another as sacred human beings.
I will do all that I can.