This year’s International Day of the Girl was observed through a fundraiser that raised awareness for a group in Kenya. The evening hosted musical and dance performances as well as information about the program that inspired it. The event follows on a two-year-old resolution by the United Nations, which declared October 11 as International Day of the Girl
International Day of the Girl is designated to promote the rights of girls and to raise awareness about gender inequality worldwide. This year on October 11th support was garnered for a secondary school for girls in Kenya through a fundraiser at Malden High School in Massachusetts. The event raised funds for Acacia in Kenya (AIK), a small non-profit dedicated to help disadvantaged girls in Western Kenya.
Kenya is located on the coast of the Indian Ocean, at the equator in East Central Africa. Most recently published figures for Kenya’s a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is $994 (in U.S. dollars, 2013). This represents the value of goods produced per person within the country. In contrast, the U.S. GDP per capita is $52,800.
The Saturday evening International Day of the Girl fundraiser was opened by host Danielle Hanson, a Malden resident, and member of the Board of Directors of AIK. She was wearing a beautiful outfit from Pakistan in honor of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign for education.
Acacia in Kenya got its name in honor of the acacia tree, which is a powerful symbol in Africa. With its meshed branches, the tree illustrates how dreams that seem out of reach can be attained. The key is the interconnectedness of the branches, which symbolize how people are part of one another and that through joint efforts, dreams can come true.
The acacia tree is also a symbol of what can happen when values are imposed upon a continent. In the 19th century, rather than work with the local Masai in their practice for cattle grazing, British colonialists cut down the acacia trees because their moist undersides were a breeding ground for the Tsetse fly.
When British funds were diverted towards the war effort during World War II, the number of Tsetse increased dramatically. No local Masai solution could repair the damage that had been done.
The history of Acacia in Kenya started when Joyce Mohr, a tax accountant who had been interested in East Africa, met Sammy Lutomia, who was ready to return home to Kenya after an 18-month project with a Kenya-U.S. youth mission. Sammy eventually immigrated to the U.S. and his family in Mumias, Kenya helps to manage operations on the ground there.
From the beginning, AIK made it part of their goal to not impose Western ideas or authority. Instead they work as partners to support community-led sustainable development. Every other summer Joyce and Sammy travel back to Mumias, Kenya. The next trip is in 2015.
In 2005 AIK was founded in partnership with a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Massachusetts, First Parish Waltham. In that year, the organization opened a secondary school for girls, St. Elizabeth Lureko Girls’ School. Its intent was to provide a high school education and daily meals for an initial enrollment of 18 girls.
Following their senior year, students in Kenya take graduate exams to be considered for acceptance into college. In 2008, with the help of donations, Acacia in Kenya sponsored college education for the student with the highest score. Saida graduated with honors even though she had the disadvantage of being an orphan. Sammy says that Saida has taken care of the cycle of poverty that International Day of the Girl seeks to address.
International Day of the Girl brought focus to the fundraiser as well as increasing awareness of the needs of girls in Kenya. The Saturday evening event included a screening of the documentary Graceland Girls, which taught that “if you empower a girl, you empower a mother whose children then benefit.”
“Once you empower a person academically and spiritually, they will be empowered for life.” Citing Nelson Mandela, the Graceland school principal calls its graduates’ path a miracle, stating that now they can have a decent job, get married, and give back to the community. This is the mission of the International Day of the Girl.
In 2012 Acacia in Kenya received non-profit status. Its mission is to provide the support necessary to increase services for the school. AIK works in partnership with community leaders in rural Mumias, Western Kenya in the care and education of high school girls, many of whom had been orphaned as a result of AIDS.
International Day of the Girl brings focus to the plight of girls across the world. Those without access to financial means are the least likely to have access to education.
Education, as well as basic medical and social services that make school attendance possible, are central to the well-being not only of these girls, but to the entire community. The girls at St. Elizabeth Lureko Girls’ School clearly understand what’s at stake in terms of excelling in their studies.
In 2013 AIK developed funds to build both a library and a dormitory for St. Elizabeth students. This was important because the girls faced a dangerous daily walk to school. International Day of the Girl discusses issues of gender violence and education drop-out for girls. Walking along the road is very risky for females.
At the completion of the dormitory project, the number of girls in the program doubled. In 2014 the school can now accommodate more than 150 students and there is increased desire of girls to attend. For this reason, a second dormitory is now being built to create a safe environment for the students.
In addition to the dormitory, one of the results of funding has been scholarships for postsecondary education. It is the hope of Acacia in Kenya that more girls will follow the path of Saida.
The Acacia in Kenya event on Saturday was hosted in Malden, which has an international population of nearly 40 percent. Students in the public schools come from around 50 different nations in the world. The October 11th benefit, held on the International Day of the Girl, not only raised funds and awareness, it also brought inspiration and motivation to this Massachusetts city.
Acacia in Kenya video
By Fern Remedi-Brown
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Acacia in Kenya website
United Nations Day of the Girl
Graceland Girls Documentary