Tag Archives: Samburu Girls Foundation
In January, several members of the Too Young to Wed team had the privilege of conducting an Adolescent Girls Photography Workshop with some incredible young women in Kenya, all of whom had escaped child marriage. In honor of today’s International Women’s Day, we’d like to share the following piece about that experience, which was first published by National Geographic and reprinted with their permission.
“Every two seconds a girl is married,” says photographer Stephanie Sinclair, who’s going on her 14th year of documenting the issue of child marriage. The issue has gained traction in the global conversation, but Sinclair knows that the girls affected need help now. “We have to make sure we’re reaching them on the ground,” she says. “It’s really important to walk the talk.”
In an effort to do that, Sinclair started a nonprofit, Too Young to Wed, in 2012. Just a few weeks ago it partnered with Fuji Film and the Samburu Girls Foundation (SGF)—an organization that rescues vulnerable girls from harmful practices in rural Kenya—to put on a photography workshop for 10 girls between the ages of 11 and 14.
At the beginning of the workshop, as Sinclair was showing the students her photography, she asked about their familiarity with child marriage. A girl named Angela raised her hand. She had run away when she heard she was going to be married off. Sinclair then asked if any of them had heard of a situation like Angela’s. The other nine girls raised their hands—they had all escaped marriage.
“Girl empowerment is one of the strongest prevention techniques to end child marriage,” says Sinclair. By teaching basic photography skills, the workshop affirmed the value of their voices and their stories—stories that many of the girls had never told. That soon changed.
Their first assignment was to make a portrait of a partner. As Sinclair explains, “We paired them off into twos. To make a great portrait you have to know who you’re photographing; you have to share your story with your partner. Some girls had never shared their stories before. That was very powerful. We were a little taken aback when they had such an emotional reaction, but some of the girls who had shared their stories before said, ‘No, no. They need to do this.’ ”
A small, but dedicated operation, SGF has rescued almost 235 girls from traumatic situations. Its teams try their best to provide education for the girls, but they don’t have the resources to offer counseling. In its place, the photo workshop became a form of therapy, beginning the process of healing.
The vulnerability the girls exchanged is visible in the portraits they made.
“It was really unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” says Sinclair. “The portraits that came out were quite powerful for girls who had only picked up the camera the day before. I think they found photography [to be] a way to communicate what they’d been through.”
The finale of the workshop was an exhibition of the photos, when each girl who wanted to had an opportunity to present her work and share her story. To prepare them, the teachers coached the girls to amplify not only their visual voices but also their speaking voices. Sinclair describes first meeting the girls, when many of them spoke in a whisper.
“We were worried that their voices would be so soft the audience wouldn’t hear them,” she says. “The more confident they got, the louder they spoke.”
The afternoon of the exhibition, about 70 people came—chiefs of the girls’ villages, some of their parents.
“Each girl presented the photo they did of the other girl,” says Sinclair. “I left it up to them what they wanted to say about the photographs they did of their friends. Most of them shared their stories. All of them talked about what they wanted to be when they were older. And all of them talked about how they wanted to help the community and prevent girls from going through what they had gone through.
“They got up there and screamed into the microphone so much that it was cracking: ‘My name is Jane. I am 12 years old. I have been circumcised, and my parents tried to marry me off.’ The audience was crying, the girls were crying. We were all crying. It’s almost like they were taking their power back and expressing all these things that they wanted to say for the first time to the public, to their community.”
In honor of #GivingTuesday—the global day of giving that kicks off the charitable season—Too Young to Wed is sharing the story of an Illinois seventh-grader who is helping child brides.
Bree Kalina was looking for three or four friends who could help her raise money for girls in Kenya who were fleeing child marriage.
But word spreads fast at Shepard Middle School in Deerfield, Ill., and pretty soon the rising seventh-grader had nearly a dozen volunteers who wanted to pitch in.
“All my friends, whenever I’d tell them, ‘You have a chance to help girls in Africa,’ they were so excited,” said Bree, 12, who organized a fundraiser in August for the Samburu Girls Foundation as part of a service project for her bat mitzvah.
The foundation provides a safe haven for victims of child marriage and female genital mutilation and is among the initiatives supported by Too Young to Wed.
Bree is no stranger to public service. She’s volunteered at soup kitchens with her parents and two younger sisters before, and she’s participated in book drives aimed at providing resources for inner city schools. Each child who celebrates a bar or bat mitzvah at Shir Hadash Synagogue is expected to complete a service project, and as Bree prepared to become an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community, she looked for a way to make a lasting impact.
Before Bree was born, her mother, Susan Ryan Kalina, had worked as an editor at the Chicago Tribune alongside photographer Stephanie Sinclair, Too Young to Wed’s founder. Susan shared with her daughter information about Too Young to Wed, which supports efforts to end child marriage and assist child brides. Bree decided she wanted to raise money for the Samburu Girls Foundation, which keeps about 30 girls, ages 7 to 16, together in a safe house and uses donations to help the girls return to school.
Bree’s rabbi helped her brainstorm ways to raise money, and ultimately, she opted to host a dinner at her home. That’s where her friends came in. Over a two-day period, they packed into the Kalina family’s kitchen, creating menus and signs to welcome their guests, preparing guacamole, salsa and Spanish rice, and baking sweet potato-black bean enchiladas, brownies and cookies.
They laughed a lot, said Bree. But they also discussed how traumatic it would be to be pulled out of school, married off to a stranger and separated from their families.
“It was really fun teaching all my friends that this is actually going on,” said Bree.
“It was so sweet to see all these little girls super excited to help,” said Bree’s mother, Susan. “They were really into it. It showed the power and the drive behind children and what they’re capable of when you point them in the right direction.”
When they were done slicing, mixing and sautéing, the girls changed into white shirts and black pants and then served their guests, who paid $50 a person to dine. The effort raised $700 for the Samburu Girls Foundation, which will use the money to cover housing and food for the girls it rescues.
“I thought I was going to do something teeny, like when you have a lemonade stand,” said Bree. “I didn’t think it would be this big.”
Bree also completed a second project, by volunteering at a Chicago center for homeless teens. Her efforts dovetailed nicely with the Torah portion for her bat mitzvah, which emphasized the importance of helping one’s community and treating all its members with dignity and respect.
Those who participated felt like they got as much out of the experience as those they were trying to help, if not more, said Susan Ryan Kalina. And Bree and her friends felt empowered by their ability to help others, she said.
“To know at such a young age that you could do something to make a big difference in a child’s life . . . it’s an awareness of the power every one of us has,” she said.
Too Young to Wed is a nonprofit organization that supports initiatives like the Samburu Girls Foundation as well as other groups committed to helping child brides and victims of female genital mutilation and other harmful, traditional practices. Contributions to Too Young to Wed are tax deductible.
Eunice was 11 when she decided she’d had enough.
Only two weeks earlier, her father had circumcised her and forced her to marry an abusive 78-year-old man. Nursing fresh bruises from the beating she’d earned for refusing to “please” him the night before, Eunice decided to run.
With help from an uncle, Eunice found safety at the Samburu Girls Foundation in northern Kenya, which rescues girls already circumcised or prone to such mutilation. To date, the organization has rescued 200 girls like Eunice and placed 125 of them in boarding schools.
Through its membership in The Girl Generation, Too Young to Wed supports initiatives like the Samburu Girls Foundation, which keeps about 30 girls, ages 7 to 16, together in a safe house and uses donations to help the girls return to school. All the proceeds from Too Young to Wed’s inaugural print sale, which runs through Sept. 20, 2015, will be used to help Samburu Girls Foundation and several additional groups that are committed to helping child brides and victims of female genital mutilation and other harmful, traditional practices.
Prints can be ordered for $100 at tooyoungtowed.org/printsale. Each 8×10 archival print was hand-printed and signed by TYTW founder Stephanie Sinclair, whose award-winning work documenting child marriage has been exhibited around the world.
The Samburu Girls Foundation was founded by Josephine Kulea, who considers herself one of the lucky ones. When she was about 9, her classmates began to disappear. One by one, they were circumcised and then married off to men 30 to 40 years older. Though Kulea was circumcised—like 90 percent of the girls in Samburu County—her mother resisted the family’s attempts to marry her off young, and she was able to finish her education.
She provides the same opportunity for the girls she rescues, all of whom have endured FGM and forced marriages—and in some cases crude abortions. Some are brought to the safe house by police officers or sympathetic family members. Others find their way to Kulea’s door on their own, with nothing more than the clothes on their back.
Eunice, who has continued her education, says one day she will work to put an end to FGM and child marriage.
“When I become a powerful woman in [the] future, I will ensure that young girls . . . would go to school,” she said, “and spread the gospel of stopping early marriages and female genital mutilation in Samburu.”
WAYS TO HELP
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Too Young To Wed is a nonprofit organization qualified for tax-exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Each contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.