Driving to northwest Kenya to the Pokot area on the bumpy dust filled roads for hours on end, I had no idea what I might experience. A mere two weeks earlier God called me to Kenya to meet women and girls in the remote Kenyan bush of Pokot.
I met a woman named Mary under a tree at the Kodich Children’s Home. Mary has seven children with her husband that she wed through an arranged marriage in her early teens. They immediately began having babies, like many of the twelve-year old Pokot girls. As part of the cultural traditions of many indigenous tribes,
Mary underwent a practice in her early teens called Female Genital Mutilation (otherwise known as female circumcision), a ritual that signifies her readiness and faithfulness for marriage.
For years Mary has worked tirelessly night and day in the harsh bush climate to find ways to feed and care for her children and survive with little to no income or support from her husband.
Though Mary shared a multitude of problems about the hot dry arid climate, remoteness of the area, rampant diseases with little medical access, lack of clean water and sustainable sources for food and reliable income, those were not the worst problems for her.
The most painful thing for her to share was her deep disappointment about the lack of support from her husband or any Pokot men for that matter. When Mary wed her husband he gave her one goat to take care of, though like most of the Pokot men, he never cared for the goat, or their children or the household in any way.
Mary’s husband does not work and will not bring income of any kind into the family. Her husband, when he did show up, was abusive and dismissive to the whole family.
Mary got silent and angry when she added the final point to her story. This husband of hers (of which she never even told us his name) had just left her for a twelve year old girl that he planned to marry and have more children with.
Some of Mary’s children now stay at the Kodich Children’s Home. She prays daily for someone to sponsor her children through Kensington Community Church’s sponsorship program so that they will have food, water, shelter, and education. Mary has not reached the point of total desperation because of the loving Christian environment of the Kodich community….at least not yet.
This story, unfortunately, is not uncommon at all. The purpose women in the Pokot society serve is to provide a marriage dowry to their fathers, bear children and do labor. Child forced marriage, lack of education and respect for girls, female circumcision, overworked girls and women raising large families and supporting them by themselves, absent and unsupportive husbands, polygamy, rampant diseases, maternal and reproductive health issues, malnutrition, starvation, and deep cycles of poverty, are the just norms of daily life among the Pokot.
Despite these challenges, Mary says there is good news. God is at work bringing women together in community to change their situation. When we asked Mary about other women to talk to, we found out that through the local church, there is already a group of 30 women who have bonded together to collectively supporting each other emotionally, spiritually and economically. This women’s group gets together weekly for ministry, fellowship and collaborative creation of income to feed and take care for their families.
I learned that the group Mary is part of has a treasurer to manage their collective money, five community goats, and creates income from selling honey and beans. When I went to the Kauriong Children’s Home, which is even more remote, I was surprised to find an even larger group of 62 women there.
The group makes and sells beautiful beaded artifacts, evangelize in neighboring villages. They also support each other in prayer, singing and fellowship.
These women have great determination, ingenuity and aspirations. Both groups shared similar dreams of launching additional income generating projects such as sewing and selling clothes, making jewelry and baked goods and starting a rental guest house business.
Their dreams will require training, equipment and minimal capital for supplies to make their dreams a reality. They already know the value of sharing their knowledge with others, which would provide the girls at the children’s homes an opportunity to learn practical skills for their future.
As I left the women’s group at Kodich, I finally understood why God sent me there and why we need to care about their plight. The women were singing and dancing in their native tongue with great gratitude for us coming to talk with them for an hour. When I asked what they were saying as I was leaving, I heard they never had a white woman come and “just love them for who they are.”
The women and girls of Pokot deserve to know the love of God and live out the plan that He has for them. To feel valued for who they are is the foundation to inspire a change in their situation. We, all of us, can give them that by supporting the training and resources needed for sustainable income, valuing who they are regardless of gender, and most importantly, showing them they are worthy and loved in the name of Jesus Christ.
Around the world, developing women and girls has been recognized as a critical strategy to break the cycles of poverty. When we educate girls, they have opportunities to contribute to their communities, generate income and raise healthier and self-sustaining families. When we empower women, we transform communities.
Please pray for God to reveal to the Pokot the value of girls and women and bless them with the sustainable support and resources they need to prosper and thrive.