On September 29, 2015, I left Copenhagen without knowing my final destination or where I would end up living. I pursued a dream of making a difference in young girls and women's lives in Kenya, as Kenya is still a country where women are oppressed and even the most natural things remain taboo.
To make a long story short, I ended up in the deepest slum. The first few days, I could laugh about how absurd it was. Especially the lack of toilet, bath, kitchen, electricity, was a challenge, but also the dirt, the waste and the total lack of hygiene everywhere, almost paralyzed me. And the reality hit me before the end of the first week, I was almost in panic. For me and probably anyone else in Denmark, hygiene and cleaning is something we grow up with. But in the slums most people are born and raised in the garbage. They never learned to wash their hands. The toilet consists of a deep hole and a shed built around it. Few people use paper or wash them self. They simply sit down and do what they need to do and then pull up their pants again.
Everyone is greeting each other by shaking hands and everyone wanted to greet me as the only white one. It didn't take me many days before I understood this total lack of general hygiene. And from here the panic began to spread. On the 10th day I was ready to throw the towel in the ring and I actually found a flight out of there, but when I saw how sad everyone got when I told them that I was leaving, I decided that I just couldn't give up. They live in this every day and I came to make a difference. So I struggle to endure and tried to give them small changes every day to improve the conditions in the slum. If I can endure it for the 2 months as I had planned, I don’t know, but I'll do my best!
Posted by Gitte Jespersen · 21 October 2015 ·
This day has consisted of some appalling experiences. I was awakened by a loud quarrel between my neighbor and her 12-year-old son. It developed into beating, a lot of beating and crying, there eventually was turn into screams. And even though I shouldn't interfere, it just became too much for me. I peeled my door open and saw her stand and hold her son while beating him with a belt 😳 while Martin, Milcah's 15-year-old son, tried to persuade her to stop beating him. When she saw me, she apparently came to reason because she took her son back inside. 5 minutes later she was going around singing. There must be something wrong in her head, serious!
The saddest thing is why he got beating. He had been sent home from school because his mother hadn’t paid his school fees. He then comes home and tells her that she has to pay the fee, because he wants to go to school. She says she doesn't have the money and from there on it develops. In the evening, he got round 2, this time by an uncle, but luckily not with a belt, but that does not really make a difference. Poor boy, my heart bleeds for all the sad souls in the slum.
We should really consider ourselves lucky being born in Denmark.
Although the school up to 8th grade allegedly is said to be free, corruption is a huge part of public schools. Therefor most parents choose to send the children to private school instead. It’s cheaper in the long run. For example, the public schools require the children to pay about $5 per month to go to the toilet. Most people living in the slum live for under $1 a day (those who are fortunate enough to have a job earn about $ 130 - 170 per month). Everyone must have school uniforms, it cost $35. In addition, they must pay to attend the exams in the end of each semester. If they don’t, they cannot move up to the next grade.
A 25 year old man died of AIDS today. As Milcah says, that will probably mean that most people will use condoms today and tomorrow, but then they forget about it again. They are more afraid of pregnancy than HIV / AIDS.
And then I saw a man who lay down on all fours and drank directly from the sewer, which runs along or through all the streets in Soweto! Yaaaik
All in all, a very shaking day:-0
Yesterday I was in jail all day. I’m telling you, that was an experience. Not quite like Danish prisons. I was with about 50 students, Milcah and Bonface. We were making chapati (a bit like pancakes, but just dough that you roll thin as a pizza) to about 1000 inmates and their families. Unfortunately, they took our phones so I don’t have the single picture.
Once a year, the prisoners are allowed to spend a day with their families, just like a picnic, with entertainment, dancing and a band.
We started at 10am in the morning and were only finished at around 5pm and then we had to get all the food to the prisoners. There was so much uproar over thee food that the guards had to pull out their clubs. Afterwards all of us girls had to shake hands with the prisoners or I just gave fist bumps 😂
Mzungu is the first word you learn here in Kenya. It's kind of the same if we were to shout "negro" after a black guy, so at first you find it a bit annoying, but they really don't mean it as an insult. Some of the students actually asked me if I would like to be called mzungu or Gitte (knowing now, that my name means dog in Kikuyu, maybe I should have gone for mzungu). I have never in my entire life had so many questions. I was bombarded from all directions. Mostly about how young people live in Denmark and how old they have to be, before they were allowed to have a girl- or boyfriend! All while they made the most wired hairstyle on me😳 they think I have the most beautiful hair 😂, they obviously haven't seen any other hair than African hair!
We were home at 9 in the evening. Really tired and because I didn't want to eat the food in prison, they thought they would introduce me to some new food. It’s very hard to say no when your stomach is growling. Luckily it tasted better than it looked!
Published by Gitte Jespersen · November 1, 2015 ·
Sexual education in another orphanage. Here we didn’t have to explain that it isn’t the stork that comes with the babies, NOOO, here they all think that they are bought in the supermarket. 😂
Again, even the most basic hygiene is never taught, so we always start with simple hand wash with soap and how to wash and stay clean when they have menstruation. In Kenya, it is shameful to menstruate and the girls do everything to hide it. They wash the cloth most girl use in the evening and hide it under their mattresses. The next morning, they put on the cloth in their panty again all wet. 😳
They are teased at school and the boys even mock them if they find out a girl is menstruating.
I'm pretty shocked about both girls’ and boys' attitudes towards each other, so I ask Martin and Bonface about their thoughts towards girls when they have their menstruation. 🙀 They were almost throwing up, just at the bear thought of being in the same room with a menstruating girl. "They stink like rotten fish," was one of the things they said. They said some pretty horrible things, so I just had to give them a lesson in girls' sensitive and endocrine disrupted minds when they are menstruating and what they certainly don't need, from stupid ignorant boys. But really! I have probably never heard anyone in Denmark say that they can smell when a girl is menstruating. Again, it must simply be their total lack of hygiene!
We also showed the girls and later in the evening the boys, pictures of all the sexually transmitted diseases we could think off. It was definitely not for delicate souls, so I don't think they’ll ever have sex without a condom if they are even going to have sex after seeing those pictures ;-)
Next time we will teach the girls to make their own reusable pads out of old towels and fabrics. Many of them have no option or means to buy pads.
No one has ever heard of tampons here, and I’m not talking about the girls. Adult people have never seen or heard of tampons. So I had to Google and show them pictures and explain. They nearly fainting when I told them that you to put it up there and leave it until is full. It’s not only their boundaries I moved, it’s definitely mine too ☺
We had a fantastic day in Mombasa teaching teenage girls how to sew a reusable pads. While they were sewing and after I expelled the men, I spent more than two hours teaching them about the bee and the flowers. They are now the most enlightened girls in Kenya. It’s a great feeling to leave again knowing that these girls now feel that they actually have some rights, knowledge and not just have to put up with what the men are telling them.
Posted by Gitte Jespersen · April 16, 2018 ·
I made a loooong post (which disappeared when I posted it), so now you will get a shorter version about our trip in Majoni Mtwapa in Mombasa. It's the little village where we were last year. (The organization with which Bonface cooperates).
We arrived late Friday night after a full day's journey. Saturday morning we went to Williams's organization. Here we split up. I talked to the girls and the young mothers and Bonface had a drawing competition with the smaller children.
It was so nice to see all the girls again and I got an overwhelming welcome and a lot of hugs. They were so happy with the reusable pads I made with them last year. They had all used the pads and they all agreed that they were far better than anything else they had used before. Last time, I had shown them a menstrual cup that the young mothers in particular were very interested in. I had bought a lot of the cup’s on eBay and shipped them directly to Mombasa. All the women who tested the cup, was crazy about it. The rumored spread quickly throughout the village, on how fantastic they were and how much money they could save by using a cup. So now there were so many who wanted it, even the teen girls. Here in Mombasa they are much easier to talk to. They are open to new things and receptive in a whole different way than in Soweto. It ended up with me having to promise to buy a lot of cups for them and come back with more reusable pads. They were so impressed how beautiful the pads were made. William asked me if I would come and stay a few days next time and teach both the teen girls and the boys. They are having some huge problems with the young girls become pregnant because neither the parents nor the school talk about protection with them.
After a long day at William, who by the way, is a wonderful man who takes care of all the children in the village, we went back to Nyali, where we had to meet another guy who had heard about our project. He ended up inviting us to dinner with a couple of his friends, and we had a very nice evening. I made a promise on coming back next year and donate reusable pads for the teen girls at the school where he work.
Today we have been visiting Bethsidha Childrens Home. They have moved from Kawest, where Soweto also is located, to approx. 100 km farther up in the country. Out to a pretty rural area. But it was a really beautiful area with lots of fresh air, not like here in Nairobi.
I was supposed to go by myself. But at the last minute, Bonface was told he was not going to work on that Friday, so he went along. Kamau who runs the orphanage is a really nice guy with his heart in the right place. He has worked hard to give these children a home.
The girls really liked the reusable pads. Unfortunately there was not enough and we ended up only giving 3 pads to each girl. Far from enough, but better than nothing. There were 30 girls and because they are SO shy you can't get a peep out of them. This makes teaching very difficult.
I sent Bonface outside because I thought they girls might open up a little without a man in the room. I realize that that was a mistake when he came back and took over the last part about STDs. He has a way to teach and tell stories, so the girls giggle. And when he began to wander around and try to copy guys trying to seduce them, even I had to give in. Not that he made them say anything, but I think they listened more because it was completely down to their level. I had never known why so many teen girls become pregnant. It’s because the boys lure them with sodas and chips if they just allow them to "stick it in" as you say!
I’m telling you it's a whole different world. I get why they are looking so weird at me sometimes when I explain things from a Western world. Oh my God, I’m so far from their reality. I really hope when they get older that they will remember what I have tried to teach these young girls.
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