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!
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!
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
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.
We have now visited the first school and handed out our feminine cloth napkins.
It was a little overwhelming since they had about a 100 girls they would like us to teach. So we had to take the 5ths and the 6ths graders out of the program. Then we ended up with 58 girls. Luckily they understood English. I taught for two and a half hours and it went really well as long as I didn’t just read from my paper. If I do that I will get too nervous. So if I just talk from my heart it will just flow since I have this great passion for this project. I might forget something but then something else will come out instead.
We were really relieved to learn that only 5 out of the 58 girls had been circumcised. So here we felt there really would be hope. We took a long time to talk about FGM and also about rape since the percentage of rape in Rift Valley is 25%. Actually it is the highest percentage in Kenya and it is believed that only 1 in 20 is being reported. For comparison in Denmark it’s 1,7% that are being reported.
Another thing they really needed to understand was knowledge about their menstrual cycle. They didn’t know anything about this. So I thoroughly explained to them when they would be most prone to get pregnant and when they would be the least prone. Then I hope they could have maybe just a little control over how many babies they want.
It has been another long day where we had left home at 8 am and returned at 6:30 pm. We drove on the most bumpy and dusty road that you could even imagine and on top of that we were in a matatu. I will never again complain about a small hole in the road back in Denmark!
I had promised Lydia and her son to make spaghetti and meat sauce when we got home and then we just relaxed looking at the pictures on my phone.
And then we said good night 😴
Together with Rikke we had an amazing inspiring day Friday. We were teaching a class of Masai women about the consequences after female circumcision. At first they could not see a major problem with removing the clitoris since they believe that it will grow out again and in their opinion it was far more worse to stitch the whole vagina together, so they didn’t feel that their circumcision was of any importance.
But some time into the conversation and especially after Rikke told them about the consequences, they began to understand how serious it is. The final thing that made them realize this was when we showed them a picture of a complete and normal vagina. They thought that it was simply just beautiful, so they promised us that they would stop this mutalization. We just got the goosebumps when we finally realized what they had just said.
We had never dreamed that we would actually succeed in making them stop with the FMG.
Det var en fantastisk givende dag i fredags sammen med Rikke Thybæk Hansen. Vi skulle undervise en gruppe Maasai kvinder om konsekvenserne ved kvindeligomskæring.
I also need to give you an update about teaching the boys. There were 51 of them. Again we skipped the 5ths and the 6ths graders. Not because they don’t need this information but I do talk about everything and I do not think they may be ready to hear this at the age of 11 and 12 years of age. It would also be too many to teach at one time.
I tell the girls and the boys the same things but with the boys I go over the female anatomy and menstruation a little more superficial.
Instead they are informed strongly about rape which I have said before is too common here. I tried telling them how it affects a girl and how it can destroy her and the rest of her life. As I said to them: “You will be the next ones to commit rape to some girls.” That touched them quite a bit. Another thing I talked with them about was condoms. Not just in a quiet tone but tried hammering it into their heads. I told them (which I would not have said in Denmark and probably not if I had known that the principal was sitting there) that if they were going to be such suckers to be raping a poor girl they could at least be wearing a condom. Not just to protect the poor girl from getting pregnant and have to terminate her education, but also for their own health protection against disease such as AIDS since they didn’t know how many other boys might have raped the poor girl in the past.
At the end they asked a lot of questions. Most of them were about strange myths such as:”Is it true that a girl will get bigger breasts if you touch them?” and “If you have sex with an animal can the animal get pregnant?” Also they asked if sex could be “sweet “. In their beliefs things that are good are called sweet. To this I had to point out that if they continue to circumcise girls and remove their clitoris and do not pay attention to the girl if she is in the mood for sex, there would be only a small chance that they would have a good sex life.
How to achieve this I had also strongly pointed out to them.
When I had finished the principal took over and at first I thought:”Yes, we are on the same side.” He started out by saying that nobody would have told them so much about sex and showed them a condom or even have given them one. But then he began talking about how a condom only gave a 99% safety and that they could get AIDS from that last 1%. So then we were back to square one with “no sex before marriage”. It’s really going up hill. I can only hope they will remember everything I have told them.
Another day of giving out feminine’s cloth napkins and teaching more than a 100 teenagers. This time it was both girls and boys since we had only been granted 2 hours.
Because they were all from the Masai tribe we also taught them about the issues of FGM. Afterwards they had the chance to write down questions for us. Even though we had strongly pointed out what were just myths, we still got questions about if the clitoris grew out again after circumcision and if it was true that condoms could give you cancer. Because there were both girls and boys there was a lot of giggling and when I showed them a condom and also wanted them to touch it, they just lost it and broke out laughing. But we got through it and finally we let the boys go and continued to show the girls a video about FGM and then we handed out reusable sanitary towels.
It had been another long day. It was after 7 pm before we reached home. It takes a really long time to get out to the different areas since there are no ordinary roads yet and it’s so dusty that we sometimes have a hard time breathing.
Yesterday I had the last teaching and handing out reusable sanitary towels. Unfortunately I did not get as many pictures when we were suddenly in a time of need. Not everyone can express themselves in short terms. We visited Bethsaida childrens home, a place I have been several times before. I love the married couple who runs it. They have built everything from the ground and have their hearts in the right place. All the children see them as their parents. Of all the places I have visited, I have never seen so much love. They love each and every one of the children they have taken in❤
However, not all the children belong here, since everyone has been allowed to invite friends. We ended up with many interesting questions😊
For now this was my last update. Tomorrow is the last day. I'll spend it with my neighbor Rose, who exports vegetables. She has her own farm that we are going out to visit so I can hand pick avocados to take home
Feedback from and teaching for both girls and boys. This time without their teacher, so it went much easier.
They opened up and asked a lot of good questions, but the most important thing was that we got great feedback + 2 young girls who really wanted to try out the teen cup for us. If they succeed, pretty much all the girls are fresh to try them out. I have to say the day became more positive than we had dared to hope. A very long day. We weren’t home until 9:30 pm. Tomorrow we will continue to Malindi. We are already dreading having to travel with all those bags 😅
Today, after teaching the girls, there were a lot of boys outside who were very interested in what we were teaching, so I decided to give them a speed version and at the same time hand out condoms. They were what you would call more than interested😅 at a point they were almost trampling on me. A bit overwhelming and not what I had just expected. We got a good chat and I left with a really good feeling that I might have planted a couple of seeds for a better marriage for them later on + saved a few girls from an unwanted pregnancy. It was great to teach in a completely informal setting where nobody is too shy to ask questions. I will not tell you what questions I got, but they were many and very detailed and sometimes a little too personal. Next time we will have to set aside time for the boys too!
Yesterday we received feedback about the reusable sanitary towels that Bonface brought home this summer, which he handed out to a school in kilifi. Again, there was only positive feedback. Even if you offered to give them money to buy dispolsable sanitary towels they would rather use the reusable ones. We introduced them to the cup, which they at first looked very chocked about, but pretty soon they could see the benefits. When I asked if there were a few that might want to try them out for us, there was a hand raising. We selected 3 and gave them a thorough education and eagerly await feedback.
For the first time, we have taught mothers to some of the teen girls who have received both education and cups. It will be so exciting to come back on my next trip and hear if they are now on "the same page" and about how mother and daughter have learned to use the menstrual cup.
I'm just left with a big Christmas wish "A transparent vagina attrap" 😂 I wonder if it's ever been on anyone’s wish list?
Today we gave our last teaching for this time in Mathara slum. It has started to run a little on the routine and we know who says what, or almost😅 because there are never 2 places that run the same. We had brought 200 cloth napkins and I had expected that they would all been torn away today, but it all took a very unexpected turn when I showed them the menstrual cup. I didn't think in my wildest imagination that they would all choose the cup over the napkins , but they did. They understood without any persuasion the benefits of the cup. So big surprise, suddenly we were left with all the napkins we had stored for Farida. So now they have a "stock" of both napkins and cups for the girls who couldn't be there due to some other event they were attending. I confidently pass on the assignment and my material to Farida. I know she'll do a great job of teaching the girls without me and that she and Bonface will continue to work together when I return home👍. It is fantastic to feel that you are passing something on and the work can continue without me having to be here😃
PS! These napkins that Farida hold are the ones Mary Consolata Namagambe from She For She has donated ❤ Thank you Mary😘
One thing we were so excited about on this trip to Kenya was to teach with our new material that has been supported by Merkur Andelskasse. The posters themselves were excellent.However, the stand they were about to hang on gave us some challenges, so we need to make some adjustments before we are satisfied.
Although it was only a day's teaching, it exceeded all our expectations. We felt like we came through with our message about the consequences of female circumcision. We also taught the men who were so interested and actually were very much against FGM. We look forward to coming again and continuing our work.
Through out the COVID-19 pandemic, Soweto Youth Initiative, led by Bonface, has relentlessly continued Moja's work, both in the slums areas and other parts of Kenya where our help was most needed.
Moja - Stitch for education
Published by Gitte Jespersen · August 23 · 2021
This week, Moja has sponsored a trip to Bonface from Soweto Youth Initiative. The trip goes to Mombasa, to teach and donate reusable sanitary towels in Moja’s name (because it hasn't been possible for us to travel to Kenya for a very long time). On my last trip, we had to leave all the reusable sanitary towels and menstrual cups in Kenya. These are the ones Bonface has used to do Moja's work for us. The trip goes to a number of schools that we already work with, but also a few new ones where Moja never has been before. Here is some pisture and video from some of the schools.
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