[RKA Note: Today's guest post comes to us from Sheila Otieno, the heartworking founder of Safe Girls For Change in Kenya--another awesome organization led by women for women in Africa. I am so excited and honored to share Sheila's story with you today. Please go ahead bookmark the Safe Girls For Change website and like Safe Girls For Change on Facebook to stay up to date on Sheila's incredible heartwork.]
I am Sheila Otieno, twenty six years old, from Kenya–the founder of Safe Girls For Change, an organization based in rural Kenya. This is a dream come true for me–a dream I had on March 12, 2009 after attending a Healing with Conscious Communication workshop in South Africa.
Don’t Wait to Jumpstart Your Dream
“What you have today can turn to nothing tomorrow: take a risk, be of service to others, and celebrate life,” were the words which kept on ringing through my mind.
All you need is to believe in yourself, have faith in God, and keep on dreaming. Coming from a big family of ten, life was good. I saw a big cloud of darkness in my life in my first year of high school. My daddy died. I was shocked and I lost hope in life having been left with our mother who was just a housewife in the village. Some of us were forced to stop schooling since my mother could not afford the school fees for all of us and it was so expensive. With the guidance of our mother, we worked hard in the garden to make sure that we always had something on the table. I will always salute my mother for having struggled with us, making sure that each one of us had something to eat and drink, even though she could not manage to see all of us go to school. She will always be my hero and mentor. I was inspired by her to run this project.
“If you have a dream, you can start with the resources at hand: don’t wait for some angel investor to jump start your dream. Don’t wait for the big money to roll in: don’t let your dream die. Start where you are as you trust the universe!” Are the words she always spoke to us.
Poverty in Kenya
Having learned how to care, trust, have courage, and be responsible in life from my mother, I learned that the universe is always watching us. This is the time when Safe Girls For Change was born. Due to the poverty and hunger of knowledge which streaked my community, I said to myself with the little knowledge I got from school and from my mother, “I won’t sit back and watch my village suffer.” I went around the village talking to young girls and young women like me to come together and form a study group, where those who were able to go to school come together and help each other twice a week. I only managed to attract girls and little did I know I was in trouble with my village elders who did not welcome my idea. Girls like me are not taken to school hence we get married off at a tender age to some old man who gives cattle to our families–we have no voice in the community. I could not stand this either, since it all ended up in sexual and physical abuse, which we had no courage to talk about. I always had a belief that when a girl and a woman is educated, the whole community is educated, too. Life was not easy with me: I have a dream of empowering girls and young women to inspire change. I want the world to know that in our heart of hearts there is something we were born to be, do, and contribute in this world!
I decided to work with young women since we all went through the same challenges like rape , sexual, and physical abuse, HIV/AIDS, lack of courage, lack of education, which some of us managed to go through and still stood up to fight or encourage each other on how we can articulate and communicate our messages to a wider audience with a view of influencing positive social-cultural practices that equip us with appropriate life skills to will help us mange our health related challenges.
Empowering Young Women
I am now working on empowering girls and young women economically through these projects:
- Farm management and production
- Hand made crafts(bead work)
- Establishment of a barber shop and a beauty shop
- Sanitary towel project (using old rags).
All aiming at giving members an alternative source of funds and help them earn a honest living to do away with the chain of dependency which has led some of us in my community to prostitution, spread of HIV/AIDS, abortions, sexually and physically abused, and dropping out of school.
I believe that girls are leaders in creating the future today. My aim is to reach out to more girls and to better my community, thanks to this project I have managed to take three young women back to school and they are the change I always wanted to see in my village, hopefully as we grow will manage to channel more girls and women back to school.
Women and girls in my village are so hungry for knowledge, and I know now is the time to get it. I welcome all the ideas and support from friends, well-wishers around the world , who wish to contribute or volunteer to our programs, one step will always lead us to the other.
Safe Girls For Change
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