October 30, 2006
by Jeana Rogers
In July, Wabash Media Specialist Jeana Rogers accompanied Sister Stella Sabina Santana and Wabash Professor James Makubuya to Kenya and Uganda to film a documentary about the struggles of women in those countries, where Wabash is partnering with Shifting Ideas Through Education for African Women (SITEAW) to work for change.
People move differently in Africa.
There are plenty of cars among Nairobi’s 4 million inhabitants, but the streets and dirt paths alongside them are alive with human faces. Every morning in the street outside the monastery where we stayed, 1,300 children in bright colored uniforms and oversized hand-me-down shoes shuffle along the road to school. Some run and play as they move along the dirt walks, or make their own paths across the grass.The city is criss-crossed with do-it-yourself walkways.
From the road outside the city you see houses, miles away, with no apparent way to reach to them. The people walk along narrow paths from the main road to the farms. The walkways are old, some so deep their edges reach to the walkers’ knees.
The people move differently here.
I realized this 15 hours after landing in Nairobi to film a documentary for the Women’s Awareness Center in Iganga, Uganda. Olivia Kabaale, the Center’s Director, knocked on the door of our room at the monastery and asked if we would like to go somewhere. She calls it “moving about.” You don’t “go” anywhere here. You just move.
We headed out to a local government run primary school with Olivia, walking at her confident, purposeful pace. She has built the Women’s Awareness Center face-to-face, one relationship at a time, organizing the women to make the bricks and construct the buildings, leading meetings with them, walking to the schools or riding a boda boda bike taxi to lobby government officials or meet with the banker who provides the women small business loans. She’s built and run the Center without a car or a cell phone in a place where people who barely have a roof over their heads often have a cell phone. She can’t afford one.
Olivia led us to the government school, 1,300 children ran on the sprawling play yard. Some had bowls in their hands of various shapes and sizes and were forming two long lines. The taller boys herded the younger ones into the lines with a stick, the same way they herd cows in the streets.
A teacher scooped up a spoon full of rice and corn from a large iron pot and dumps it into each child’s bowl. Provided by the World Food Program, this was the only meal that most of the children would get today. The Head Mistress pointed at a distance past the schoolyard to some shacks with tin roofs and old boards for walls—the slum area most of the children came from. The children eagerly used their three fingered spoons to scoop up their free meal. Many offered to share it with us. As we left the Head Mistress invited us to come back anytime. She was proud of her school.
Later that week we traveled to Iganga, Uganda, where SITEAW has been constructing the Women’s Awareness Center. We moved about in our rented SUV as people waited for the arrival of the visitors from America. We rode down a dirt road to group of small buildings where Olivia’s father, John Kabaale had invited us to visit his orphanage.
John is a retired teacher who after his retirement built a small home for himself and his wife. Soon afterwards people began bringing him orphaned children, many whose parents had died of AIDS. His retirement home became an orphanage and a school for about 40 children. They live and learn there. His bedroom is now a small office.
As the orphans keep coming he has tried to expand. A small structure made of discarded tin and wood has been added on to one of the concrete buildings, its wood walls serving as shelter from the elements outside and a chalkboard on the inside. About 15 children sleep on the dirt or concrete floors of their classrooms at night. There were no desks, or notebooks to write in, no library, no school supplies, and very little food. There were no organizations like Feed the Children or the World Food Program here. They just don’t reach the smaller villages in Africa.
Mount Elgon sits on the border of Kenya and Uganda, an extinct volcano that attracts visitors from around the world. The view on the ride up the mountain is beautiful.
Most of the people here belong to the Sabiny tribe, a people with a long tradition of female circumcision. Today we were interviewing several of the “surgeons” who circumcise the girls.
We left the car and walked through maize fields and forest until we entered a clearing overlooking the mountainside and the flatlands below. About 30 feet away a woman was sipping water from a container that looked like a gourd. She began spitting it in our direction as we approached—a blessing upon her guests, I was told later. At the time, I was just glad we weren’t closer.
She motioned us over to sit under a tree, and her dress made of dried animal skins crinkled as she shooed away some chickens and sat on the grass.
The surgeon was very proud of her position as a cutter in her tribe. Surgeons are well respected and earn a good living from cutting young girls that come to them during circumcision years. I could see in her face the pride she takes in her work. She boasted about cutting hundreds of girls quickly and efficiently. She described how she had been “called by the spirits” to cut young girls. The beautiful mountain scenery was overshadowed by the woman’s description of the circumcision process. Yet this woman was content, proud, even fulfilled, by her vocation. She showed us a small bowl with several double-edged razor blades in it, the tools of her trade.
In Narok, Kenya, we heard the other side of this story, as we interviewed three young girls from the Masaai tribe. Now in their early 20s, these young women had been circumcised at the age 11 or 12. As young girls they had gladly joined in the singing and dancing that is the traditional part of the circumcision ceremony. None had a clue that later that day, they would have their genitals cut off. It was the tradition. All of them described how they were circumcised against their will. How they passed out from the pain and were sick and weak from blood loss.† Some girls in their tribe have died from this procedure.
These young women hope that by speaking out, they might save their younger siblings and others from this procedure. They are working within their tribe to help young girls stay in school. They are pleading that these girls be given a choice.
It all comes back to education. What the Women’s Center is all about. The young girls didn’t know they might have a choice; they didn’t know their rights; they didn’t know how to speak up for themselves. Widows don’t know that they are being cheated out of an inheritance; they can not read the will. Women are often forced to stay with men who abuse them because they have no skills to support themselves and provide for their children. Education is the key to having a choice.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††
Olivia Kabaala is an amazing woman. She is unpaid as Director of the Women's Center; it’s in her heart. She is passionate about empowering women in her country. You hear it in her voice. You see it in her eyes. You see it as she moves about. I wanted to help.
So I bought her a cell phone. After seeing how much time she was wasting traveling to speak to people and how hard it was for people to find her, I thought she could be more productive with better communication. It’s the techie in me.
Her family and others she works with were pleased when they heard about her new cell phone. They have sent me jewelry, an African dress, and 100 hugs as a blessing for this gift. I get several hugs each time I meet at Wabash with Sister Stella, the founder of SITE for African Women, to continue our editing of the film.
But I realize my gift carries an inherent risk. I have changed the way Olivia moves, the way she communicates. I can only hope her deeply personal way of moving about is enhanced, not diminished by this technology.
For she has changed the way I move, too. Africa used to feel so far away to me, its problems so overwhelming and I too unimportant to do anything about them. But I’ve seen how the chain of events affects everybody.
And through Olivia, I’ve seen how we can make a difference, moving from one person to another.
The College has a great opportunity to make a difference in Uganda as well, by working with Shifting Ideas Through Education for African Women. Students have a remarkable opportunity to learn about the culture and traditions of an amazing people. They can help build facilities, teach women vocational and business skills, and immerse themselves in an experience of a lifetime through educating others. I believe they, like me, will be moved and receive blessings 100 times greater than anything they give.
At one of the villages we visited, an elderly woman greeted me by kneeling at my feet. I’d been told that this might happen. It’s a gesture of deep respect reserved for honored guests and elders in the village. It made me very uncomfortable. I asked Sister Stella the proper thing to do.
“If someone kneels before you,” she said, “just take her hand and help her up.”
Learn more about the College’s partnership with SITEAW at www.siteaw.org
July 06, 2006
Reality Sets In
by Jeana Rogers
July 6, 2006
I'm back and reality is still setting in. My sincere apologies for not being able to update the blog regularly during the trip. Technology in Third World countries is difficult to access and often unreliable. Now that I'm home I'll be writing more about the experience and the interviews we conducted in the next few days. For now I will let the pictures speak for themselves and I will spend a few days marveling at light switches that work, flush toilets, warm showers and Burger King!
But I will never forget the children in the villages living in mud huts and sleeping on dirt floors. I will never forget the young girls who pleaded for our help so that they will not be circumcised in December. I will never forget the orphanage run by a retired teacher who now cares for over 40 children who's parents died mostly of AIDS. I will never forget the strong young women we met who are fighting for their rights, for jobs and for their lives.
I will never forget this experience. And I will be doing what I can to make some of these peoples lives a little better.
June 27, 2006
Face to Face with the Struggle of Women
By Jeana Rogers
Nairobi to Iganga
Friday, June 23rd, 2006 we traveled for 13 hours from Nairobi, Kenya to Iganga in Uganda. I watched the scenery out of the window like a kid on the first trip out of town. A lot of the time I was amazed by the beauty of the countryside. Other times I was amazed at how people survived with so little. I did not seem to notice a consistent infrastructurealong the way. It varied from town to town, from village to village.
In Uganda there isn’t enough electricity for the whole country so is is alternated between area’s every other day. On the day we arrived in Iganga there was electricty. But even on those days that we have electricity power surges are common. It’s a challenge to keep camera batteries and computers charged. The hotel we stay in is very nice. We have running cold water and flush toilets. Hot water for bathing is (Caption: Mount Longnot found along the east African Rift Valley in Kenya)brought to you in a giant thermos and poured into a large plastic tub for you to bathe from. Most people who live here walk a long way to draw water from wells or bore holes. This is the water that they later heat over flame to use for drinking, washing and cooking.
One of the problems we encountered along the way was driving over the highways that were pitted with potholes. The roads are congested with heavy trucks carrying fuel and goods between towns. When a vehicle breaks down on the road they use branches from a bush or tree as hazard signs.
The common means of local public transportation is by booda booda (bicycles and motorcycles), matatu (14 passenger vans), “special hire” (similar to an American taxis) or walking. Buses are used for longer distance trips between major towns. I was amused to find cows, goats and chickens, roaming freely in the villages and towns.
Saturday, June 24, 2006, we arrived at the headquarters of Shifting Ideas Through Education for African Women (SITEAW) in Iganga about mid morning. This was a day they had been anticipating for almost a year. Ugandans are some of the most polite people I have ever met. Many came to us to introduce themselves and greet us one by one. As I set up equipment to film the day’s events, I heard ululations and singing getting closer and closer. Soon a small bus arrived packed with women and children, singing. Shortly after that, a small truck came overloaded with people. More trucks loaded with people arrived in the next few hours. For this special occasion, friends of the Women’s Awareness Center were making trips from miles outside of town to bring people to the Center. Many more arrived from town by foot. By mid-afternoon there were hundreds of men, women and children there to meet the visitors from United States of America. Then the Awareness Event began.
They made presentations of songs, dances, drama and poetry that depicted the difficult situations and struggles of women in this area. Among the themes featured were (a) those of men neglecting their families and using the family income for drinking (b) domestic abuse, (c) confiscating family property after the death of a husband, etc.
The presentations were done very well, honestly and at times with great humor. I found Ugandans to be a fun loving people. They use music and dance to express and articulate their different situations very well.
Among the attendees for the event was a Police Inspector, a Police Officer, Micro Finance Officer, Consultant for Development Initiative International, Regional Agricultural Implementation Officer, Gender Officer and School Principals. All of who encourage the Center and the right to education for women.
I can see now for myself that we have only heard about the tip of the iceberg. There are MANY here that have worked hard to build this organization and are willing to work hard to expand it so that more women can be educated.
One of the main concerns is that, according to local sources, women make up 80% of the population and do 80% of the work in the family. Up to the present day many women in Uganda have been deprived of education. One of the objectives of the Center is to work with the local people to enhance and implement educational programs and skills development.
I was amazed at the interest in SITEAW from the local people and government workers, but it was very clear that very limited resources handicap them. SITEAW therefore welcomes any and all assistance in this endeavor.
June 22, 2006
“Oli Otya? (How are you?) Bulungi (I am fine)”
By Jeana Rogers
“Oli Otya? How are you? Bulungi (I am fine)” that’s one of the many types of greetings one comes across in East Africa; we have almost mastered that one. We made it to Africa! It was a long 16 hours in the air but we arrived on time and it was a good flight. Stephen, our local project contact in Kenya and Olivia, the Director of SITEAW and project contact were there to meet us at the airport.
After loading up the rented SUV (we had a LOT of luggage) we took off for the Benedictine Monastery where we will stay while we are in Kenya. Even though it was almost midnight before we arrived at our accommodations they very graciously had a hot breakfast of eggs, sausage and bacon waiting for us.
The next morning, before visiting the city of Nairobi, Olivia took Merline (a member of SITEAW) and I to visit a local public school. This was an unscheduled visit but we were welcomed with open arms. The Headmistress of the school showed us the facilities and introduced us to several of the teachers. When we arrived, the children were just about to eat one of two meals provided by the World Food Foundation. There were just over 1,300 students from grade 1 to 7. Most of the children are orphans who live in the slums nearby, their parents victims of the massive AIDS epidemic in Africa. The children are provided with uniforms to wear at school. They walk to and from school year round unless there is severe drought or rain, some with no shoes. The school has 32 teachers and according to the Headmistress, it is over-staffed!† Some of the classrooms have as many as 100 students crammed in them. The teachers often have to teach different subject matters to different groups of children in the same room. They are desperately short of building space although there is probably enough land to house two Wabash size football stadiums.
|The World Food Foundation provides the children with porridge in the morning and a mixture of rice and peas or corn for lunch. The children were very well behaved and excited to have visitors. As you can see, they loved getting their picture taken.|
|As many times as I have seen scenes like this one on the news or in documentaries, it is very different from the actually experience. The masses of happy children standing in line and appreciating the meal provided to them, and so willing to share their meal with us.|
Later in the day we took a ride around Nairobi. The city is home to about 4 million people. Most people walk everywhere. There are trails along the roads and between them. The most interesting part about driving around the city was driving around the city where there are no lane lines on most of the roads, there are very few traffic lights and very few road signs. I never saw a yield or stop sign. It was a real adventure to see our driver maneuvering through the roundabouts and the people. They do not allow bicycles in most parts of the city because they cause more confusion among the already crowded traffic.
The dinner at the Monastery tonight was beef and gravy, rice, pasta and ugali. Ugali is a standard here. It is made from corn and it looks like mashed potatoes. Sr. Stella and Dr. Makubuya were happy to see it on the table. I did not see it until I was already full so I’ll be sure to try some of it tomorrow.
We had two interviews with women scheduled for tomorrow that had to be rescheduled, so tomorrow we will see the Nairobi Zoo. Stay tuned for pictures of our next adventure as soon as I get access to the Internet!
June 12, 2006
Wabash College Bridging the Gap of Education in Africa
by Jeana Rogers
Immersion Trip? No
Research? In a way.
Exploration? A bit of that too.
So why is Wabash going to Africa?
Last fall, Dr. James Makubuya stopped me as I was walking across campus. He said he needed to talk to me about a project he was associated with. He explained that he was involved with a non-profit group in Uganda (his home country) to help support and educate women who struggle against oppressive traditions and abuses.
Shifting Ideas Through Education for African Women, Inc. was founded by Sister Stella Sabina Santana in 2004 and is based in Indianapolis (www.siteaw.org). SITEAW works with all people irrespective of religion, color, race, gender, or status to fight traditions that oppress women and children in Africa and other parts of the world. SITEAW initiates educational programs and support groups in order to help women improve their lives. While SITEAW recognizes the importance of traditions within different cultures, they also recognize the importance of questioning and changing traditions that deny the equality and humanity of women.
Some of you already know Sr. Stella because she volunteered as a dance instructor for the latest Wamidan production. She was born in Uganda and brought up in the East African cultures of Kenya and Uganda. Sr. Stella’s academic training includes a Masters Degree in Education and Diplomas in Theology, Creative Music and Story Telling, Conflict Analysis and Resolution, and Psychology of Human Growth and Development.
You will have the chance to hear Sr. Stella speak on campus this fall. The Multicultural Concerns Committee, the Gender Issues Committees, and Cultures & Traditions are sponsoring her as a guest speaker late in September. Watch the campus calendar for an exact date.
With the help of many donors, SITEAW has purchased land for a Women’s Awareness Center in Uganda. The women at the Center and local supporters made bricks by hand in order to construct a temporary building for their meetings. They hold support group meetings and classes in this building, under a temporary roof. There is no electricity yet.
Next week, four people from SITEAW will make a trip to Kenya and Uganda. Dr. Makubuya and I are part of this group. The purpose of this trip is to encourage those who are working and meeting at the Women’s Awareness Center and to document the struggle against the oppressive traditions women still experience in Eastern Africa. We intend to produce a documentary to be called “Omukazi”, which means “woman” in Luganda, the native language of people in the south-central region of Uganda. We will also be developing relationships with other groups in Africa that have similar interests in promoting women’s rights in Africa.
The film, photographs, and interviews we gather on this trip will be available to the faculty and students at Wabash for teaching and learning. We hope to develop programs during this trip that will create opportunities for students to visit and eventually teach at the Women’s Awareness Center.
You are invited to experience Africa with us during the next few weeks. Follow the blog as we interview women who have experienced female circumcisions and physical abuse, who have been bought and sold and deprived of education in order to keep them oppressed.
Emancipation for women is emancipation for men, and educating women is educating society. The collaboration between Wabash and SITEAW emphasizes those two themes. As an all male school this is an opportunity to learn about other people and to help change lives, the purpose of education.