Coaching Women in Villages and Schools in Samburu
By Rachel Lane, CFP®, BCC
On my second trip in three years to the Samburu area of Kenya, I dedicated my time and energy to being more fully present with the locals, from the chefs in the kitchens at the safari camps in Samburu, to the teenage orphans in a girl’s home outside of Kericho. Mostly I engaged with women in Unity Village in Archer’s Post and the Twala Women’s Center in Laikipia. These women of Umoja are taking a stand against female genital mutilation, or FGM, among other harmful cultural practices. As a result, they have been excommunicated from their homes, families and villages. I interviewed one such woman, Gladys, but only after she received approval to speak with me from the women elders in her village.
Background: They live and work and raise their kids in this village, and all money earned goes to the elders. They meet once per month to allocate how the money is spent. In order to further their efforts, but not give handouts, we brought beads with which to make a wider variety of jewelry, perhaps different from the other more common pieces displayed for tourists along the roadsides in Kenya. We also brought a sewing machine (purchased by Ft. Collins resident and restaurateur, Clyde Canino), with foot pedals (since electricity does not exist there). They took off with it – started cranking out bags, napkins, dresses and book bags for the other school kids in nearby villages. They found a market beyond relying on tourism, which is neither plentiful nor dependable in these northern parts of Kenya. Way to go, women!
My personal jewelry making experience under the acacia tree with the Masaii women was profound and humbling. It was actually a complete joke for this left-brained financial planner/professional life coach. One of the girls, Anna, got so frustrated with me trying to put beads on a bangle that she finally grabbed it out of my hands and said, “I’ll do it myself!” (Spoken in Maa, but I assume it was close.) Here I was trying to teach her a new way of making a bangle, which my American jewelry-making friend, Susan, had tried to teach me…well, Anna figured it out quicker than I and took it away from me!
Thankfully I got to walk over to Lorabae, the primary school across the way, and see what was happening there – more of my cup of tea. I found the CSU students I had trained in the “Coach Approach” of holding conversations on values, using a card sort, in various classrooms. I was so excited!! I immediately sensed that these girls have never been asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, “What’s important to you?”, and, “What do you really, really want?” I jumped in at one point and asked, “If you could be anything you wanted, who would you become?” A couple of answers that stuck out were “judge and “pilot” (not attorney or doctor, as I often get with coaching clients stateside.)
You see, these 8th grade girls are at risk of dropping out – not going to secondary school (our “high school”), getting pregnant, and continuing to expand their families, because that’s standard practice in their culture. While our most common greeting to strangers is, “What do you do for a living?” theirs is, “How many kids do you have?” When I answered zero, they about fell over. I really stunned them when they then asked, “How many years do you have?” (No, I’m not going to disclose my age, but I “have” more than 40 years.) Before now, it had not occurred to many of these girls that they could become anything but teenage mothers. Making an impact like that was priceless!
I commend these CSU students I doing coaching for the first time, with a huge language and cultural barrier – again, there was a ton of silence since they’d never been asked such questions before, nor even given the permission and space to answer, I’m quite certain. And if it weren’t for Brett Bruyere, PhD, of CSU’s Natural Resources Department, the CSU students wouldn’t have been there in the first place. This man has been doing extraordinary work with a huge heartfelt and ongoing commitment to the Lorubae school and surrounding community, which is rare (too many NGOs launch into projects with good intentions yet unfortunately lack follow through.) Specifically, he helped construct an all girl’s dormitory to shelter these young girls from forced early marriage, sexual assault, etc. Brett also started the Samburu Youth Education Fund (SYEF), which has 3 feeder schools; Lorubae is only one of them. SYEF grants 50% of their scholarships to young men, and 50% to young women.
Credit to Dr. Pat Williams for providing the initial coach training curriculum the values cards from the Center for Creative Leadership. Most of all, kudos to Karen Canino, who has made over 10 trips to this area, and keeps bringing people over year after year with school supplies, huge hearts and good deeds. Great work, my dear, recycled-artist friend extraordinaire!