Completing our work in Kongelai

  • Date: 01/06/2021
  • Author: Jo-Ann Ward

Right now, the world is facing multiple humanitarian crises, growing inequality and a climate crisis, all during a global pandemic which has affected all of us. In the face of so many struggles, it’s a privilege to share a very good news story and a wonderful outcome for a community who ActionAid has long been a part of. After 13 busy years, ActionAid has successfully completed our project in Kongelai, Kenya. With support from our incredible Irish child sponsors and the general public through Irish Aid, the community of Kongelai, have transformed their own lives. They are now able to build on their own success.

Kongelai had many social and community issues when we first began working in the community. School enrollment rates were low. The practice of female genital mutilation on young girls was common place. Child marriage rates were high. Food scarcity was a constant concern.

Our work in Kongelai

For the last 13 years, our local ActionAid staff have worked with the community to build the skills of local people, especially women and children.

An irrigation programme has meant that during times of drought hunger is no longer an issue in the area. Susan, who lives in the community, is using the new system. She says, ‘ActionAid gave us 50 manual pumps for irrigation. I shared one with my neighbour. This improved the quality and quantity of my small piece of land produce. I started supplying vegetables to the nearby 2 primary schools. This has greatly helped us to pay school fees for our children and they are no longer being sent home due to non-payment of school fees.’ The formation of girls’ and boys’ forums in school, school feeding programmes and the building of a 100-bed dormitory has helped to improve enrolment rates and keep more children in school.

We worked with ex-FGM cutters, teachers, parents and students to drastically reduce the rates of FGM in the area. The work at a community level has transformed the lives of some of the most marginalised women and children. And now, they in turn are wonderful advocates for the next generation.

Salestine’s story

Salestine is a 28-year-old mother of 5 children from the Kongelai region. At age 8, Salestine was forced to drop out of school as her parents could not afford to pay the school fees. A few years later, she was forced to marry. She became the 3rd wife to a much older man.  With little education or training available to her, Salestine had few opportunities to better her life.

However, when ActionAid began to work in Kongelai, she new possibilities of a better life opened up to Salestine. ‘When ActionAid came in and started community awareness on girls’ education in my village, they encouraged me to go back to school to better my life.’  The ActionAid Kenya team spoke to Salestine’s husband on the importance of her education. As a result, she enrolled back into Secondary school where she received her diploma. 

After graduating she then went on to complete her studies in Social Work & Community Development. In 2018 Salestine began working as County Government Official for the West Pokot area. She says, ‘I anticipate to achieve more in my career and above all work in a position that will have influence in community social change. I want to see West Pokot communities shun retrogressive cultures of Female Genital Mutilation and other Gender Based Violence. As a representative of the local county government administrator in my village, I am already using the knowledge gained in ensuring that the rights of women and girls in Kongelai is respected.’ 

Celebrating Kongelai

On 27th May 2021, in recognition of the incredible supporters who have stood with the women and families of Kongelai, we held an event to celebrate what this support has helped to achieve in this community for the long term. And what an achievement it has been. You can watch the recording of the full event here. With the passcode J&YJG2!d.

Testimony from the community

On the day Susan Krop, Chairperson of Komesi Women’s Network gave powerful examples of the work carried out in Kongelai. She talked about how girls are now finishing primary school and moving on to secondary school. And how the whole community is proud of the wonderful grades these girls are getting. Susan shared how former cutters, who carried out FGM on young girls in the area, are now the biggest advocates against the practice. They will ensure the practice is gone forever in the area. She talked about how, before the ActionAid project, women were not listened to at community meetings. They had to sit on the ground while men took all the chairs – women now have a physical and metaphorical seat at the table when it comes to community planning.

Testimony from a supporter

Later, Wicklow based supporter Aodán Clarke talked about his visits to Kongelai in 2010 and 2020. And he shared his experience in the community. (Aodán is pictured above visiting the community in February 2020. He gave a powerful testimony of the work he had seen first hand and closed by saying: “I have used words to describe the people in the community and the interaction with the ActionAid staff such as, “mutual respect”, “solidarity” , “humility” . These are some of the words in ActionAid’s stated values, vision and goals. They are not just words in a document, they are living actions being born out by ActionAid’s work in facilitating solidarity between communities around the world. Myself and Anne are grateful to be part of a community of ActionAid supporters showing solidarity with other communities who are fighting for the same objectives.”

Thank you

Through Aodán and all ActionAid’s supporters unwavering support and the tenacious work of Susan, the Komesi Women’s Network and all of our partners in Kongelai the community is safer, happier and better place to live.

Some of the major achievements in Kongelai

  • Constructed a modern 100 bed dormitory and 1 dining hall in a Kongelai primary school, that has kept over 500 girls in school
  • Constructed classrooms in 5 Primary and 1 Secondary school which improved the enrolment rate of girls.  
  • 7,500 children have benefited from ActionAid’s Girls & Boys Forum while in school! 
  • Distributed food relief to 33 primary schools which helped reduce the rate of school drop-out from 20% to 5%.  
  • Educated and trained communities to reject FGM which saw rates drop from 80% in 2008 to 40% in 2020. 
  • ActionAid rescued at least 51 girls from FGM and, as a result, police arrested 14 circumcisers.
  • Constructed an 80-bed Safe House for girls fleeing FGM and forced child marriage.  
  • Distributed essential food items to community members in 5 locations benefiting 3,000 community members. 
  • Supported community members to have their voice heard, increasing their public participation from 20% to 60%.  

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