Women speak up!

Abigail Oduol | March 7, 2017

Abigail Oduol (in CWS polo) joins Psirwo Primary School parents in song and dance. Photo: CWS

Abigail Oduol (in CWS polo) joins Psirwo Primary School parents in song and dance. Photo: CWS

The dry arid landscape suddenly gives way into wild grasses and straw huts dotting the landscape like a painting from a children’s book. Red, black and blue basins were dipped into the river and sat carefully on its bank, swirling a packet of laundry detergent into the pristine water. An echo arose and grew louder as we crossed the river and made our way to the tall blue gate surrounding Chepkram school in West Pokot, Kenya.

A large group of women dressed in traditional skirts for the special occasion harmonized in Pokot, “you have changed our lives, you have changed our children’s lives.”

The group of women danced their way toward us, and then led us through the school they were so proud of. Josephine* was among these singing women. She spoke excitedly about all of the wonderful things that she has been a part of in her village. Helping her village have a year round river instead of the seasonal river that they had before by building a sand dam with the help of CWS donors. She joyously led the other women down to the shallow well, dancing and pumping water, showing how clean and plentiful it was, and invited me to drink the water that she helped put in her children’s school. As she spoke and sang, the women’s faces lit up, remembering the toilets, the gate and all the changes that have happened in their community.

Before, Josephine was excited about the water but didn’t feel like she had anything to say about her children’s education. She didn’t have enough for school materials, uniforms or even food to send her children to school with. She felt embarrassed and unworthy of sharing her opinions in the PTA. Josephine and 10-15 other women sat silent and alone, feeling it would be easier to withdraw their children from school.

But a teacher recently trained by CWS on how to involve parents reached out to her and the other parents experiencing similar struggles. He put the parents in another group, where they began to share stories, loan and borrow money from each other, and learn about how to be financially independent. As Josephine learned how to read and write and improve her business, she began to speak up in PTA meetings. “Even when they say they do not want to go to school, I send them,” she says proudly. A year ago, she would have let them stay at home.

Josephine looks forward to seeing her children get all the way through college now. “Education will give them a good future.”

Something wonderful has started in West Pokot.

Abigail Oduol is an Associate Development Officer with CWS. She is based in California.