|Girls in Kenya receiving their feminine hygiene kits. Photo courtesy of http://www.daysforgirls.org/|
The wild and wonderful Maria Rattray asked me to help her with her Kenya, Africa project. Maria, acting as an ambassador for the Days For Girls organization, recently spent a few weeks in a small Kenyan village teaching and working with the village girls. The trip objective: to promote healthy living and education in a place where girls continue to have a high incidence of dying during childbirth—mere children themselves.
Keeping the village girls in school elevates the whole community, and that is a paramount goal of the Days For Girls organization. The main way to maintain school attendance for the girls is to deal with an issue that forces girls to quit school: the beginning of their menses. In an effort to continue going to school, the girls try using leaves or corn-husks to absorb the blood. Some girls even utilize rocks in an attempt to block the blood flow.(Can you imagine your 8th grade daughter jamming rocks up her vagina?) The girls' futile methods result in their leaving school by age 13 or 14 to sit at home on a piece of cardboard until the messy business of being an adolescent girl subsides. Or worse, they end up pregnant and leave school to tend to their baby.
Maria, who manages a Friday afternoon enrichment program for disenfranchised kids, in addition to her day job as ruler of aquatic therapy at the gym, requested we send a message of love and hope to the girls in Kenya. She asked us to share snippets of what life is like in America; include a bio with photos and relate a personal triumph over an obstacle. She recruited her “Friday Kids” to write messages as well. I told her that my life was hardly a good example, but she wanted my input, so I obliged. How often does one get asked to help change the world, anyway?
I gave a brief bio, and included photos of me growing up American girl style: Midwest spoiled; yet lacking the self-esteem gene—a personal obstacle I used as an example for Maria’s project.
What message of hope did I send to those girls in Kenya who rank below the chicken in their society? I wanted to tell them what to do; but that would be condescending, perhaps misunderstood and no doubt unappreciated. I know little about the people of Kenya, other than a few Public television shows and the occasional news report. I just want us to adopt them all and move them to the United States.
Instead, I offered a message of Silent Hope:
Dear girls of Kenya, consider quietly practicing self-respect; because I think whatever one does in life, especially girls and women, evolves from self-respect and self-love. It’s still a man’s world. Boys are granted self-respect; and men naturally embrace it. Girls seem to have to chase it down—and it always seems to outrun us just when we need it most. Even as women, we battle for that badge of self-respect and the right to realize it.
How can a girl in a Kenyan village, practice self-respect? Learn to love your body and your mind. Treat these gifts with kindness, reverence and gratitude. Understand that while your body houses your spirit, it comes with a solid mind intact. Use it well. Consider that you originated from the spiritual plane, and you will return to that realm when you have lived your life according to your destiny. Meanwhile, you have a spiritual responsibility to care for your spirit’s temple—you.
But you don’t have to utter a word about your practice. Outwardly you may look the same, and do the same chores. However, inwardly you are becoming confident in who you are and how you want to be in this world.
Follow the example set by the author of Man's Search for Meaning. Victor Frankl. Frankl endured his internment in Nazi concentration camps by giving his external suffering, as a prisoner, an empowering meaning for his future and the future of his progeny. Frankl used the power of his mind to live through horrible conditions—engulfed in death and destruction. He silently practiced self-respect and self-love. Use his story to fashion your own fresh narrative.