I think we’ve all wondered about our true purpose at one point or another. We’re all so busy with our lives; we’re taking care of our families, building businesses and attempting to reach and maintain optimal health. Those things are all so important. However, I’ve always felt that my story didn’t end there. I knew my heart wouldn’t be completely satisfied unless I was using some of my gifts to give back to those who need it most. That inclination, coupled with my desire to uplift, unite and inspire women (and for this trip, Kenyan girls), made working with World Vision on this very special mission an organic step for me.
I traveled to Africa in March of this year with World Vision. As an ambassador for the Kenya Education and Child Protection Project, I embarked on a journey I would never forget. My family and I donate money to this specific cause annually. We have for several years. Because of that, we visited the area to see first-hand the community we support. You might be wondering what the trip and mission was all about in the first place. The heartbreaking details will shock you.
The Horror of FGM
In this area of Kenya, female genital mutilation (FGM) is a common cultural practice. Girls ages 8 to 14 must often endure before being married off at their young ages. Their fathers don’t necessarily see them as valuable, so they don’t consider other options like education for the girls’ lives. The area we visited is more than half a day’s drive outside of the capital city. Many of these young girls don’t even dream about being more than a wife because they simply don’t know it’s possible.
When the time arrives, the mutilation takes place in extremely unhygienic places, without proper medical supervision or sanitized tools, and with no anesthesia. If one of the girls has an infection or disease, it becomes extremely probable that the illness may be transmitted to the others because of the lack of sterile instruments. Many of the girls suffer severe risks from the procedure, and some even die.
A desperate few endeavor to escape the predestined fate of FGM that awaits them if they stay at home; they instead flee into the bush, braving the wilderness for a long trek to shelters known as “safe havens.” There they are taken in by women who work courageously to help these girls begin their paths to education and opportunity. These are women who are members of the community and empowered by World Vision to then empower these girls. The girls are told that their uniform, food and room and board are all paid for, and that their only job is to study hard and be successful.
I can remember seeing the light in each girl’s face and being shocked when they greeted me with overwhelming gratitude. I couldn’t believe it. These valiant young women met me saying “thank you” for all I’ve done, and all I could think about was that my donations pale in comparison to what they have gone through and pushed past. With their education in tow, many go on to become nurses and teachers and huge contributors to their communities and villages. They become beacons of hope for so many other girls. When other young girls see what is achievable, that little sliver of hope is enough to spark thoughts of not being a wife, but instead a scientist or doctor who will never know the ills of FGM.
During my time in Kenya the leaders decided to hold a ceremony to unveil the new school which had been commissioned in my name. The moments during and after this celebration were full of emotion I don’t possess words to describe. The girls jumped and danced and sang with what sounded like unbridled joy! The money we donated took them from a small room which functioned as both a classroom with desks and their sleeping quarters to a full-fledged school with rooms in which to sleep and space to be normal kids. Seeing their happiness in that moment gave me an understanding of what it means to help in this way.
Supporting the Cause
Many have asked me since my return how they can help end FGM. Upon learning about this awful practice, it can seem so immense an issue that the thought of making a sizeable impact becomes daunting. But that is simply not true. This cause is one that World Vision and I are both committed to seeing through until there is no longer a need. For the price of what many of us spend during a weekend, you can sponsor a girl for an entire year in one of these schools, giving her the chance to change her world and future. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
By donating to this cause, you are not only helping the plight of eradicating FGM; you are providing a way out for generations of young women. Your assistance gives these young girls a future that surpasses the one they’ve only dreamed about. It opens up the world for them and empowers them to be leaders and trailblazers within their own communities.
I sincerely hope you’ll join me in this fight to end FGM and move one huge step further toward leveling the playing field for women — not only in our immediate lives and geographical areas, but in the lives of these precious, brave and determined young people who refuse to let tradition stand in the way of advancement. Thank you for anything you are able to contribute.
Learn more about World Vision and the Kenya Education and Child Protection Project, and DONATE here.