Thursday 5 April 2012

On a Mission in Kenya - by Southampton's Daily Echo writer Sally Churchwood

ELAINE Waterfield is the first to admit that being in Kenya was a huge culture shock.
Having gone from her home in Southampton to live in a remote mud hut with no electricity or running water
and an outdoor pit for a toilet the move was difficult for her to adjust to.

But what she found really shocking was some of the scenes she witnessed while working there as a missionary in rural Suna Migori in the west of the country. Elderly people left to fend for themselves and beg on the streets, children who she believed had been deliberately injured to help them beg and clinics where medical supplies were in such short supply that sticky tape was being used to dress wounds were among the things that disturbed her most.

But what she was most shocked by –and what she wanted to do something about – was the attitudes and
behaviour surrounding girls. “Because of the poverty and the desire to learn, girls prostitute themselves for money for things like school fees,” says the 50- year-old from West End who went to Kenya for five months
in September.

“They need the money for sanitary towels too. They don’t have anything for that so they end up using banana leaves that don’t work.” She says she was aware of girls as young as nine working as prostitutes. Among the most shocking sights she saw was a girl of 12 going into labour in the medical clinic.

“Her body wasn’t big enough for her to be able to give birth – she had to have a Caesarean section in the end,” she says.
“After they finish school for the day you see the men waiting in the bushes for the girls to prostitute themselves.
They only get about £1 for it. I went into the schools and talked to the girls to try to empower them and say ‘you don’t need to prostitute yourselves – you get so little money for it anyway’. “I kept saying ‘it’s terrible’ to the other people working there. They laughed at me because I was saying it all the time but to me it was such a shock.”

Elaine found that there were a number of factors that kept girls away from school, denying them the much
needed education that could help break the poverty cycle. “The girls don’t have the same opportunities as boys. The families are poor and they prefer to send the boys to school. And when they girls have their periods they don’t go to school because they don’t have anything to properly stop the blood.”
Elaine saw that this was an area where she could give practical help.
She went to a wholesalers and bought a large box of sanitary towels for some schoolgirls. They were so  gratefully received that she decided to do this on a larger scale.

She contacted a Christian group in Southampton that she used to be involved in to help her raise money.
Further donations came in following an appeal on Kenyan television. “We were able to give almost 1,000
girls sanitary towels. They walked miles and miles to get them.”

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