All three on our power team can agree on one thing: the following experiences made for the greatest day ever! Stella and Claire from WWANC and Theodezia and Consolatha from Tanzania’s BUWEA all accompanied us on a day trip to a community on the outskirts of Kakamega to pay a visit to the women’s church and the site of Rainwater Harvesters which Women’s Global Connection raised funds for. Three harvesters, all donated by WGC, supply water to about one thousand area residents, including the nearby primary school. A long and bumpy ride down winding red dirt roads gave us the opportunity to see aspects of rural life: children playing near creeks and walking to and from school, women balancing sacks of produce on their heads on the way to sell in the market, men walking herd of cattle down the road, and farmers, both men and women, hacking away at sugarcane. After awhile, we stopped on the side of the road where across the street from us a group of women were waiting outside. Upon seeing us, they began to sing and dance towards the car. It was such a sweet and joyous welcoming and made me feel like apart of their community.
Once inside the church, we all gathered and spent some time getting to know one another. The three of us introduced ourselves to the women and shared a little of our own life lessons and our hopes for our growing partnership. The group saw it fit to give all three of us Kenyan names: Tamarra’s symbolizes the water that WGC has given the community, Brandy’s represents family due to her extreme devotion to her pastor husband and their five children, and mine stands for the sound the women make when they cry out during song and dance because I heartily join them in this. After, they all assembled in a line and with song and dance embraced us. Towards the end of the assembly, the women presented us with an assortment of produce from the women’s individual farms: kale, eggs, hens, avocados, sugarcane, etc. Bestowing us with food from the first harvest is one of the highest honors. Then, I spent some time with three of the women interviewing the women on the sustainability of a bicycle initiative WGC has started here. These women endure so much, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. I am happy they have faith and the support of one another. And I love that the women are always singing, dancing, and praising life. Theirs is such a tight-knit community full of friendship and connection. What struck me the most is how much gratitude they have, and especially for the gifted harvesters. Water is so simple and such a basic need, but indeed a gift. Many in the world do not understand how precious it is because they have never been without. Water is something we have in abundance in the States and is often taken for granted. Traveling to developing countries, Peru and now Africa, I have been made more grossly aware of the global water crisis and how there must be more action and attention on the millions of people who not only go without a clean supply of water but any water, dirty or clean.
But there is hope. A few kilometers away from the church lies our next stop: a primary school. As we enter the gates, I turn to the left and see a group of schoolgirls walking across a playing field singing a song of welcome. Tamarra, Brandy, and myself get out of the car and as we join the schoolgirls I can definitely tell that they are as happy and awe-struck as I with the scene playing out before us. Then the teachers of the school walk us to an outdoor classroom and we sit under a canopy of trees as the girls sing songs to us and we are introduced to the teachers and the head of the school. WGC donated the funds to help build a number of outdoor bathrooms on school grounds for the girls. At an age where girls are maturing and beginning menstruation, the discreteness and privacy of a bathroom is so vital. During our conversation with the elders at the school, our team learns how green and eco-conscious the children are and how they have recently planted around one hundred trees. Being a tree-hugger among all these other little tree-huggers made me so happy. I asked the head of the school if there was anything that our team could plant on site as a way to show our support and solidarity with the school and Stella nodded to me that he said this would happen. Then we had time to have some fun with the children playing soccer, a game of volleyball (Kenyans vs. Americans!), and taking loads of selfies which the children were not shy about. We also took pictures of the rainwater harvester on the grounds. Finally, as we were nearing departure, two little baby trees were brought to us to plant. We walked towards the freshly dug holes and with the help of Stella and the school principal, the team lowered the trees into the ground and covered them with soil and surrounding dirt. I can’t wait to see how much they’ve grown in a year’s time. As the three of us say our final goodbyes, we pile back into the car, and make our way down the winding red dirt road and start the long drive back to our hotel. We talk about the day’s events and laugh and sometimes fall silent, each of us reflecting on what touched us most. For me, it was seeing how much the community was in tune with their surroundings, their connection with and appreciation for nature. The schoolchildren, as young as they are, already understand the importance of clean water and planting trees. They see that with water comes life.
Author: Monica D. Hernandez, UIW PhD student
Author: Brandy Weitzel, MA, LPC
Monday was a day full of bustling energy, good vibes, and group bonding between WGC Team Kenya, WWANC, and female entrepreneurs from surrounding areas of Kakamega. We were beyond excited to hand over the eight bicycles WGC raised funds for to these very deserving women. The eight fully-equipped bicycles came with helmets, air pumps, and safety bands. Our goal is to eventually provide every woman with a bicycle to help support their businesses and improve their overall quality of life. Many of the women travel more than 20 kilometers in a given day by foot. Some of the businesses that the bicycles will help support include the growing of vegetables, the raising and selling of chicken, and the marketing and selling of clothing and handmade goods. The Bicycle Safety and Maintenance workshop began with introductions where the women greeted one another with the Kenyan handshake and chanted in unison the phrase “Woman E” meaning empowered woman. As I scanned the room, I was in awe of the strong, independent, and resourceful group. Many of the women have received microloans and have already doubled their business’ profit and intend on expanding. With bicycles, the women will have the opportunity to market and sell their products more efficiently and further increase their profitability. In the workshop, the women learned bicycle safety and maintenance strategies by Tamarra and Dick Waswa, the spokesperson for Exito Investments Limited, an organization based out of Nairobi that provides services to developing businesses to increase their efficiency and productivity in a growing, competitive market. Among these services is being a provider of bicycle transport. Mr. Waswa made our partnering with the organization the perfect match for he is a man of strong conviction and an empowering message that struck a chord with us all: “I am a feminist. I am not an apologist. If we take care of woman, we take care of a community.” These bicycles will go a long way in having women take care of the self and others.
Authors: Monica D. Hernandez; Brandy Weitzel
Saturday, the 13th of July, began with a blessing and the blessings have been in abundance since. The day began with an early but short flight to Kisumu followed by a pleasant one hour drive to Kakamega. Travelers are always grateful for a smooth journey! Once we arrived to the hotel, we were greeted by Claire and Stella, members of the Women in Water and Natural Conservancy team, who welcomed us with warm and friendly smiles and banter. Our group quickly settled in and hit the ground running with our first workshop, and I mean literally. The first workshop on our itinerary was the running workshop and began with a welcoming and some opening remarks by Tamarra followed by the candle blessing, a WGC immersion trip tradition. Then the group along with the two WWANC ladies began with a warm up and light stretching before doing a one mile run/walk around the perimeter of the hotel. The goal of the workshop was to plant a seed in the women and encourage them to begin thinking of starting their own running chapter in Kakamega of 261 Fearless, which was founded by Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, whose mission is to increase the empowerment and social support of women. Thankfully, it began raining during our run which felt cool and refreshing after getting our endorphins up!
Sunday was the group’s rest day; however, we did anything but rest. Brandylynn Weitzel joined Stella at morning church service while Tamarra Mencey and myself took a trip to the neighborhood market. There will be more to come from Brandy on her inspiring and humbling experience at church. I’ll just say that she certainly has a home away from home as we are all beginning to feel here in Kakamega. In the late afternoon, Claire accompanied the group to Kakamega Forest for a five-mile hike through the tropical jungle. Our guide, Jonah, was a very friendly local with a deep love and respect for the land he calls home. Native to Kakamega, Jonah guided us through the breathtaking and green lush rainforest identifying the flora and fauna of the area and the healing properties of its many trees. Out on the main road, he pointed out a colony of ants that make their home high up the bark of a tree, expressing the sentiment that nature is important to all walks of life.
As we walked deeper and deeper into the forest, each of us made time to connect with our mystical surroundings and with one another. Our guide passed a few words of wisdom along and spoke to us of the realities of life as we climbed to the highest peak of Buyangu Hill, giving us a breathtaking view of the forest. The forest is a mere one-tenth of its natural size due to the destruction of man and remains to be the only piece of a massive tropical rainforest that once spanned across Central Africa. The area was also very close to being occupied by Uganda. I asked Jonah why this was, but sometimes stories are too long to be repeated. Fortunately, what remains is being protected and preserved. Another highlight of our hike was entering a bat cave on our descent, which was not for the faint of heart, but worth it to see these beautiful creatures up close in their natural habitat. Going down the mountain was just as grueling as it was going up but we thank Jonah for being our guide, our helping hand, and leading us down paths of gratitude and wonder and left me reflecting on how much we are all blessed with one another.
Monica D. Hernandez, University of Incarnate Word PhD student
After a full two days of travel, the Kenya 2019 team landed in Nairobi excited about the time we would get to spend in the modern city taking in the sights and learning a little about Kenyan culture. The morning of July 10th, we met with a member of Women in Water and Natural Conservancy at the hotel and discussed the purchase, distribution, and workshops for the bicycles going to the female members of WWANC. WGC is proud to have raised enough money in the past few months for eight bicycles! Tamarra Mencey, leader of the Kenya trip and organizer of the bicycle project, is focused on creating a bicycle partnership that will continue advocating for and participating in the project. Her mission is to make the project sustainable and give women the tools and training necessary so they may go back to their villages and disseminate their new-found knowledge.
In the afternoon, our guide took us to the Bomas of Kenya. The Bomas, which translated means homestead, is a cultural center with the mission of preserving and carrying on the rich traditions of diverse tribes in Africa through the art of performance. When we arrived, our group toured the grounds and learned about the different tribes as we walked among replicas of traditional rural homesteads; testaments to each clan’s societal structure. We observed the very subtle and unique ways in which tribes arranged their villages with huts for the husband, wives, and other members of their tribe as well as where they stored their food and animals. Although the women in tribes are greater in number, men hold the most power. This power is visually and ostensibly displayed in the different song and dance performances where the men seem to take the lead and command attention. A notable performance was done by the Maasai warriors who dress in traditional bold red garb and carry spears and chant and jump for the duration of their dance as a show of strength and manhood.
The next day began well before dawn as our group arrived to Nairobi National Park for a great safari adventure. The respect and care that Kenyans attend to in regards to the local wildlife speaks to the rich history and booming tourism. The park rests against an urban backdrop and is kilometers upon kilometers of open grass plain and houses an expansive population of animals including four of the big five: lions, leopards, buffalo, and rhino. Our guide took great pains to teach us not only about the animals but of the park’s conservation efforts. Driving through the open grass plain taking in the stunning Kenyan setting, watching native animals in the wild evokes feelings of serenity. Our guide described in great detail how the biodiversity and ecosystem here is precious and everything coexists in harmony from the Cape buffalo and Eastern black rhino to the hundreds of flora native to the region. This is reminiscent of the many tribes that call this great country home: everyone has a place and a purpose.
After the safari, our guide took us to the nearby elephant orphanage, another testament to the care and preservation of animals. Kenyans know their duty and obligation to land and animals. When an animal suffers, all of Kenya suffers. The pain and sadness in an animal’s eye cannot be shied away from. They are the soul of this beautiful country along with the laughter and the tears of its people. Watching the baby elephants frolic and play in the red mud at the sanctuary brought so much joy to the onlookers. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust cares for baby elephants, most of them rescued from the Masai Mara. Guests of the orphanage are able to watch the handlers, from a close proximity, feed and care for the elephants as the babies give themselves mud baths, play with hose water, and bask freely under the warm sun. The babies are tender and innocent and watching them and hearing their stories of rescue are remarkable. The fact that these beautiful creatures suffer greatly at the hands of greedy poachers is heartbreaking and one visit alone is enough to compel you to move to this great continent and become a full-time conservationist and activist, that is, if you didn’t already have a mission which the three of us on the WGC Kenya Team are excited and eager to begin work on. With tomorrow being a new day and with the many experiences our group has taken in during our short stay in Nairobi, from the laughs and warm exchanges with the locals to the majestic encounters with the land and wildlife, we are ready to look towards fulfilling our mission of female independence and empowerment.
Three travelers departed from the San Antonio Airport bright and early this morning. We will share more of their work and adventures over the coming weeks. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers as we send off this amazing group!
In 2018, I, a doctoral student at UIW traveled to Chimbote, Peru and collaborated with my professor and advisor Alfredo Ortiz on a series of workshops using Photovoice to better understand the women of Pushaq Warmi. Photovoice is a tool using images to document people’s realities while drawing attention to issues and concerns within their community. I leaned towards this method for its ability to tell a story through images and capture the voice of those whom are often marginalized.
To explore more ways of knowing the group, we conducted a series of interviews, encounters, and social interactions. During the first day-long workshop, Professor Ortiz along with his colleague, Juan Carlos Macedo, led a series of activities to strengthen the communication between the Pushaq Warmi members. Then I carried out a two-hour workshop introducing the women to Photovoice and showing them how it can help them better voice their concerns in their community on a number of topics pertinent to their organization. These topics include: self-esteem, women’s empowerment, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship. Then the group was given the task of successfully executing Photovoice under my guidance.
As mentioned earlier, Photovoice is a participatory action research method designed to allow participants to document their realities, create a narrative, and heighten public awareness on a social concern. For the purpose of my research, I also used this method to understand the dynamics, structure, and mission of Pushaq Warmi. The women of the group are currently undergoing a project raising education and awareness of sexualized violence of children in Peru. They lead a series of workshops in surrounding schools and communities where the women through a series of lectures, group discussions, and activities and performances teach women and their families how to respond to and prevent such abuse in their homes.
Returning for a third time this summer to Chimbote, my objective was to execute a community exhibit with the group and carry out interviews with the women thereafter to get their impressions and feedback of the Photovoice method and resulting exhibit. The exhibit was held in the gallery of the Centenario, a community center for the residents of Chimbote. Pushaq Warmi also used the opportunity to sell their crafts, the way they supplement the funding for their projects and secure the cost for transportation, supplies, and refreshments. The gallery was rather large, but we were granted limited use of the space for the public display of photos. This was not of such consequence for the photos were small as a result of being taken with camera phones, the only camera equipment that the women had access to. The women in their ingenuity creatively displayed the photos and corresponding captions on two large standing whiteboards in such a way that a story was created of young children in impoverished communities having to face the threat of sexual abuse, alone and misunderstood.
Children often do not have a voice and the problem becomes even more unsurmountable when their mothers are subjected to the same amount of oppression and mistreatment. Many countries are patriarchal with machismo being a long-standing part of their culture and Peru is no different. This was quite apparent when observing the number of female guests in attendance at the exhibit in relation to men although many of high-status were invited. But I also witnessed something great: female bonding and a shared sisterhood. Women embracing women. A safe space where women could support and lean on one another. The exhibit had a good turnout of women in mass. And this is a very good thing. It depicts the growing shift of women who demand to be heard and seek social justice for those who are not.
This may have not been the entire audience we wanted, but this was the audience we needed. Engaging in dialogue and calling attention to social issues is at the forefront of the Photovoice method and in that respect the exhibit was a success. Pushaq Warmi would like to continue using this technique to draw attention to the many topics and societal problems they face living in a developing country: women’s inequality, waste pollution, limited access to clean water, and inadequate education. And with each narrative they create, their stories are recorded and preserved to educate the next generation of young men and women how to be socially responsible and full of humanity and compassion towards one another.
By: Monica D. Hernandez, PhD student and part-time English faculty, University of Incarnate Word
A woman from the Amazon explains the meaning of their beautiful design to Paul Chaiken.
On the Tuesday of May 26, 2019 the WGC group visited members of the Shipibo tribe who had emigrated from the Amazon region to Lima. For a few years Sister Katty Huanuco, the Director of the Incarnate Word Sisters Oficina de Justicia, Paz y Tierra has encouraged the community. When we arrived, Sister Katty sat us down on plastic lawn chairs arranged in a circle. We then went around the circle introducing ourselves. About thirty women, men, and children welcomed us.
As we were talking, we learned that their main source of income was selling their ancestral crafts on the streets of Lima. Their designs were passed on from generation to generation with each person having their own unique designs within the general style.
Even though they have moved to Lima, they have retained their native language, the Shipibo, and they have kept practicing their own herbal medicine on minor illnesses. A big reason why they moved to Lima is that there are no universities in the Amazon; they are restricted to primary and secondary school.
Most of their crafts were fabrics with intricate, maze-like designs stitched on. Other times the tapestries had paintings on them that depicted the daily life in their culture like carrying water back to the village or smoking San Pedro cactus to see across space and time.
Sister Martha Ann bought a cloth with intricate designs that seemed to not mean much. But after talking to the woman that made the cloth, it depicted a birds eye view of a village (in the circle) surrounded by walkways, rivers, and forests (outside of the circle).
[According to the Shamanic Education Project The Shipibo people “are a shamanically based people, deeply influenced by the power of the plants, animals and natural elements. A unique aspect of the Shipibo culture is their woven song tradition. The Shipibo record their icaros or healing songs in elaborate geometrical designs that function like a musical score and correlate and interact with the natural world. They see the patterns in the natural world and are able to reproduce them for protection, healing, abundance, harmony and a variety of other purposes.”]
After buying some of their beautiful fabrics, beads, and crafts, Sr. Katty led us praying together and took group pictures. We left the Shipibo people amicably, but there were still mysteries in how they lived.
Contributed by Paul B. Chaiken
Women’s Global Connection with the assistance of Sister Katty is learning more of the 250 Shipibo families who are seeking education for their children in Lima, yet they want to preserve their language and culture. Perhaps we can form a partnership with them.
Protecting the Amazon region and respecting the people of the Amazon is important. The rain forest is the “lungs” of our planet. It holds thousands of species. Sister Katty is active in religious organizations trying to protect the Amazon. Powerful corporations have been taking advantage of the native peoples of the Amazon. With global climate change the Shipibo people along the Ucayali River have experienced floods and droughts. Also there has been deforestation.
“Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity.” UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 2
Shipibo women are probably best known for their pottery decorated with maze like patterns. Some of these are in the Smithsonian collections.
One of our travelers, Evelyn Garcia, happily displays a blouse she got from them.
Another of the travelers, Meghan Mueller, enjoyed her Shipibo dress on her first day in Cuzco.