I once lived in a small African village and my life has never been the same. In the village I was called “Gado.” It meant the third born as I was the third white volunteer to come to Guene. Many of the villagers were concerned with basic survival and spent most of the days farming, foraging food, picking firewood, hauling water and cooking crouched over open flames.
I thought I had something to teach them. I arrived with a mission, a purpose to make their lives better. After all, I grew up in a land of plenty, on a farm bursting with life. We raised cattle, chickens, had gardens, fruit trees and our own fresh water spring.
My upbringing was simple, rich and nourished. I carried so much knowledge with me and came in the spirit of teaching, but little did I know what the villagers really needed.
So I set out, as many had before, injecting myself into the community with the intent to improve a people that I had just met, in a language I scarcely new, in a culture I will not pretend to understand. I spent the next two months meeting with the women in the community to learn more about what was needed, what projects had existed and what was crucial moving forward.
Then, I came to a truth that I’d never faced before: when you are concerned with having enough food to eat and feed your family, nothing else matters.In fact, many of the children ate a combination of corn pounded into a fine powder, mixed with water and cooked over a fire. This gave the feeling of being full, but it did not provide much nutrition.
Living in a moment to moment existence meant many things fell by the wayside. One of the first to go was the education of girls as they helped their mothers with crops, cooking, hauling water, picking wood, and raising their younger siblings.The challenges were well beyond anything I had previously imagined. I was discouraged, and believed that I could not make the change that I knew was needed as a single environmental volunteer on the ground. So I returned to home, went back to school and continued to deepen my skills while never forgetting the dilemma that drove me from the African continent: How can I truly make a difference?
Four years have gone by and I’ve shared about my experience a handful of times. I avoided the topic so as to avoid my own feeling of hopelessness and failure to make a real impact. Despite my belief that there was no solution, one has been brought to my attention.The solution is this: educate the girls, improve the community, break the cycle, and change the world. So that is exactly what I am seeking to do.
I’ve joined forces with the all-volunteer staffed Baby Girl Project. Together we’re building schools for girls in Kenya. Right now we are pushing to build school #24 so are asking all our friends for support. Your contribution will go directly to school construction and upkeep. Please give what you are able either in person or by sending me a check written out to Free the Children. I’ll put your name into our raffle on November 4th.
Many thanks from me and all the baby girls,
Solay L. Howell