Swahili is among the 10 most widely spoken languages in the world, with more than 200 million speakers, and one of two official languages of the East African Community countries, including Kenya. The seven participants on the German team - Anna, Elias, Felix, Nelly, Rabea (or was it Gabby? ;), Teresa, and Terry - did their best to learn some Swahili during the 16-day stay in Nairobi, and picked up what is probably one of the most important things to know how to say in the world: "Furaha ni kuwa na marafiki", i.e. happiness is having friends! The seven participants on the Kenyan team - Everline, Faith, Jackson, John, Judy, Moreen and Vitalma - surely brushed up on their German as well, which they will get to practice more during the return visit in Berlin that is scheduled for August.
We did build amazing Kenyan-German friendships on this first encounter trip of our ExchangeForEquality project. Based in the beautiful Subiaco Retreat Center in lush and green Karen, Nairobi, we set out to explore the topic of gender equality, and in particular gender-based violence (GBV). GBV is an issue faced by people all over the world, and can impact anyone, regardless of their socio-economic background, race, religion, sexuality, or gender identity. While women and girls are the most at risk and the most affected by gender-based violence, boys, men, and sexual and gender minorities also experience GBV. According to the United Nation’s Population Fund, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexualized violence in their lifetime. That is not including emotional, financial, or verbal abuse. Despite being so prevalent, gender-based violence is largely under reported because of stigma and lack of access to resources and support systems.
What probably touched us most during our time in Nairobi were the heartfelt talks and discussions we had with people in the community. We were warmly welcomed by the tough girls and women of Boxgirls Kenya - an NGO fighting gender-based violence in marginalized communities through boxing and sports. "Strong girls, safe community" and "Together We are Strong" read on their t-shirts, which matched very nicely with the "Equality Now!" print on ours. Not only were we touched by the recounts of a lack of menstrual hygiene products, teenage pregnancy, abuse and violence we heard that day, but also impressed by the strength, positive attitude and tenacity these girls show.
At Amani Ya Juu - a fair trade sewing and training program for refugee women from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and other countries - we learnt about the power of work, business, and financial independence, in combating GBV and inequality. Women here gain experience in stitching, sewing, quality control, purchasing, bookkeeping, management and design, and together make beautiful products they are very proud of.
Africa Youth Trust hosted us to introduce their reporting system for victims of GBV. The brave women who shared their stories with us this afternoon opened our eyes to why it is so hard to leave a domestic abuse relationship, and how trapped one can feel when there seems to be no way out. It is through a common activitiy of soap-making that the women here are empowered economically and emotionally, with the goal of eventually seeking justice.
What else did we learn? We learnt about TEAM work, and that Together Everybody Achieves More! As a joint effort the group planned and realized a school lesson for 66 teenage girls aged 16-18 at St. Martha's Parish around the topic of SDG5 gender equality. The lesson was taught in four stations, where we talked about the topics of menstrual health, family background, relationships and personal development. For a peek into our school lesson, click the video link here:
The girls shared what society expects them to be like, which challenges they face as women, and what kind of aspirations they have for their future. Reading some of the testimonies brought to light just how much work there is to be done to break gender stereotypes. Just have a look at what some of the school girls wrote:
It became evident to us why our project has value and we felt proud that we could at least do a small part in bringing about more awareness on GBV and gender equality with conducting the school lesson that day. We are looking forward to hold a similar session in Germany, to find out what experiences of gender inequality are to German students.
Aside from learning a lot and putting team work into action, we were fortunate to experience Kenya's hospitaliy, warmth, culture and nature. One of the highlights was getting real close to and even feeding the Rothschild giraffes at the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Giraffe Center. Did you know that giraffe baby's can run up to 65 km/h just half an hour after they are born? Or that giraffes only sleep some 30 minutes per day in total, and they do this standing up and with their eyes open? Or that their purple tongues have inbuilt UV sun protection?
There's a lot more we could tell you, and we'll make sure to keep you updated on the next steps in the #ExchangeForEquality project. We've got another 16 days together in Berlin later this year, when we will be exploring the topics of GBV and gender equality from within German society. We are also building digital stories about our experiences that we would like to publish as part of the UN 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign in November 2022. Watch our Ludwig Wolker e.V. YouTube space for these stories, and help us spread the message far and wide.
And we're planning on supporting Esther, the young girl we met at Boxgirls Kenya, who is setting up her own empowerment project in the marginalized communities of Nairobi. As one of the participants, Jackson, puts it: "We don't want it to end here. We want to keep advocating for gender equality also long after our project ends."
A huge thanks to our partners at IYCS Africa, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Benedictine Sisters at Subiaco Retreat Center, our driver Peter, who got us safely around Nairobi, and all the amazing people we met along the way. We feel blessed.