By Liz Reed, Orinda, CA, MedShare Supporter
When I sat down to blog about the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, I couldn’t help thinking instead about our time spent with a beautiful Kenyan woman! The soft early morning air and the play of light and mist held her story aloft.
Joyce Kiereini is nothing short of a walking miracle, — a Masai woman with a mission! Co-founder of R.E.T.O., she steers this organization of Masai women leaders in working for the betterment of Masai women and girls in the areas of health, female genital mutilation and economic opportunities.
Joyce grew up in a tribal culture in which a female lives out her entire life first under the dominion of her father’s will and then under that of her husband. Here are some of the examples Joyce gave of Masai life: The Masai daughter is of little value, so at the age of 11, 12 or 13 is “given away.” The Masai woman is subject to the traditional practice of female genital mutilation. She is subject to her husband’s permission in order to obtain a doctor’s care in childbirth, even in life-threatening circumstances. She is subject to her husband’s adulterous behavior, putting her at risk for HIV/Aids. The wife has no say in matters of money; money earned is her husband’s. She may not even vote in an election for a candidate which her husband does not sanction! Oftentimes she is left with the burdens of household chores, children, and animals alone while her husband either sits idle or leaves for long periods of time, even months.
So how is it that we even get to sit here to listen to Joyce’s story?
Joyce’s life took a big detour from the typical path. Her mother died when she was so young that Joyce has no memory of her. Her older sister cared for her until she was “given away.” She took Joyce to live with her and her husband. Her sister made sure she went to school, although it is unusual for a girl to get a formal education. Until the age of 18, Joyce did not know who her father was. Joyce believes it is because of the loving care of her sister and the broken chain of paternal influence that she escaped her fate.
Her mission involves teaching women about how to handle money, practice safe sex and enact family planning, and how to care for their own health. Some teaching includes the partners of these women. The old beliefs and behaviors may be hard to reckon with, but Joyce persists. She gave us an example of how the organization wanted to give money to some of the women (can’t remember what for, maybe micro business), and insisted the money would not be given to their spouses, as is the custom. Many could not make this promise, so the money would not be given to them. I’m sure she had much more to share, but we needed to leave for Nairobi Women’s Hospital.
As I listened to Joyce tell her story I felt the great passion she has for the lifework she has chosen. She is at once gentle and strong, compassionate and courageous. She has made the leap out of “the stable” and is calling to those who can hear. Hers is a life dedicated to shepherding her Masai sisters as they journey into the most blessed tradition: a life lived through the inspiration of Freedom!
This post is part of a series we’re doing over the coming days while MedShare staff, Board of Trustee and Council members travel through Kenya from February 17 – 27. We invite you to share the experience with them by reading their stories; to access them, click on the “Africa Trip“ icon in the right sidebar. Safe travels, team!