-  On the ground in Kenya with Yael Livneh Faingezicht  -

Leveraging Water to Empower Girls and Women in Kenya

Yael Livneh Faingezicht, the Water Play Therapist who, along with rain harvester Amir Yehieli, and project manager Yossi Offer, played an integral role in the pilot.

Yael’s responses:

“I worked mostly with the teachers and my workshops showed how water can be used as a therapeutic tool, an educational tool and a means of empowerment.

The teachers worked directly with the pupils. A fifth grade glass used water and mud to build a model of their village and thus learned about geography, including orientation according to the compass points; directions of water flow; etc.

They also fashioned their homes out of water and mud and since they were proud of their creations they were eager to describe the others who live in their house and to talk about their home life. Their pride in what they had built allowed them to open up and divulge information about their families that their teachers were previously unaware of and that the children wouldn’t have otherwise spoken about with them.

For example, one ten-year-old child described her home life thus: “This is my house, here are the farm animals, I have five brothers and sisters, my mother works as a seamstress and my father doesn’t live in our house. My grandpa guards our yard. He holds a stick to kill snakes. Of all the people in my house I chose to make a model of my sister, she’s two years older than I am and I love her the most because she’s the only one who takes care of me. If I’m sad, she’s the only one I can talk to.”

A boy in the class told his teacher: “The house I built is made of mud and wooden planks. It’s important that it be strong and not fall apart, like my real house does. I put a satellite antenna on the roof of this house because I wish I had a television.”

Another girl recounted: “In my house everyone works, I mean all the kids. My job is to feed the animals in the morning before I go to school. In the evening after school I take the corn my brother has picked and I go to the market to grind it into flour. Then I go back home and prepare food for my siblings. I wish more than anything that we had light at night so I could do my schoolwork at home.”

The teachers listened to the children and learned things they had never been aware of. In Kenya there is a great emotional distance between teachers and pupils and teachers never ask pupils how they are feeling. Children are related to as a group and not as individuals. Classes are extremely large, with up to 50 pupils. It is a terrible shame that the teachers never get close to the pupils as in Kenya school may be the only place where a child experiences childhood. Most of the time children are expected to work and take responsibility just like adults.

In another workshop I used role-playing techniques to teach teachers how to talk to children about their problems. It emerged that girls are sometimes harassed by boys on their way to and from school and some are afraid of the daily journeys.

The children received paints and colored crayons/markers for the first time ever. For one activity, we asked them to decorate the water tank (photos available of decorated tank)

The teachers built “water worlds” (photos available) so that later they could teach their pupils to build them and in the process their own traumas emerged – one teacher divided her world into two halves. In what she described as the “ideal half” everything blossomed and there was food and plenty. The other half was a wasteland and she described growing up with a “hole” in her stomach caused by hunger, suffering from diseases, and her parents’ helplessness. Asked what she would wish for, she replied: “I would ask god to give me enough food to feed my children so that they will never experience hunger and I would wish for enough to be able to share with others.”

The project is important because it enables the school community and indirectly the village community to help itself.

The villagers are very much locked into a sense of hardship and poverty and did not appreciate the strong community relations that they have, or their spirituality, or their desire to learn and advance.

I talked to them about changing their teaching methods, which they had never considered, and about viewing their pupils as individuals with the potential to shape a better future. It seems that until we suggested it, they had never thought of themselves as role models or agents of change.

Africa’s future depends on its children and its women. Investment is needed in educational resources, emotional support and a shift in the attitude to empowerment.

If the project continues, it will enable empowerment of the community; the children will have clean water; they will get sick less frequently and there will be more food. Children won’t be viewed as cheap labor but rather as the “owners of the future” and hopefully their parents will understand the importance of education so that their children will be able to learn a trade and break the cycle of poverty.

The project will ensure that the teachers have improved pedagogical techniques and improved relationships with their pupils. They will be role models and will reduce the instances of sexual abuse and rape.

The pilot taught us that we need a comprehensive plan to leverage water as a change agent in many spheres, such as: growing food locally; maintaining and building water tanks/receptacles; supporting and teaching new and varied educational approaches that are not based on additional funds; and teaching psychosocial interventions for crisis situations and stress prevention.

Women can be empowered through water, through workshops in sanitation and hygiene that include topics such as sex education, treatment of psycho trauma (using the tools of Water Play Therapy) and more. Now that we are aware of the needs, we have many ideas for future projects. [These can be supplied.]

We know that the pilot was successful because:

  • Teachers report that they would like to continue to learn about the subjects presented in the pilot and that the pilot “opened their minds.”
  • Staff and students enthusiastically participated in the installation of the rain harvesting system.
  • In the six months following our visit and the pilot, a vegetable garden was plante; a chicken coop was built; a fish pond was set up; and teachers adopted a new approach to reading and writing – having the pupils write personal stories. Photographs show the children reading from personal notebooks and using colors to draw – which they never had the possibility of doing before.

The Golden Girl Foundation is an excellent partner so that we were able to reach the target population and have maximum impact – the infrastructure exists to provide and disseminate what we have to offer.

It should be noted that a short time after we left a seven-year-old pupil from the school was raped and as the workshops and role play we engaged in had dealt with this topic, the teachers had some idea of how to provide support to the victim and her classmates and I was able to send instructions about how to respond to such a terrible situation. The teachers reported that all these were of help.

If knowledge is power… then sharing knowledge can be a powerful force for change.
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