The far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 crisis appear as more than just devastating illness. Crop failures, locust swarms, and market shutdowns all combine to put African villages in further peril, and when it comes to fighting these widespread effects, the Pastoralist Child Foundation finds itself on the front lines.
The Pastoralist Child Foundation (PCF) is a nonprofit dedicated to ending female genital mutilation and forced marriages while empowering African women and girls to pursue education and leadership roles in their communities.
Founded in 2012, PCF is the result of New Jersey teacher Sayydah Garrett’s life-changing Kenyan safari. In August 2012, she visited a Maasai village and got to know members of the Samburu tribe near her lodge. After her visit to the village, a chance encounter with one of the lodge waiters–Samuel Siriria Leadismo–turned into a connection that would spark a mission.
Looking over Sayydah’s photos, Samuel pointed out that he knew everyone in the pictures: the village was Namayiana Village, Samuel’s hometown. He told Sayydah about the plight of many girls and women from the area, describing the harmful effects of FGM and forced marriages, expressing his wish that girls could go to school — and that these harmful practices would end before his youngest sister was old enough to take part.
Over the course of that conversation, Sayydah and Samuel agreed to pool their resources and skills–Sayydah’s experience with homeless agencies and nonprofits, and Samuel’s pastoralist background and connections with local communities–to create PCF, an organization dedicated to ending FGM and empowering Kenyan women and girls. Within two weeks, the organization was registered as an official Community Based Organization (CBO) within Kenya, and earned its official incorporation status in New Jersey in 2013.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, PCF embarked on a whirlwind mission to bring education and empowerment to Kenyan villages. The team facilitates sexual and reproductive health workshops related to FGM, child marriage, teen pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS. Participants in PCF workshops boost their self-awareness and self-confidence while learning about child rights and the importance of girls’ education. In addition to the health and human rights workshops, PCF organizes seminars and programs to support women and girls’ financial independence. These include workshops to facilitate women’s economic empowerment and four successful women’s self-help groups.
However, like most organizations working through COVID-19, PCF has had to make a major pivot to help people who need it most. Instead of pushing for empowerment, the PCF team is now focused on village survival.
“At this time, we can’t hold workshops due to COVID-19 restrictions,” says Sayydah. “On April 2, we started distributing food to people in our villages. Our team in Samburu distributed rice, flour, sugar, cooking oil, and tea leaves to 1,775 people in six villages.”
The relief efforts come at a critical time for Kenya. In February, a swarm of locusts ravaged the food supply of tens of millions of people across East Africa. Some experts point to climate change as the culprit: unusual periods of exceptionally heavy rainfall starting in 2018 provided breeding grounds for locusts that formed into mature, city-sized swarms in 2020. These swarms descended on acres of farmland, decimating food supplies across seven countries.
This all happened as the COVID-19 crisis began to ramp up. Now, market closures and unemployment run rampant as well, and the lack of income or harvest-ready food means Kenyan villagers are paying the incredibly steep price.
“The people are literally starving,” says Sayydah. “The local livestock markets have been shut down and there is fear and desperation. Also, the second wave of locust invasion–many times greater than the one in February–is approaching. Crops have already been reduced to almost nothing.”
It’s a terrifying time for the villagers. Without savings to fall back on and with so much threatening their usual support networks, people in Samburu have little to work with.
What’s terrifying is that scientific studies of historic locust swarms point to signs that the next locust invasion will be much worse: although desert locusts only live about three months, they spend most of that time laying eggs that can create a new swarm up to 20 times bigger than the last under the right conditions.
“Farmers and pastoralists are affected the most,” she explains. “There just isn’t any food, and people don’t have any money.”
PCF hopes to offset some of the impact of COVID-19 and the locust swarms with relief efforts that are outside of their usual campaigns for education and empowerment.
“Our current campaign goal is to raise $6,000 to feed an additional ten villages,” Sayydah says. “We hope to teach people how to make and wear masks, practice safe social distancing, and install and use hand washing stations.”
The team launched a GoFundMe through the platform’s charity program on April 18th.
The next locust swarm could hit Kenya as early as June of 2020, when the effects of COVID-19 will still be felt around the world. With the proper financial backing, PCF hopes to offset some of the disastrous impact of both dangers, and get back to providing the educational and empowering resources that form the backbone of their mission.
“We’d love to feed 10 more villages. Will you join us?” Sayydah writes in the PCF GoFundMe. “Every donation counts and is greatly appreciated. On behalf of the communities we serve, thank you for your kind consideration! If you feel the love, please share our campaign with your network of friends and families. Thank you! Merci! Gracias! Asante sana! Grazie! Danke! Дякую! धन्यवाद! ありがとう شكرا لك Спасибо!”
To learn more about the Pastoralist Child Foundation, visit their website.
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