We boarded a plane in May as a cross-parliamentary delegation, eager to experience the impact that Canada is making in Kenya. From the start, we were aware this would be no ordinary trip. But what we experienced changed us forever.
The girls at St. Elizabeth’s School and Rescue Centre had all fled their homes to escape the unthinkable. Many had trekked alone through the wilderness for days, sleeping under bushes by night. They were less afraid of wild animals than of what would happen at home.
In some cases, a marriage bargain had been struck by a girl’s family. In other cases, it was time to undergo the traditional rite of female genital mutilation. Some had already endured both. Others couldn’t face another day of sexual abuse or beatings.
We struggled to accept what we were hearing. We were sitting with some of the girls, between the ages of 12 and 13, in a small room at St. Elizabeth’s School, listening as they shared their stories. How could children have endured so much suffering–more than most of us face in a lifetime? The pain in the room was palpable. Moreover, unacceptable.
We had come to Kenya with World Vision, looking for evidence that Canada is making a difference for children like these courageous and determined young Kenyans. We wanted proof. And we found it.
We saw the results of Canada’s care, through both Canadian aid and private support from individual Canadians. World Vision is an established organization with decades of experience in Kenya and strong connections in local communities. We witnessed transformation that’s possible when trust is present.
The girls at St. Elizabeth’s are welcomed through the door with the gentlest of hands. Despite all they’ve suffered, many of the girls have clear visions for their futures. Now, they have a chance to finish growing up, complete high school, and enter mentorship programs.
The children who stumbled in from the bush step out into different futures.
Liberal MP Pam Damoff, pictured in jeans on the left, travelled to Kenya with her parliamentary colleagues, NDP MP Cheryl Hardcastle and Conservative MP Len Webber, both pictured. Photo: World Vision Canada.
Impact through relationships
Wherever we travelled with World Vision, we noticed a strong correlation between impact and relationships. Most of the organization’s staff are local, with an excellent knowledge of the communities and people they serve. Their closeness with the people meant that children and adults alike were willing to move out of their comfort zones, and try different approaches to challenges such as healthcare.
We visited a neonatal centre, where mothers were learning the best ways to feed their little ones. This new information was shared by the amazing Dr. Charity, who runs a support group for women and children. You could see how the mothers loved and admired this local leader. And the results were evident in the happy, healthy babies we got to hold!
Another day, we sat amongst local farmers, both women and men, as they learned how to triple their annual yields by diversifying crops. Nutritious and hardy sweet potatoes weren’t something many had considered. Should they take the risk?
Many farmers are now trying new ways, supporting one another, and learning from a lead farmer they respect and trust. We were encouraged to see Canadian aid so hard at work, making a marked difference for these families.
Meeting future leaders
A highlight of the trip was our visit to a youth parliament. This is part of Canada’s advocacy work in Kenya. We witnessed children, including some formidable girls, powerfully debate issues that affect their daily lives and create strategies for change. One young woman has her eyes set on the role of governor by 2030!
The children were amazed to learn that the Canadian government holds an Official Opposition and other opposition parties. They were astonished that members from different parties were travelling and learning together. Although to be honest, while in Kenya we felt less like a multi-party delegation and more like Team Canada.
Back at home
Since returning, we’ve had much to share with our constituents. Canadian aid is making a significant difference in places like Kenya. Canada’s ongoing investment in maternal and child health is foundational to the realization of all other development gains. No matter our party, we all agreed that this continued focus remains critical.
The people we met are resilient and determined to create change in their own lives. Even when, like the girls at St. Elizabeth’s School, life has robbed them of every opportunity.
When Canada and Canadians can ignite and fuel this potential, transformation is not only possible. It’s happening.
By: Pam Damoff, Liberal MP for Oakville North–Burlington, Ont.; Cheryl Hardcastle, NDP MP for Windsor–Tecumseh, Ont.; Gagan Sikand, Liberal MP for Mississauga–Streetsville, Ont.; and Len Webber, Conservative MP for Calgary Confederation.
This story was originally published by The Hill Times, republished with permission.