Our mission is to eradicate FGM. Our goal is to protect the basic human rights of women and offer them an opportunity to thrive through education and other programs.
At the Hiari project it is our goal to help women who are asking for help. Here’s how we do that:
By offering an option for young girls to be able to choose what happens with their body and their future.
To fund schooling and provide a safe living environment for the girls while they pursue their education.
To create a safer environment for the girls still at home by educating the community, the families, and the men on the dangers of FGM in hopes that it may one day be eradicated from their community.
Hiari translates to the option to choose.
We invite you to help bring choices back to the lives of girls and women without.
A note from the founder:
About two years ago I was headed back to Kenya for another project I had been working on. While preparing for that project, I received a phone call from a friend in the very village I was headed to. This friend needed my help with a problem having to do with 10 girls from the village who were all up for their “ceremony”. I had heard of FGM but the details were beyond my imagination. FGM stands for female genital mutilation. To learn more about FGM click here. Beyond the brutality and emotional trauma of the way they force this cutting on the girls, it can also lead to infectious diseases, problems urinating and menstruating, birthing complications and fatalities,
I was asked to help find a solution to save these 10 girls from the FGM process or they were planning to run away. In the environment they currently live, this plan could potentially have severe consequences, equally or more dangerous to them. I knew neither of these options were in the best interest of the girls, so I decided to look for a safer option that would equally benefit the girls and their community.
The work I had been doing leading up to this dilemma was teaching photography to local people in different communities struggling with different issues. Past projects had been focused on issues such as the water crisis, orphaned children looking for a stable home and education, and livestock diseases leaving villages with nothing. Each project had enabled the locals to be the story teller of their own story and in the end feel the effects of their own work. They were able to raise awareness and in turn raise money for wells, livestock, a new orphanage etc… So I decided to do the same thing with these girls. I wanted them to capture their stories and share them to raise awareness and find a solution. So I stayed with them in their village for a few months teaching them photography.
While getting to know these girls and their families, I learned a lot about their cultural beliefs; particularly about the level of importance to the families for the girls to undergo “the cut”. This process was meant to insure virginity and make the girl ready for marriage. In their culture “a cut girl” is worth about 10 more cows to the family than an un-cut girl. But we figured out that an educated girl is also worth about 10 more cows. Not to mention the potential to be employed which can someday really help out the family. I started asking the families if they’d be willing to forgo the cut if I paid for the girls school fees. It was almost a unanimous yes. The families were able to see the greater good. They just can’t afford school. So we found the solution! Sending the girls to school made the family happy and the girl stoked. Not to mention, when she graduates as an educated adult, she can choose to marry whoever she pleases. Rather than being forced to marry some guy with 7 wives at the age of 13.
This leads me to today. I’m starting the Hiari project to help more girls like the ones in my story. In Kiswahili “Hiari” translates to “option”. We want to help girls to have an option to make the choice for their bodies and their future. I’ve had 12 girls in school for going on 3 years now, but there are so many more girls asking to be a part of the project. I have the support of the chief from the village who hopes to end FGM in his community. Our short term goal is open a girls home in Kenya, close to the school where the girls can live safely while perusing their education as well as build an adult education center for the women who have already been victimized. Our long term goal is to end FGM for good by educating the men and families who continue to demand this practice. We want to show how much a woman can flourish and benefit her community if given the chance to grow rather than be suppressed.
So many of us take for granted the incredible gift of choice. We invite you to help bring choices back to the lives of women without.