MAKING HOPE A REALITY IN MASAGO

When Cross World Africa was founded 11 years ago, its area of focus was the small town of Iten. This village, seated atop the Rift Valley escarpment, provided a launching point for CWA’s mission to end inequality throughout Kenya.

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In the beginning, the measured impact of this mission was small, but over time, local community leaders began connecting with CWA to bring our mission to the homes of their neighbors and loved ones. Soon, cow ceremonies were taking place not just in Iten, but all over Elgeyo-Marakwet County. Schools as far as Nairobi began partnering with CWA in order to bring scholarships to students living in urban communities, as well as rural ones. As the word spread, CWA was introduced to new communities with inspiring leaders who introduced our teams and donors to unique problems they were hoping to solve. This year, CWA was thrilled to partner with the Golden Girls Foundation and bring our mission of hope to the village of Masago.

The Golden Girls Foundation is a local non-profit that performs development work outside of Kisumu, a city in southwest Kenya. Led by Golda and Ben Ayoda, the Golden Girls foundation was introduced to CWA through our Ruby in the Rift Menstrual Hygiene Management project in 2017. Golda and CWA Communications Director Alyssa O’Connor worked in tandem for months, organizing numerous workshops and donating over 1,000 Ruby Cups! Not only did this dynamic duo empower countless young girls during the Ruby in the Rift campaign, but they also forged a friendship that promised continued cooperation in the future.

That promise was fulfilled this past month during CWA’s 2019 campaign. After months of deliberation between CWA president Eric Garvin and Founder Kevin Thompson, Golda and Ben helped organize and extend three CWA projects to their hometown of Masago, a small village situated in the western low-lands near Lake Victoria. These projects included the Cow and Goat Livestock project, the Ruby in the Rift MHM project, and the brand new Building Blocks classroom development project. It marked a monumental day in CWA history, and the first time our mission reached the outskirts of Kisumu. This blog takes a first person look into the budding partnership of GGF and CWA, and the communities response to the projects being completed in their home:

It was still dark in Iten when the 2019 CWA field team gathered into vans and embarked on their 5 hour trek to Masago. It took hundreds of miles (and speed bumps) before the high rolling hills of the escarpment gave way to the hot, lush lowlands of Southwest Kenya. As the vans descended towards Lake Victoria, it was quickly apparent that poverty had an even firmer grip on these villages than compared to their northern neighbors. Infrastructure was minimal, and the homesteads looked to be built hastily with rusted tin and concrete. It was certainly an area in desperate need of some hope.

The washed out dirt roads eventually led our team onto the main street of Masago. Small, single story storefronts that had been haphazardly painted lined either side of the road. Rotting wooden stands stood empty along the dirt walkways. Separating these shopping areas from the street were wide retention ditches, filled with mud and trash. Taken together, Masago’s Main Street stood as a symbol of the development challenges facing the town. 

This image of poverty quickly melted into one of opportunity once the vans had stopped and the team was greeted by the Golden Girls Foundation. Ben and Golda were flanked by dozens of volunteers who offered each team member a tee-shirt embroidered with the logos of both of our foundations. After a brief meeting going over the events for the day, our group was led down the road to the gates of the Golden Girls Foundation’s Primary School. The excitement in the air was palpable, and the town soon started to take notice. 

Heavy rains made the journey to the school slow-going, but neither the mud nor the mosquitoes could dampen the spirits of our teams. Local community members joined us on the march, singing songs and holding hands in a sign of solidarity to making hope a reality in Masago. 

Walking through the school’s gates, our team was given a tour around the grounds. The small classrooms were clean and well kept, but fell short of providing the space needed for the growing institution. The Golden Girls Foundation primary school educates dozens of children each year, ages kindergarten to eighth grade, who would not be able to find a high quality education elsewhere in these impoverished lowlands. Not only do the GG Foundation ensure that these children receive an exceptional education, but they also instill a sense of sustainability in their graduates and their families. The school actively encourages their students to garden, raise poultry and eventually, livestock. The classroom gardens and chicken coups help feed the students throughout the year. It is a model of education CWA admires, and the reason why our team had pledged to help construct new classrooms for the school.

Golda and Ben guided the tour towards a large foundation being laid at the center of the school grounds. Beckoning CWA founder Kevin Thompson and President Eric Garvin to the foundation, Ben asked them to lay the cornerstone, “This building will become the cornerstone of our school, and provide eight new classrooms for our children. This project would not be possible without the generous support of Cross World Africa. Thank you for believing in education and the future of our children.” 

The crowd cheered as Eric and Kevin (clumsily) grouted the wall of the foundation and laid the cornerstone down for the classrooms. These classrooms represented CWA’s building blocks project. Although $3,000 had already been raised through the continued support of CWA’s donors, another $9,000 will be needed to completely finish the two-story, heat resistant structure (a must in a place located at the equator). If you would like to support the building blocks project, please visit our donation page and help us finish this vital facility for Masago! 

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Once the cheers had subsided, our team was led under a tent to listen to a series of presentations. Community leaders, teachers, and even students shared their stories about the importance of the foundation and the work our organization has pledged to support. 

Once the introductions had ended, a group of young girls representing the 10 best students in Masago, came to sit among our group. The girls had traveled to Masago at the request of The Golden Girls Foundation, and were competing for 3 CWA scholarships that would pay for their secondary school fees. The girls appeared nervous, but after listening to their stories, of how they overcame untold trials to earn top ranks in their class, the CWA team was moved to increase the number of scholarships to six total. The winners of these scholarships will be awarded after the end of their next academic year. The Cross World Africa team took turns encouraging the girls with their own stories of the importance of education, and how it is truly a means to end poverty and inequality in their lives. 

After the scholarship event had concluded, our team packed up and were led out towards the Main Street once more. The next event was the cow and goat ceremony, and the excitement surrounding the event reached such a fever pitch that our stroll transformed into a parade. 

The cows, goats and sheep being given away that afternoon were being driven by our collective teams, while the community joined in singing songs and dancing ahead of the procession. It was an incredible moment, one that underscored the importance livestock plays in these rural communities. 

The parade of singers, dancers, and bovine finally ended upon reaching the village common ground, where all the participants crowded under a white tent onto plastic chairs and awaited the start of the ceremony. 

Ben and Golda were the MC’s of the day, and they were quick to honor the partnership being forged between CWA and this local community’s Golden Girls Foundation. Against a background of music and an occasional equatorial rain shower, gifts were exchanged between the foundations and the communities.

Aspiring barbers in the community were given razors and Cut Buddies (thanks to our generous sponsor) to continue to perfect their craft. Already, half of the students spotted fresh cuts with fine fades thanks to the new equipment. 

Teachers were presented with computer tablets, and Ben and Golda were given a new laptop to provide more efficiency for their growing work. 

Women from the community were then chosen to receive a new cow or goat from CWA. The golden girls foundation ensured that these women were among the most needy in the community. This gift of livestock would fundamentally change their lives and the lives of their children. 

The day ended with a heavy rainstorm, but even that failed to extinguish the joy shared by everyone attending the event. Two foundations, operating an ocean apart, had found a way to bring development projects to a remote village in the western Kenyan lowlands. The efforts of Ben and Golda, local leaders with a passion to help their communities, had identified the needs for educational facilities, scholarships, trade skills, and economic empowerment projects throughout their town. This focused identification allowed CWA to rally its unbelievable network of donors to make these projects, and they hope that they bring, a reality to Masago. 

Looking ahead, it is our hope that more development opportunities present themselves to the CWA community, for we are certain that the local leadership of our partners and the generosity of our donors is more than enough to meet that challenges.