“Kenya Dig It,”

The Pastoralist Child Foundation Annual Fundraising Party
Friday, Oct. 25, 6:30 p.m.
The Glen Ridge Country Club, 555 Ridgewood Ave.
tinyurl.com/y2s4l8u8, or 973-980-7860

For Montclair Local

A picture is worth a thousand words.

It all began with a photo. In 2012, Glen Ridge resident Sayydah Garrett had just completed a safari in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. She took a day trip to Namayiana Village in the same area of Kenya. Later, she showed some of her village photos to Samuel Siriria Leadismo, a young man who belonged to the Samburu tribe. He worked in the restaurant at the Samburu Game Lodge in the Maasi Mara National Reserve, where she was staying. Many people from the villages work at the game lodges, she learned. 

The young man recognized the people in the picture.

“Namayiana Village is my village,” the man said. “And that’s my family.”

Leadismo, 31, who is a respected member of the Sumburu tribe, explained that he had promised his mother that he would educate the people in his village about the devastation FGM (female genital mutilation) caused.

“I want to start an organization to eradicate FGM and forced marriage before my sister is forced to go through it,” Leadismo said. “Girls should be allowed to go to school.”

Garrett immediately joined the cause. Garrett, a certified ESL teacher who has taught French at the Montclair Public Library for 10 years, is also an experienced grant writer. She knew that she could make a difference.

She established Pastoralist Child Foundation (PCF), a 501c3, in the U.S., and Samuel Siriria Leadismo established the organization in Kenya. Garrett is the president of the organization, which also has a board of seven.

“Since our founding, we have grown by leaps and bounds,” Garrett said. “But there is so much more to do.”

The foundation’s goal is to raise $40,000 to continue providing important programs in 2020. 

“That’s our aim for the Pastoralist Child Foundation Fundraiser on Oct. 26.

“We facilitate workshops that teach sexual and reproductive health education, women's economic empowerment, and life skills,” Garrett said. “Our focus on the importance of girl’s education increased school enrollment and aided in the construction of a new girls’ secondary school in Samburu.”

Garrett hopes to keep up the momentum. 

It costs $1,500 to sponsor a girl in high school for one year. The girls who stay in school are success stories.

Some of the sponsors are teens themselves. Isabel Beck is a student at Montclair High School. She and her cousin, Samantha Lovit, are sponsoring a girl named Peris so that she can be educated in Samburu, Kenya as part of PCF scholarship program.

The scholarship program evolved from the need to enroll more girls in school and encourage them to stay in school with PCF’s financial support. So far, sponsors of students in Kenya live in Montclair, Glen Ridge, Lambertville and Montreal. The organization is looking for more sponsors.

“Our aim is to educate the elders and the adults as well as young people,” she explained. “If teen girls cannot go to school, they are forced to marry at a young age and they cannot follow their dreams.”

Through community mobilization and education, PCF provides workshops and inter-generational dialogues for young people, adults and elders to educate them using a “Do No Harm” approach. PCF also provides scholarships for girls to attend secondary boarding schools and universities.

Sixty girls attended Garrett’s first workshop, called “Alternative Rites of Passage,” in 2012.

“In the beginning, Samuel [Leadismo] got death threats,” Garrett said. “Some people saw education as a threat to their way of life. But we persevered.

“In 2015, we gave workshops for the entire community, and afterwards the village chief declared that there would never be another FGM in the village. That was earthshaking!” 

The Pastoralist Child Foundation, in partnership with UNICEF Kenya,  is currently active in the Namayiana Village and Maasai Mara in Kenya, Nairobi.

“We are trying to get more sponsors so that more girls can attend high school,” Garrett said. “In villages in Kenya, a daughter can be exchanged for livestock. A young girl of 14 or 15 may be forced to marry a man the same age as her grandfather.”

When Garrett visited Kenya last month, Brandi, an 11-year-old girl, told her that she wanted to be a pilot when she grew up.

“When young women are educated, they have choices,” Garrett said. “We are in the business of making dreams come true.”