Community Focus Group
.ORG Promotes Human Rights and Sustainable Livelihoods in Kenya
The Art of Change: .ORG Promotes Human Rights and Sustainable Livelihoods in Kenya
The poet Maya Angelou said, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” Poet, storyteller, human rights activist, and Community Focus Group (CFG) Founder, Pamela Ateka, lives by these words. When she witnessed suffering in her native Nairobi, Kenya, she could not allow her community to be reduced by it; she had to act.
In 2000, Ateka gathered fellow artists—musicians, actors, dancers, and poets —and, together, they started using theater and storytelling to benefit their community in Nairobi. From the start, they chose a .ORG domain because of its association with non-profits and helping others. “The choice was easy,” Ateka says. “The only profit we can ever truly make is to empower others.”
CFG has carried out capacity building and empowerment workshops for theater groups across Kenya and raised funds and awareness around many important issues, including hunger, climate change, the vulnerability of young boys and men to political incitement, and COVID-19 prevention. Because all schools in Kenya charge tuition, even public schools, school fees are a key area of CFG’s focus. “Many families in Kenya find the government schools expensive and cannot afford to go to school and they, therefore, drop out,” Ateka says.
“The only profit we can ever truly make is to empower others.”
Another reason that young women leave school is due to teenage pregnancy, often the result of rape or gender-based violence. “Especially because of COVID-19 and being out of school, many teenage girls in Kenya between the ages of 13-19 are now teenage mothers. And due to poverty and high unemployment rates, most families are not able to sustain themselves, and these girls need to be retained in school,” says Ateka. According to CFG’s website, https://cfgintl.org, “Four hundred adolescent girls give birth daily in Kenya, and an estimated seventy thousand are expelled from school every year because of pregnancy.”
CFG is helping by providing work training and financial literacy programs to teen mothers. Young women like 19-year-old Diana, whose father died when she was very young, leaving her mother to do odd jobs to feed, clothe and educate her and her siblings with no steady employment. Diana often missed school because her family could not afford the fees. Instead, she helped support them by tilling land or washing clothes, making as little as two dollars per day. She became pregnant as a teenager and, with no path to supporting her child, became a maid in the young father’s parents’ home.
CFG rallied around Diana through its 100 Girls Project, which offers training in marketable skills like hairdressing, cooking, and baking. The Project also provides materials and financial literacy to help people like Diana enter the business world and sustain their families and communities. This investment in young women by CFG has a ripple effect. “This program has helped me a lot,” says Diana, who took the hairdressing course. “Recently, I have been employed at Elegance Salon. I am thankful to the Community Focus Group for giving me this opportunity. I am confident now that I can handle clients effectively in the salon without a challenge. In addition, this program has also enabled me to earn an honest living for my child and help my younger siblings get education that I did not have the opportunity to acquire.”
Like many organizations, CFG has pivoted to meet the needs of their community as it has weathered lockdowns and interrupted schooling this past year. “We adjusted by working from home,” said Ateka. “We would purchase food and other supplies and meet up to share them with needy and vulnerable community members. We would have telephone and Zoom meetings and came to realize the importance of technology in our work. We also made cash transfers to needy families and helped those about to be evicted because of lack of [funds for] rent,” she said.
CFG is sustained by a combination of monthly individual financial contributions and grants from foundations. In addition, volunteers can host events to raise funds for CFG’s programs. CFG is grateful for any and all support, says Ateka. To learn more about and support CFG, you can visit https://cfgintl.org/donate or https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/supplies-for-train-100-girls-project/.
CFG remains committed to helping their community, despite all obstacles. That’s their founding principle, says Ateka: “We were created to be a voice of the voiceless, a hand to the needy, to lift those who are downtrodden and, most of all, to cause individual change that would bring about transformation in our community, nation and the world.”