Kate Cummings

Kate Cummings (Vital Voices in Kenya): Kate was born in the North Carolina mountains, and received her BFA in photography at Sewanee (The University of the South) in 2004. Kate co-founded a meditation group at the Hampshire County Jail in North Carolina where she led meditation sessions with inmates each week. Upon graduation, Kate was awarded the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. This allowed her to spend a year photographing in India, Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand, and France. During this year, she photographed Zen Master and international peacemaker Thich Nhat Hanh's first return to Vietnam since his exile 39 years before. Her images were published internationally. She returned to Vietnam in 2007 with Nhat Hanh and his International Peace Delegation to photograph healing ceremonies. Kate moved to western Massachusetts and began teaching photography to at-risk girls. At the time of her fellowship, Kate was studying for her master’s degree at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston. After her fellowship, Kate wrote: “Best experience? This is an impossible question! I think, that by spending so much time with Kenyans in their homes and families and in the community setting… I gained a deep understanding of their successes and their significant challenges...I look at myself now as having the potential to be as strong and caring as the amazing women I met in Kenya.”



Education as Inheritance

12 Aug

As the parents entered the gate to Kakenya’s school, I noticed the majority of them were fathers.  There were no couples, but plenty of men carrying their power sticks.  I was interested to talk with them, mothers and fathers, before the assembly began.  Here’s what a few parents had to say about the budding Center for Excellence and their daughters’ education:

Rhodah ChemongetPhoto: Kate Cummings. Location: Enoosaen, Kenya. Partner: Vital Voices

Rhodah Chemonget is 25 years old with 4 kids (2 of them girls).  Rhodah has one daughter attending Kakenya’s Center.

Q: Have you noticed improvements in your daughter since she started at this school?
Rhodah: She’s doing well. When she was in another school, she wasn’t concentrating on her work.  But now, when she gets home, she is always reading.  My other kids don’t read at home.

Q: How far did you go with your education?
Rhodah: I went to Class 5 [fifth grade].  I wanted to go farther, but my parents refused.  My life would have been better if I’d gotten more education.  But now, my life is hard.  If I’d gone to school, I’d be earning an income – not taking the donkeys to collect maize everyday.

Q: How do you want to raise your daughters differently than your parents raised you?
Rhodah: For a long time, fathers just wanted daughters to be married so they can get cows – but I, I want my daughters to go all the way with education.

Paul MurunkaPhoto: Kate Cummings. Location: Enoosaen, Kenya. Partner: Vital Voices

Paul Murunka is 39 years old with 8 kids (5 of them girls)

Q: What are your expectations for your daughter at this Center of Excellence?
Paul: I am expecting my child to prosper in education.  This school will be different than others.  Judging from the title, “excellence”, and its good foundation, I know it will be an excellent school.

Q: Has your daughter changed since she started school here?
Paul: My daughter is improving.  She’s speaking in English, and also she’s not shy like she was before.  I want to see her being among the first in the class.

Q: Why do you want for your daughter to receive an education?
Paul: Culturally, girls aren’t supposed to inherit anything from the family.  I want, while I am alive, for my daughters to inherit an education from me.

Q: Is there anything else you want to say?
Paul: May God bless Kakenya, because she is not selfish.  She is making more Kakenyas here [gestures to the children playing in front of the school].

Christian SalehPhoto: Kate Cummings. Location: Enoosaen, Kenya. Partner: Vital Voices

Christian Saleh is 33 years old with 3 kids (all of them girls – two attending Kakenya’s Center).  Christian was the only other girl in eighth grade w/Kakenya when they were at the end of primary school; all the other girls were dropping out to be circumcised and then married.

Q: Do you have expectations for your daughter at this school?
Christian: The aim I have is for my girls to finish school here and continue other studies.  I finished school up to Class 11 [eleventh grade] – I didn’t finish my schooling because I couldn’t pay the school fees.  I wish I had finished.

Q: Was it difficult to be the only other girl w/Kakenya in Class 8?  How do you want your daughter’s education to be different from your experience?
Christian: Sometimes the boys would beat us and we ran away from them.  Sometimes I had to stay at home to take care of the younger kids, the farm – I had to miss school sometimes to do work for my family.  I want my daughters to do well in exams and go farther than I did.  I don’t want my daughters to have to stay home and take care of the animals.

Posted By Kate Cummings

Posted Aug 12th, 2009

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