Growing up isn’t easy for high school girls, but it shouldn’t be as hard as it is in Kibera, Africa.
Located on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, there are a million residents crowded into Kibera’s nearly 600 acres. It’s through this densely populated slum Kibera girls must walk everyday to school. Sister Carmelita Latiolais would like to change that.
“When you see the men sitting on the side, you know these girls are at risk,” said Latiolais, who works at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Abbeville.
Assault is not the only danger lurking on the way to school. Government resources are limited, sanitation is poor and the water is unclean, Latiolais said. Not encouraged to study at home, only 5 percent of east African girls finish secondary school although studies show if girls are educated, the entire family fares better, she said.
“Kibera girls are in need of safe housing and education,” said Latiolais, a teacher with Sisters of the Eucharistic Covenant, a Lafayette diocese order whose mission is to create a sense of dignity and presence in the community of people they serve.
The only member of her order to ever travel there, Latiolais has visited Kibera three times with the Kenyan Children Foundation, and, inspired by a trip in 2014, realized what these girls really needed was a dormitory.
The dorm will be built in Soweto.
“Children are happy to go to school, happy to learn,” she said. “It’s a safe haven for them. The single most effective way to raise standards is to educate girls.”
The work is costly as materials have to be transported. The new dorm will include a laundry, kitchen and bathroom and will replace a small, makeshift room of wall-to-wall bunkbeds that serves 40 girls, Latiolais said.
Thus far, Latiolais has raised $40,000 in donations toward construction, which is estimated will cost at least $200,000.
“We are closing in on $50,000 and hoping to get a matching grant, but one hasn’t come through,” she said.
Broussard resident Pam Zuschlag went to Kenya with Latiolais and after seeing the extreme poverty first hand, came up with the idea to make a quilt. She’d never quilted before and had to consult Helen St. Amand at the A & A Sewing Center in Broussard.
“They showed me what to do, and I went home and did it,” said Zuschlag. “Once I got the colors together, I was on a mission to get it done. It’s my way of expressing all the best in the women of Africa.”
She has completed the African-inspired 57-by-72-inch quilt to help raise funds to house the teen girls. Chances to win the quilt before Christmas are being raffled for $5.
Zuschlag and Latiolais are also making jewelry from 50 pounds of Kazuri clay beads given to them by a donor on their last trip with a request “to do something for the girls.” Kazuri means “small and beautiful.” It is an artisan operation employing single mothers, and the handmade bead factory is located on part of what used to the Karen Blixen estate made famous in Out of Africa.
“We just women trying to give back,” said Zuschlag. “After seeing it (Kibera), you feel like you want to do something. It’s a hard thing for an American woman to experience. They (the girls) need the tiniest things. It’s hard to open yourself up to it, but then you can’t look away.”
Tickets for the quilt raffle will be on sale until early December. The quilt will be shipped to the winner before Christmas.
For raffle tickets or more information, call Zuschlag at (337) 298-2080 or Latiolais at (337) 278-1410. Checks and donations may be made to Kenyan Children Foundation, Dorm Project, P.O. Box 631116, Highland Ranch, CO 80163.