“Oyarore!” “Oyaoare!””Adthi ma ber!” “Ma ber!”
These are some of the sounds of the African
greetings and salutations that echoed through Jeffords lecture hall on Sunday, Sept. 20 as Soundings guest speakers Andy Cunningham and Selesiah Ogada spoke to Castleton students about their very unique and inspirational journey.
The afternoon began with students chanting the illuminating African greetings presented on Andy Cunningham’s slide show, which was followed by a brief dance lesson featuring Cunningham himself demonstrating
how to swiftly move your hips in an African-style dance.
It soon became more serious though. Cunningham, born and raised in Rutland, Vt. and son of education professor at Castleton, Joyce Cunningham, has, at the age of only 23, accomplished more than most people will accomplish in their lifetime.
“There are many things that I am proud of my son for, but most importantly I am proud of his love for humanity,” said professor
Andy Cunningham attended Duke University
and since then has become the Co-Founder and Executive Director of WISER.
While attending a biology seminar at Duke, he learned about the relationship between HIV, gender and education in Kenya.
After further research, and with the help of some classmates and professors, he constructed a manual, later traveling to Muhuru Bay, Kenya, where he began converting research into action: building the first all-girls boarding school in Muhuru Bay.
Cunningham is committed to staying in Muhuru Bay, where there is no running water or electricity, until at least 2010, by when he will have completed the construction of the school.
During the presentation, Cunningham explained the challenges that women in Muhuru Bay face, where only 5 percent of girls attend secondary school and 38 percent live with HIV.
Women in Muhuru Bay are subjected to harsh gender discrimination, being used solely as objects for cash, as they are often sold to older men for marriage (or just for sex) as it is assumed that this is their only source of income. Cunningham also noted that the only industry in Muhuru Bay is fishing, and women are not able to participate in such a trade. In addition, it costs a significant amount of money to pay for secondary education, and under such circumstances
Kenyan women are not given the basic rights to education that they deserve.
So, Andy has made it his priority to not only build the first all girls-boarding school, but to provide full-scholarships to 120 students. He intends to harvest college ready students, knowledgeable about a broad range of topics including their health and the prominence of HIV/AIDS.
After Cunningham spoke, the audience had the opportunity to hear briefly from Selesiah Ogada, one fortunate Kenyan who managed to overcome some of the daily struggles and became a student of WISER.
“Since WISER has come in my village, we are starting a new life. We now have hope,” said Ogada
Ogada is currently one of the founding members of the WISER Young Social Entrepreneurs which helps to supply internet technology training,
photography and video services, and has also created the first Newspaper in the region.
This is the first time that Selesiah has been to the United States and said that she “likes the United States too much” and that the people in the United States are “so inspiring.”
The couple is currently on a five-state tour of the United States, generating various fund raising events, starting with one at Andy’s own Rutland High school on the 21st.
“Coming from Rutland I have learned that you have to focus on the local community. When you start local, you are going to have a global impact. Start small, go big,” said Cunningham.
For more information go to www.wisergirls.com.