This story was published in the daily paper, The Nation, on July 28, 2004.
Lessons for Lambs to Fight Off Wolves
By Grace Kithaka
The young girls are seated on the parade ground, keenly repeating what the four visitors - who had interrupted their afternoon session - are teaching.
The lesson at New Kihumbuini Primary School in Kangemi, is a girls only affair, since the subject is how to avoid being a rape victim and how to react in case you are attacked. The instructors, a group of volunteers from Dolphin Anti-Rape and Aids Control Outreach, begin with the "dos" and "don'ts".
"Msichana aliyechanuka, hampatii mwanaume hamjui mkono ya..." reads Peninah Benga from a pamphlet, stopping mid-word to allow girls to complete it for her, which they do and in unison, "yakeee!" (a street-smart girl does not shake hands with a stranger). Meanwhile, Winnie Onyango, her colleague keeps watch over the children to ensure maximum attention.
Then follows a demonstration, with a man from Dolphin representing a would-be attacker and one of the girls playing the role of the victim. Stephen Kilonzo approaches the young girl and as he talks to her, offers his hand in greeting. The girl, who seems to have forgotten what they have just been taught, offers her hand, and he quickly pulls her towards him. The audience squeals with laughter. Startled by the incident, a little girl seated near the two actors, draws a quick breath then slowly relaxes and joins the rest in laughter.
Realising her mistake, the girl in the demonstration smiles sheepishly. Not to worry she's told, because they will repeat the demonstration.
This time she refuses to take the stranger's hand. "Akinipa mkono, nini itanizuia kumfuta na kwenda naye? "(If she gives me her hand, what will stop me from grabbing her and taking off with her?) Kilonzo directs the question at the audience.
And so the lesson continues, with each theory being followed by a demonstration. The Dolphin group has designed the lessons to cover different age groups, but due to the pressure of time today, they could not divide the girls into groups.
Usually, talks for lower classes involve tips about declining lifts and sweets from strangers, who should and should not watch them dressing or undressing, why nobody should touch their bodies, and why they should go straight home from school.
"Because of their age, such tips are more relevant to the lower classes," explains the group's leader, Duncan Bomba.
When the preventive tips on the pamphlet are over, Benga and Onyango take a back seat. It is now time for reactive demonstrations. This time, Bomba plays the victim and Kilonzo the assailant.
Through their demonstrations, the girls and their attentive female teachers learn that they can use their teeth or fingers to attack an assailant.
"Use your index and middle fingers to poke your assailant's eyes like this," the two men demonstrate and then call one of the girls and ask her to do the same to Kilonzo when he grabs her from the front and pretends to drag her away.
"If someone grabs and lifts you, bite his ears and as soon as he sets you down, run," they are told. "If he has you on a bench or bed, fold your knees close to your chest and as he steps close to get on top of you, jerk your knees straight to push him away with the impact, or poke him in the eye."
There is also a demonstration for those who go home alone to show how easily a would-be rapist could grab them. "If the girl was accompanied by two or three colleagues, they would help save her, or at least alert passers-by."
Other techniques to fend off an assailant included spitting or throwing soil into an assailant's eyes, or kicking his groin or his knee cap.
Through it all the girls giggle, but they are aware of the seriousness of the matter at hand. Their teachers, sitting nearby, watch and listen keenly, sometimes trying out some of demonstrations on each another.
"Practical knowledge is one of the best life skills," Bomba says. "We want the girls to know what can happen. The demonstrations ensure that everything sinks in and remains there for a long time."
Peninah Benga and Winnie Onyango ensure that the pupils pay attention to the show.
"Not all assailants use force; some will act very nice and the girls need to know that behind these friendly gestures lie devious intentions," says Bomba.
The Dolphin quartet use day-to-day situations, for example, a man sending a girl to the shop. "If the man has ulterior motives," the girls are told,"he will try to lure you into the house, which you musn't do.
"It is all right to leave the items at the door, inform him and go."
Dolphin Anti-Rape and Aids Control Outreach, a volunter group, started in 1998 with 25 members, who have since reduced to 10. "Since we are a volunteers, some in the group felt that they couldn't go on without pay," explains Winnie.
Nevertheless, they have reached over 200,000 students and teachers in several towns, including Nakuru, Eldoret, Nairobi, Kiambu and Kakamega. In May, this year alone, they visited 98 schools.
"We saw that rape cases were on the increase and nothing was being done about it. The law is not enough because it is applied after the damage has been done," Bomba says. "We focus on young girls and boys, who are the high risk victims. We visit schools, colleges, women's groups and churches and rely on private funding to travel to these institutions and accomplish our goal."
The programme is free. The organisers of V-Day in Kenya have been funding the group since 2002, which has enabled them to visit all these institutions, including training female staff at Safaricom's Headquarters.
And their efforts are bearing fruit: among the letters of appreciation from the beneficiaries of their talks is one from Helen, a student at Nyahururu Primary School, who describes her response when attacked by a would-be rapist: I poked his eyes and hit his kneecap very hard. He lost control of me and I ran..."
"The aim is not to teach girls to fight men, but to disable or immobolise an assailant. The skills are a last resort," Bomba says. More proof of the effectiveness of the campaign came from the Kibera slum two months ago, when a little Chelsea Feli, a pupil in class two, bit her assailant, and thus avoided being raped. The Dolphin group had visited Kibera in 2002.