Profile of an Advocate: St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School—Morpus Principal Caroline Menach is a champion for youth empowerment and for her community, and an ardent advocate for gender equality. Mekuno Project sat down to interview Caroline on her own advocate journey, and the importance of the work that she is doing with boys and girls in her community.
Caroline Cheyech Menach is a lioness. As principal of St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School—Morpus for over a decade, she is a true mother to her Pokot daughters. She is fiercely protective of them as well as the boys of her community, and as a true educator at heart, wants them all to have every opportunity in life to succeed. A devout Christian, Caroline was very humble in her accomplishments when asked what it was like to win this award, stating she is thankful for the blessings and opportunities in her life that have allowed her to be able to give back to her community--to the people she views as her brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.
Caroline also credits much of her own success to the importance of having an empowered mother. Caroline’s mother saved her from undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) when she was a girl, sending her away during the harvesting season to avoid circumcision because she knew the power of education, and did not want her daughter to undergo this harmful traditional practice.
In Caroline’s community, when girls undergo FGM, they undergo the most severe form of it--infibulation. It involves the removal and repositioning of the labia, sewing everything shut except for a tiny hole, that often requires recutting to widen it for childbirth. But Caroline didn’t know any of that when she was a girl. She just saw it as something that everyone was doing--a rite of passage for all girls in her community that she too wanted to be a part of. Now, she is thankful that her mother knew better, and protected her from a lifetime of pain.
Caroline was one of the lucky ones. She not only graduated from high school--a true rarity at the time--but she also went on to graduate from college, where she was the only Pokot girl. She saw it as her responsibility to help other girls--to give them that same rescue, those same opportunities, that her mother had given her, because not every girl has parents that understand the power of education.
Both in her own advocacy work as the head of several community based organizations and as principal of St. Elizabeth's, Caroline has worked to do just that. She has created menstrual hygiene initiatives, mentorship opportunities, scholarship opportunities, and has been a community-wide anti-FGM and anti-child marriage champion. She has also worked with our implementing partners on the ground, Global Give Back Circle and World Vision, to help them execute programs like HerLab and alternative rites of passage to further these goals.
But as she has passionately campaigned for the girls in her community to have opportunities and options beyond FGM and child marriage, she cautions us against forgetting about the boys. As girls in these rural communities see interventions that pay for school fees, opportunities like HerLab to go on to university or entrepreneurship, boys are at risk of falling behind. To combat this, Caroline has created a soccer league in the county with several teams under its belt. This soccer league is able to specifically target boys who are out of school with an activity that draws them in, focuses their energy, and provides an opportunity for educators like Caroline to engage them in conversations about health, gender equality, their futures, and entrepreneurship opportunities.
There is no one more deserving of the term heroine than Caroline Cheyech Menach. She has dedicated her life to making sure girls and boys know they are valued, and helping them find opportunities to succeed. We are honored to have had the chance to get to know her and interview her, and hope you will take the time to listen to her speak about the power of an empowered mother.
Stay tuned for more videos from Caroline’s interview in the future!