Founder of Merry-Go-Strong (MGS)
MGS was founded on the premise that good design has the power to change people’s lives. We believe that design happens everywhere and that the focus is always on the people we are designing for and with.
While the mission of MGS is to nurture sustainable grassroots development, its core goals are to help impoverished women and girls gain confidence, make connections, and celebrate their abilities to be makers and artisans. And as a result, help women to become self-sufficient and girls to become educated.
Founder of the Tharaka Women's Welfare Program (TWWP) and the Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP)
Formulated in 1996, the Tharaka Women's Welfare Project (TWWP) in Gatunga, Kenya was designed to educate girls on the health risks of female genital mutilation (FGM) through monthly meetings and an annual Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP).
Founder, Aniceta Kiriga is providing amazing opportunities to girls from all over Meru County. She reaches over 200 girls each year, educating them on the risks of FGM. The program reaches out to girls between the ages of 10 – 16, educating them on women’s health and sex education. As an incentive for the girls and their families, the TWWP offers education scholarships along with supplies for feminine hygiene.
Our role is to support these efforts through the design of the campus and the management of its’ construction.
HOW MGS STARTED
The Tharaka Women’s Welfare Program is established and 29 girls attend the first Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP).
Lesley Sager along with seven students travel back to
Gatunga to test out some ideas for the maker space. Ideas ranged from product development, bee keeping, and bio-mass briquettes. Through additional empathy research is became clear that a campus for the ARP girls and their families was not only needed, but there was land available.
MGS becomes a UW Madison student organization partnered with the Tharaka Women’s Welfare Program to continously work with the people of Tharaka Nithi County.
UW Madison offers a winter 3-week, 3 –credit program traveling from Nairobi to the Village of Gatunga. Students work closely with the women from the village while using their Design Thinking potential to find new ways for women empowerment, community building and
The original office of the Tharaka Women’s Welfare Program and the Alternative Rite of Passage.
The ARP is going strong and reaches up to 250 girls each year. The weeklong event occurs in every year during the winter break in the school yard. Girls walk up to twelve hours to attend and sleep on mats in the classrooms while there. It becomes clear that a permanent location is needed.
UW Faculty Associate, Lesley Sager visits the new location of the TWWP and the girls in Tharaka Nithi. It is evident that TWWP is doing an excellent job providing scholarships for the girls. But since many families live on about $25 a month, school fees are still difficult to manage and many girls have to drop out. It was also evident the many of the cottage crafts were not supported or passed on to the girls.
Lesley Sager along with graduate student Allison Sambo return to Gatunga to begin empathy research as a way to learn more about the girls and their families. At this time the local chief offered the community center as a location for a maker space where the girls and families can learn new skills.
In October of 1995, Aniceta Kiriga had the courage to take a stand against Female Genital Mutilation after she was asked to provide a wheel barrel for a girl who had gone through FGM and was dying. At that time the incidence of girls undergoing FGM in Tharaka Nithi Kenya was at 99.5%. Through interviewing the girls, Aniceta learned what they liked about the FGM ritual. She suggested an ‘alternative ritual’, which avoided genital cutting but maintained the essential components of female circumcision, such as education for the girls on family life and women’s roles, exchange of gifts, celebration, and a public declaration for community recognition.
The ARP gains momentum and the support of many of the men in the community. TWWP begins providing scholarship money for the most needy so that they can attend school.