Great Grads Doing Great Things Stories About Making a Difference

Sayydah garrett, bahons/79
I majored in Russian Language and Literature at Carleton when I was known as Sayydah Abdul Al-Khabyyr. After graduating, I worked as a telegram operator at CNCP-Telecommunications in Montreal. I loved this job because I earned a great salary and sent telegrams to people all over the world. My knowledge of other languages came in very handy and I also learned simple phrases in many other languages.

I married in 1984, and moved to New Jersey. I was an executive assistant at American Express Bank in New York City working for a leader who was responsible for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Once again, my languages came in handy as I interacted with clients in many countries. I took a few years off when my daughter was born in 1989, and returned to the same position a few years later where I stayed for many years.

Later, I moved to Homefirst, a nonprofit organization in New Jersey that provides emergency shelter, transitional, and supportive housing to the homeless population.

In 2010, I received my Teaching as a Second Language Certification and started teaching English as a Second Language part-time.

While on safari in Samburu, Kenya in August 2012, I visited a tribal village called Namayiana in Archer's Post, Samburu County. I was the sole visitor that morning and enjoyed singing and dancing by the Samburu tribe members in their colourful attire and beaded jewelry who invited me to dance with them. Oh what fun!

A warrior offered to take pictures and I'm so glad he did because I would have taken very few, as I was totally engaged with the people. When I returned to the lodge, I excitedly showed the pictures to Samuel Siriria Leadismo, the assistant restaurant captain. He pointed to his sister, brother, and other family members and friends in the pictures and said, "This is my village. This is where I grew up."

I was confused because he was wearing a uniform. Samuel is educated and studies restaurant and hotel management. He told me very interesting things about his tribe - the Samburu tribe. The main diet consists of three things: milk, meat, and blood.

Samuel Siriria Leadismo, above left and at centre, above right. Sayydah Garrett, at bottom, in Samburu County, Samburu, Kenya in 2012.

Samuel became very serious and said something I'll never forget. He said, "Sayydah, I want to start a community-based organization to eradicate female genital mutilation and forced early marriage before it's my youngest sister's turn to get cut. Girls should get an education."

He explained that 91% of girls undergo genital mutilation and 84% of them - as young as 12 years old - are forced into early marriage. Soon after, they drop out of primary school and never fulfill their dreams.

Samuel said the Samburu tribe is beautiful but must get rid of these two vices. I offered to help him and said, "I live 8,000 miles away in New Jersey but I can help you. I have experience in the nonprofit sector as a grant writer and fundraiser and can raise awareness for your cause." He beamed, pointed at me, and declared, "Great! You will be our president!" I said ok. We hadn't known each other 24 hours.

This is how Pastoralist Child Foundation was founded. Pastoralists are semi-nomadic people in the Northern Rift Valley of Kenya whose livelihood is dependent upon the herding of goats, cattle, and camels. Our story illustrates how two seemingly unconnected people came together to make the world a better place.

Pastoralist Child Foundation works to eradicate female genital mutilation and forced early marriages in Samburu and Maasai Mara, Kenya.

We also provide financial scholarships to female secondary school students attending boarding schools. We currently sponsor nine girls.

Pastoralist Child Foundation provides workshops for groups of 60 girls aged 12-17 to attend four-day overnight camps during school holidays in April, August, and December. These three months are called "cutting season" when girls are at a very high risk for female genital mutilation.

The workshop curriculum covers the harmful effects of female genital mutilation, forced early marriage, teen pregnancy, sexual and reproductive health, HIV and AIDS, child rights, self-esteem, self-confidence, and the importance of formal education.

Pastoralist Child Foundation has saved 400 girls from genital mutilation. Thanks to a grant from UNICEF Kenya, we've been able to replicate the workshops for boys, women, men, and elders in remote tribal villages. Pastoralist Child Foundation is introducing alernative rites of passage to replace female genital mutilation.

Pastoralist Child Foundation held a festive, public alternative rite of passage ceremony for 200 girls who graduated from three educational workshops in 2015. The celebration was even attended by male elders and village chiefs who agreed that female genital mutilation should be abandoned.

This stamp of approval in a highly patriarchal society lets us know we're making positive strides.

The icing on the cake was when the Women's Committee of Namayiana Village - the village I first visited in August 2012 - announced that the village has collectively agreed to abandon the practice of female genital mutilation.

The decision was made as a result of our workshops.

The women also told us that they've seen a significant decline of female genital mutilation in nearby villages. Pastoralist Child Foundation was instrumental in eradicating a 2,500-year-old tradition!

There is still more to do. The World Health Organization estimates that 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation. Six thousand girls undergo this horrific practice every day.

In Canada, approximately 80,000 girls are at risk of female genital mutilation. In the United States, 500,000 girls are at risk. We must raise awareness.

Sayydah Garrett, BAHons/79, centre, is the founder and president of Pastoralist Child Foundation.

Here for Good is the philanthropic promise, the founding ethos, and the uniting principle at Carleton University. Our institution was founded in 1942 to provide opportunity to the young people of Ottawa and to serve the broader region and its citizens. These stories reflect the greater good of society in Ottawa - and around the world.

As we prepare to move into the next 75 years, we have launched Collaborate: The Carleton University Campaign, the most ambitious fundraising effort in Carleton's history.

Through this campaign, we ask our donors and champions to give not to Carleton, but through Carleton, so that together we can contribute more to the good of society, its economy and institutions, and the health and wellbeing of citizens around the world.

If you share our conviction that there is much good to be done, we hope you will join us.

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