One of the things I get asked about the most in regards to my recent trip to Kenya and Africa is about birth certificates. If you followed along the blog on our trip, you would have read that one of our goals was in obtaining birth certificates for our artists. We took a group of 11 of our artists to get birth certificates which was a full day event! I've been asked a lot of questions - and thought I would address the three main ones... why birth certificates? why is it so hard to get them? are they able to get them now that you're home?
Why birth certificates?
Last year when I was in Kenya, it continually came up in conversations with our artist groups their concern for birth certificates. It gives them a sense of security and allows them access to government services they would not have otherwise. The government has really started to insist that people have these documents to apply for things like health care. Plan Canada also states: "As an adult without a birth certificate, a person may not have the right to marry, vote, be employed in the formal sector (for example, to work legally or pay taxes), access credit and loans from banks, acquire a passport to travel outside their country of birth, or even to register their own children’s births."
We have been in talks with some of our artists about what their greatest needs are - as we plan for the future, we want to know that we are assessing their needs correctly. We gave them a list of things we identified as needs and asked them to prioritize - and the answer was always the same for first priority. Birth certificates.
When we were there we had planned to take a group on a "fun day" - an outing to show them our appreciation for all their hard work and celebrate our friendships. As the days went along the birth certificates kept coming up - so we asked them if they would rather skip the fun outing and instead spend that time on birth certificates. It was like a sigh of relief when we gave them that option. The decision was to work on birth certificates instead.
Why is it so hard to get birth certificates?
It's not necessarily difficult to get the birth certificates - IF you know all the necessary information, and what is required and where to go. The problem is - many of our artists were born in very rural settings and don't always know their birth dates, parent's names or town they were born in. And we spent hours searching the internet for what is required for birth certificates - and then were still surprised by requirements not listed online like a letter from an employer. Another surprise was having someone who has known you for a number of years sign some of your forms - and they have to be a minimum of five years older than you! Not always an easy task when too many of their family and community have had lives cut short by the prevalence of AIDS and other diseases. We had one older man, George, in our group who signed for most people as he was more than five years older than most - but then who was going to sign George's? He had to find someone and come back another day with it signed. Another challenge was it is not clear where you need to go - we started at the one office where we were told to apply - then were sent across town to another government office, and then they had us go to the bank to get something notarized, then back to their office and then across town again to the first office. Every step had hoops to jump through it seemed!
We wondered if it would be a hindrance having us "Mzungus" (My sister, Marcie and myself) - but when we were done, the artists all said it was such a help. For example - they have to fill out four pages of forms. We were frustrated that if they had simply crossed out something and put the corrected response below, the government would not accept it and ask them to rewrite their entire form over again. The Kenyans all thought this was so great though and that they were only allowed this "leniency" because we were there with them. Normally they said they would be sent back to the slums and refused to be seen again that day, and would need to come back another day with it filled out again.
The thing that upsets me most is that they are not always treated with the respect they deserve simply because they are from Kibera slums. An example of that - we were in one government office up on the 7th floor. To enter this building - like most buildings in Kenya, you had to go through strict security - passing through what would be comparable to airport security. And then to take the elevator, a police officer asked you where you were going and would then permit you to use the elevator. We were up in the office on the 7th floor and the gentleman we had to see there was very kind and helpful - his name is Charles. He explained, our next step is to go downstairs and out to the bank to get a photocopy notarized and then come bring it back upstairs to him. We went to the bank, came back and the police and guards refused to let the group upstairs. We explained that they were told to come back up - but they would not allow it. They were insisting we did not have all the documents needed and had to go get fingerprinted back in Kibera slums before going upstairs. We asked if they could call up and talk to Charles, or let us just go check with him about the fingerprinting and documents - as it was not what he had told us. They refused. One guard asked for a bribe. Our Kenyan friends were ready to give up and go back to Kibera. Marcie and I were adamant - we do not pay bribes and we do not take "no" for an answer when we are in the right. So, Marcie and the group waited while I went around to a different door in the building and climbed the 7 flights of stairs (avoiding the police) back to Charles' office. He asked where my friends were and I explained they refused to allow them upstairs, and one police had even asked for a bribe. I was so thankful for his response "I do not accept that" - and when he proceeded to go get them and bring them upstairs. This is just one example of how they are treated sometimes simply because of where they live - I am thankful we now have this Charles' phone number if this happens again!
Are they able to continue to get their birth certificates now that you're home?
Absolutely! Our friends are definitely more than capable of doing this on their own - we had three get their birth certificates this week alone! Bringing us to FOURTEEN so far that have been completed! The problem in the beginning was figuring out the system and the crazy requirements and where to go and what all needs done! Now that this is figured out, they will be able to continually go until they all have been completed! As I have heard in many texts they are "so happy!" to have these birth certificates now. Depending on what year they were born, for some of our artists the application process means that they have to go back to their original rural village - which could be several hours away. So some are more complicated than others - but we have assured them we will not forget them and will not quit until they are all completed!
"Universal birth registration is impossible to ignore and entirely possible to achieve." Archbishop Desmond Tutu
If you are interested in supporting our efforts to obtain birth certificates for our Kenyan friends - you can do so here.
Thanks to technology - we are able to have photos sent to us whenever another birth certificate is completed!! So thankful for the fourteen accomplished so far!
NOTE: To celebrate the 14 birth certificates obtained so far - we are offering 14% discount on anything from Kenya from now until the end of March with the promo code: BIRTH
Krista is married to her college sweetheart, Mark and they have two daughters - Madison and Eden. When Krista isn't working at JustOne she can be found behind the camera at Edison Photography. It was her photography that first lead Krista to Africa in June 2012. Later that same year Krista founded JustOne.