Imagine growing up in Maasailand and watching your sisters, friends—the women in your circle ideally—dropping out of school as a result of early marriages and teenage pregnancies. Imagine you are in Form Two at that time, powerless but still driven by a hunger to make a change, that you mobilise your friends at school to start an initiative that provides mentorship and conversations on behaviour change among the youth. Imagine your organisation, Tareto Africa, founded in 2017, six years later giving you a seat at the table of kings and leaders, you as the voice of anti-female genital mutilation (FGM).
That script is currently running in the life and times of Leshan Kereto, the founder of Tareto Africa. Tareto (which means help) Africa is a community-based organisation in Narok County which advocates for sexual and reproductive rights, with a focus on FGM, gender-based violence (GBV), and child marriage.
“I started Tareto Africa because I wanted to end child poverty, and I realised that lack of sexual and reproductive rights lead towards said poverty.”
He was spurred to action, but his ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment came during one of his visits when one of his beneficiaries told him: “From a girl’s perspective, things are dynamic. The moment FGM happens, life changes; you no longer see your teachers as teachers but as girls. You engage with morans in teenage sex leading to teenage pregnancies, dropping out—and the cycle feeds into each other.”
"My work is different because I am contributing toward bridging a gap left for many years by prioritising girls and creating a generation free from GBV, FGM and child marriage. It saves the girl right now and for generations to come."
“My work is different because I am contributing toward bridging a gap left for many years by prioritising girls and creating a generation free from GBV, FGM and child marriage. It saves the girl right now and for generations to come.”
Through his work, he has made a name for himself, having been elected the President of the Clinical Medicine Students Association of Kenya, the Vice President of the International Federation of Physicians/Associates and Clinical Officers/Comparable Students Association and serving on the youth advisory panel of the United Nations Population Fund.
He says that Tareto contributes to other interventions by providing sanitary pads and sponsoring 43 girls for their high school education. “That includes personal effects, school fees and a safe house where they can stay. We are also providing their families with food.”
Currently, Tareto Africa is running a ‘Trees for Girls’ project to provide generations of young girls and women with access to correct information on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
What’s the big dream then? “To create an environment where social injustices that press girls and women are eliminated. I hope to invest in girls and women so they can live up to their dreams.”
It’s only a matter of time. Besides, the elders said that when a child has washed his hands, he could eat with kings. Leshan’s hands are nothing if not sparkling.