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Risper rises up to challenge gender bias

After three years of running her own grocery business, Risper has a system. At a market in rural Kenya, she piles tomatoes and green peppers into neat, heaping rows. She adds onions and papaya to the table then arranges stacks of cilantro before chopping cabbage and lettuce to sell in individual bags. 

Across the aisle, her grandmother preps an inventory not dissimilar to Risper. During the pandemic, Risper helped her grandmother open her own produce stand. Now they work together to sell the food Risper grows at their property.

The market is near a university, which plays a critical role in daily foot traffic. It also helps Risper connect with countless young girls and women in her community to share her story. 

Before August 2018, when Risper joined Zoe Empowers, she had reached the most miserable point of her life. She had lost both parents and acquired the caretaker role for her three younger siblings. She felt overwhelmed by the responsibility, so she asked her aunt for help. 

At first, the aunt claimed she would help Risper, but then made secret arrangements to marry her off. Marriage would require Risper to undergo FGM. When she resisted, the aunt locked Risper in a bedroom and called personnel to perform FGM at the house, against Risper’s will. 

Risper narrowly escaped through a window, and she and her siblings fled to their grandmother’s house. However, their grandmother was elderly and unable to provide for a family of five adequately. Shortly after, Risper enrolled in the Zoe Empowers program. Through Zoe’s training, Risper learned about child rights and that what her aunt had attempted to do was illegal. 

This information was not only enlightening but motivating to Risper. She began doing outreach work, sharing her experience and the dangers of FGM with other young girls and women. Today, she speaks publicly about how women can protect themselves from this tradition. She even attends meetings with local officials to advocate for girls in her community. She is considered a role model and a trusted resource by many.   

In addition to her advocacy work, Risper regained control of her parents’ land, which relatives stole after their passing. She constructed a new house, a sizable farming operation, and a fenced area for her two pigs. She affords the school fees for all three of her siblings. 

Eventually Risper wants to open a bigger store to stock more canned inventory and dry goods like sugar, flour, and maize. But, for now, she said, “I am proud of myself and my accomplishments.”

Empower children like Risper for only $9 per month.

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