Offering safe haven to at-risk girls

Monday, February 8th, 2021 00:00 | By
Antonia Sophie, flanked with girls in Kuria. She is an anti-FGM advocate. Photo/COURTESY

Harriet James @harriet86jim

When Antonia Sophia Waskowiak, 28, first came to Kenya in 2011 as a volunteer she didn’t anticipate that what she saw would change her life forever in as far as purpose is concerned. She was shocked to see the evils of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) amongst the Kuria community.

“I wanted to understand the culture and be part of it. I realised it is deeply rooted and can only be changed by the community itself,” she explains.

Her childhood dream was to understand the world and see people as one united community, without any harmful practices done to anyone.

She was still in High school in Germany when she came for the first time to the country and went back to study paramedics, working on the ambulance for nearly six years.

In 2016, she founded Zinduka in Germany and in 2017, established a branch in Kenya. 

“Someone told me the meaning of Zinduka. It is arising and coming to a realisation and it really inspired me.

I was working on my own and supporting a primary school in Kuria, where I started implementing sex education classes and creating awareness about FGM among the community,” she says. 

One in five women have been cut in Kenya, but the rate is much higher in some communities which believe the ritual is crucial for social acceptance and increasing their daughters’ marriage prospects.

Every December, after every two years, the Kuria community have the FGM ceremony, still a big celebration for some.

As soon as a girl is cut, she steps from childhood into womanhood, no longer subject to her parents or teachers and is deemed ready for marriage by the community. 

New challenges

“Many girls drop out of school and become victims of child pregnancies. For instance, in 2019, we had 158 girls in our Rescue Camp in Kuria East.

We mainly use education and make them understand its importance. We look at different ways girls can achieve their dreams,” she says.

That Antonia comes from a completely different culture was quite a barrier in understanding the local culture.

But with time, she has adapted and her experience has not only transformed her personally, but also broadened her perspectives.

Since she is white, many people thought she has a lot of money and as she confesses, it took a while before she convinced them she was only a student with a passion for the community. 

The pandemic has also brought its own share of problems. Between September and December 2020, we have catered for 35 in the two months together with msichana empowerment. Around 3,000 girls have undergone FGM in Kuria.

“We had to host some girls who ran away at our office since we didn’t have funds to have a home for them,” says Antonia.

To solve the crisis, Zinduka partnered with Msichana Empowerment and alternated in allowing the girls spend nights in both offices.

For the past three months, 35 young girls stayed with them. They also had to face challenge of new modes of FGM.

“Perpetrators began doing it at night and in secret. They would dress girls as boys too to make it difficult to identify them,” she says, adding that Kuria recorded a high number of expectant teens during the pandemic and some were married off, resulting in a high number of school drop outs. During this period, Zinduka had community meetings. 

“We involved the community since they are in a better position to understand their challenges and advice how best projects can work without conflict or misunderstanding.

We also intend to reinstate school programme, through which they teach hygiene and menstruation,” she says.

To ensure sustainability,  Antonia started a business, Mikono, that sells kitenge products in Germany. They create awareness on FGM and support the organisation

Antonia plans to build a community centre with different facilities, a small clinic and a small section where they will rescue and supported girls can give birth without fear of getting cut during delivery.

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