Girls who defied cut, early marriage
It was in December 2013, when Naneu Timpani (not her real name) overheard her parents planning her circumcision ceremony.
She was only 12 years old but understood the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
“Through friends in school who had gone through the rite, I knew that not only was it painful but had dire consequences on my well-being,” said Naneu.
Alarmed by her parents’ plans, she quickly arrived at a decision to flee home.
“I knew of a rescue centre where one girl from our school escaped to avoid the cut so I decided to go there,” added Naneu.
After walking for 20km, she arrived at the Prince of Peace center in Kajiado East tired and terrified. After listening to her story, they took her in.
Do parents proud
While Naneu found a new home, she lost her parents who disowned her for defying them.
“They saw my escape as disrespect and an embarrassment as they had already sent invites for the ceremony,” she says.
At the centre, she continued with her schooling hoping that one day she would be successful and do her parents proud.
In 2019, she sat the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam and scored B- but was unable to proceed to university due to lack of fees.
“I was to take a Bachelor of Science in Dairy Technology and Management at Egerton University but lacked school fees as most of the centre’s sponsors had backed out as the Covid-19 pandemic had also hit them hard financially,” Naneu recalls.
Though she misses home sometimes, Naneu doesn’t regret the decision to run away, and urges other girls to do the same if they find themselves in a situation like hers.
Take cold bath
Jane Naponu (not her real name) was, however, not as lucky as Naneu. The nine-year-old girl says plans about her circumcision were kept secret from her.
“One day I was just woken up by my mother at 4am and told to take a cold bath as I was about to become a woman,” she narrates sadly.
She tried to protest but her mother would hear none of it as the woman hired to carry out the operation had already arrived.
“I reluctantly took the bath, sat on the floor and took the circumciser’s orders,” she recalls.
Naponu said the experience was extremely painful and demeaning. It took three weeks for her to heal but another surprise awaited her.
Barely a month after undergoing the cut, she found out that there were plans to marry her off to a man almost the same age as her father.
“I came out of the hut for fresh air and found my father with an elderly man. Father asked me to greet him as he was my husband and had come to negotiate dowry,” she says.
Rooted in culture
This time, however, Naponu had a plan.
“I had to act fast. After dad left with the man, I quickly went to my uncle’s house and informed him what had transpired,” she recalls.
Her uncle organised her escape and took her to Tasaru Rescue Centre where she stayed for one year before she transferred to the Prince of Peace Center after Tasaru was closed down due to lack of funds.
“I started school at the age of 11 because my father had never taken my siblings and I to school.
Though older than my classmates, I am glad I had a chance to attend school instead of being married off,” she says.
According to Joyce Lentoiye, the Director of Prince of Peace Centre, FGM is still rampant among members of the Maasai community despite it being outlawed.
Lentoiye said efforts by the government, human rights activists and other stakeholders to eradicate the vice is an uphill task as it is deeply rooted in culture.
“Many girls end up undergoing the cut because of fear of stigmatisation, lack of information and fearing the worst after leaving home,” said Lentoye.
In partnership with Federation of Women Lawyers, Prince of Peace Rescue Center organises Alternative Rite of Passage (CLARP) for girls.
“There are alternative rites of passage that can be used to initiate girls into womanhood without them being cut.
We usually conduct three days training on sexual and reproductive health rights, positive norms and values, self-esteem and life skills,” the director said.
On graduation from the training, the girls are blessed by cultural elders and clergy.
The center became operational in 2010 under the leadership of Bishop Jackson Solonka who saw the need to give girls from poor backgrounds and those facing tough conditions at home a chance to live a better life.
To date, they have rescued 26 girls. The centre manages their education and well-being through donors and other well-wishers. —KNA