Monday, 25 November, 2019
It began in the middle of the night – twenty years ago, in Kimana, the Maasai village in Kenya where I was born. The village where my parents died and I was raised by my grandfather. He is in elder in our community – a very respected man. His name is Ole Sing’aru. But that night my sister Soila and I ran away from him. We snuck out of our house and climbed a tree to hide ourselves.
Because we feared an age-old ritual called ‘the cut’. For centuries, ‘the cut’ had been part of our community. It means that girls are undergoing female genital mutilation or cutting at age 8, 9 or 10. Female genital cutting, in my community, is a rite of passage that prepares girls for marriage.
Now, I deeply love my community and its traditions. But this part of our Maasai identity is so harmful. It is not just a physical cut. It’s a cut of women’s and girls’ rights; it’s a cut of their future.
Female Genital Cutting robs young girls of their innocence and their agency. It robs communities of independent and educated girls. It robs countries of potential business women, doctors and teachers.
As a little girl, I saw many friends and relatives who underwent ‘the cut.’ They would be taken into a hut early in the morning – and I would hear the screams. Most girls fainted. Some died. And I feared the day my turn would come.
And then… that day came. My uncle told it was time for me and my older sister to be cut. She was 10 years old. I was only 8. I desperately did not want this. I wanted to finish school and become just like my teacher Caroline. My teacher, who supported me and pushed me to resist. She was my only role model then – the one who gave me hope. But I also knew I would pay a heavy price for my resistance. Without ‘the cut’ I would be excluded from our community.
I would be seen as a coward – an incomplete Maasai girl. I would never get a husband. In our language, there is not even a name for such a kind of woman. The shame is literally too big for words.
So there I was. A young girl. An orphan. Who would listen to my desperate wishes? Who was I to change the world? There was no other option for me than to run away. So that is what I did – twice.
The second time my sister Soila decided to stay. ‘If I stay’, she said, ‘maybe they spare you, because you are younger.’ She was right.
My sister sacrificed herself for me and I will always be grateful for that. I ran away to stay with my teacher Caroline. She gave me a safe home.
Eventually I gathered all my courage and came back to my grandfather. Fearful and anxious I pleaded with him. I told him I would run away forever.
And then something incredible happened: he listened to me – and even accepted my request to be able to finish school. Because he is an elder nobody in our village could overrule his decision. In a way I was free – although many people saw me as a disrespectful girl.
But my grandfather supported me, so I could continue my journey. I became the first girl in our village to go to high school – and I saw the admiration in the eyes of other girls. They too wanted to become the women of their dreams.
Then one day Amref Health Africa came to our village – to educate children on sexual and reproductive health. I was 17.
They looked for a boy and a girl who had education so they could take part in the training. And, I was the only girl in my village who did. So I was the only girl to put forward. For 4 years I bargained with the elders in our community – something women are not even allowed to do.
First, nobody would listen. Many people distrusted me.
But one by one the men came to understand that ‘the cut’ was in fact bad for our whole community. People really started to listen. After years of perseverance something started to shift.
The elders persuaded the rest of our village to abandon ‘the cut’. They replaced pain and fear with a new ceremony that celebrated the dreams of every girl.
It was such a beautiful moment. The elders blessed the girls as they always had – but now they blessed them to continue their education before getting married and having children. But what followed was just as hopeful: the number of girls in school went up.
And the journey continued.
I started working with Amref on their projects and started to tell my story everywhere. More and more people listened. In 2014, for the first time, women went to the meeting of Maasai elders at Mount Clear. And, the Maasai oral constitution was changed in order to stop cutting girls. Thanks to the leadership of communities, more than 17,000 girls in Kenya and Tanzania have gone through Alternative Rites of Passage without the cut. And, they continue with education. I am so thankful for that.
But the journey is far from over: there is so much work still to be done. Millions of girls are still at risk. Many girls still have to fear for their health, for their future.
I want to help them. I NEED to help them.
That is why I dedicated the land of my grandfather Ole Sing’aru to girls who want to escape their faith. I am building them A Nice Place. A safe place, where they can catch their breath. Where they can educate themselves. Where they can empower themselves. It may seem small, but it’s a start.
Are you with me? Together we are strong! Together, we can speak with one powerful voice – an irresistible voice. A voice that speaks up against female genital cutting and child marriage. A voice that shares the hopes and dreams of millions of girls. A voice that tells them of a bright future. I see those dreams in the faces of the girls we have been able to help. I see the hope in the faces of my sister Soila, of my grandfather. And in teacher Caroline – who listened to my hopeful cries.
We have a long way to go – but there is so much hope. So please, use your power to to make girls the women of their dreams