Kenya: Defying culture for EducationThis month our country of focus is Kenya, where World Vision’s Strong Women, Strong World initiative is coming alongside communities to raise awareness of children’s rights, create environments that protect children, and build and strengthen the capacity of local organizations that respond to abuse so children suffering harm are supported. World Vision is increasing children’s access to an education—opening doors of opportunity for them, and providing an alternative to FGM, early marriage, and child labor. The following story was contributed by Lucy Murunga, World Vision.
This is Salina’s story of courage and hope.
Each year a group of young girls between the ages of 12-15 in her Kenyan community is prepared for a rite of passage, FGM, a practice that violates human rights, decent living and continuation of education, yet many tribes see as the transition into adulthood.
Salina was among the girls earmarked for the cut alongside her cousins. “My Uncle told me that no man would respect me or would marry me if I chose to remain uncircumcised,” she notes. “This is our culture, so who are you to go against it?’ he asked.
But before the ceremony, Salina had attended a three-day-training on ARP [alternative rites of passage] convened by World Vision. Says Salina “We had been taught that it is our right to refuse to be circumcised and urged to say NO to FGM.”
Salina’s best friend Lidya faced the same situation. They decided to run away to a World Vision dormitory and school, their new home until they are reunited with their families. “We feel safe here and we have ample time to study,” the girls say.
The role of the Church
World Vision, in partnership with the Church, the Children Services department and the Provincial Administration have been helping the girls also unite with their families and re-integrate back into the community. Once parents and families have learned the importance of not circumcising their girls, they often say something like “I want her to come back home, I completely respect and support her decision to continue with her education.”
Salina’s mother exudes remorse but her Uncle remains stubborn. “Such people,” asserts Rufus Kihara, a District Official in Marigat, “will face the law.” He attributes ignorance and lack of information as the major impediment in the fight against FGM.
A section of Church leaders in the area have also joined the fight against FGM. “We want our communities to rise above retrogressive cultural practices and instill Christian values,” says Pastor John Ngaiyo. Recently girls fleeing from forced FGM and early marriage have been seeking refuge at the Church leaders’ homes. Pastor Ngaiyo has this year housed six girls.
ARP training for both boys and girls
A recent ARP training session attracted 110 participants, 47 of them boys. There were three trainings held concurrently. Another venue attracted 152 participants, 7 were boys. According to Elizabeth Lechuta, one of the facilitators, the attendance was impressive. Elizabeth stresses the critical role boys play in the anti-FGM campaign and influencing change: “These are the boys who will eventually change their mind settings and attitude towards FGM practice. We need to remove that perception the boys hold that if a girl is uncircumcised she is not fit for marriage.”