By Martin Muluka, Communications Specialist, World Vision Kenya.
Faith loves education and would do anything to go to the university to study nursing. Her journey towards her dream was well on course until March 2020 when the government shut down schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was afraid of going home because one of my friends had gotten married off and another underwent FGM [Female Genital Mutilation] during the December 2019 school holidays,” she says, at her home in Masol, situated in West Pokot County, Kenya.
These breaks from school are a make-or-break for girls in communities that still practice FGM like Faith’s. According to data from UNICEF, Kenya is home to four million girls and women who have experienced FGM. Overall, 21 percent of girls and women - aged 15 to 49 years - have undergone the practice in Kenya
Therefore, at 16 years, Faith is at risk of undergoing FGM in West Pokot County.
“People talk about it and this makes you feel left out, if you have not undergone the cut. Sometimes, they even make fun of you and call you a child. I felt alone and feared talking about the issue. When schools closed, I stayed in my room most of the time and didn’t leave our compound at all,” she notes.
In many cultures, FGM - also known as cutting - symbolises the transition from girlhood to womanhood. It is a valued traditional practice done on girls as young as 10 years old yet, it has devastating physical and psychological effects on those cut.
Kenya enacted the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act in 2011. In 2019, the country adopted a revised National Policy for the Eradication of FGM in line with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 5.3, which seeks to eliminate the practice by 2030.
The Ministry of Public Service and Gender leads the initiative, with contributions from line ministries; faith-based, community-based, civil society and non-governmental organisations.
Article 53 of the 2010 Kenya Constitution, articulates the right of every child to be protected from harmful cultural practices. This underpins the drive for the elimination of FGM in Kenya.
To address this challenge, World Vision is conducting mentorship programmes aimed at empowering communities to abandon FGM through the Kenya Big Dream Project that is funded by Margo Day in West Pokot County, Kenya.
Under the mentorship programme, participants are taken through a training model known as the Alternative Rights of Passage (ARP).
This allows girls to transition into womanhood through alternative methods, without being circumcised and married off as per the cultural demands of the Pokot community.
During the training sessions, the girls are initiated into adulthood through mentorship and sensitisation on sexual reproductive health, child rights, good health and the harmful effects of FGM.
They are also encouraged to have a high self esteem and embrace fundamental life skills or values such as honesty, hard work, optimism and the love for education. In addition, the trainees get knowledge on business skills and techniques that can enable them to earn a living in future.
Aside from the girls, boys as well as men and women from the community are also welcome to participate in the training sessions so they can also become anti-FGM champions.
Faith learnt about the ARP training workshops conducted by World Vision through her mother.
“My mother is always good to me, she always encourages me to work hard in school. One day in December, she told me that World Vision would be training girls on how to behave during school holidays. I was afraid of going alone because I thought I would meet people who would laugh at me," she says.
"Mum talked to me and promised to escort me on the first day. I liked what World Vision taught us because it resonated well with what I was going through. My mother was determined that I finish the training, so she decided to finish the training also,” recalls Faith.
She adds: “I was surprised to find many girls and boys participating. At first, we were few but more and more of them came. In the workshop, we were taught about living our lives according to the bible. I was also taught how to start a small business to make money for myself by one of the speakers from my community. I felt happy because she had rejected FGM and was talking to inform us about its dangers.”
During these ARP training workshops, faith leaders encourage participants to take action against FGM and become child rights advocates and champions.
“My mother volunteered to become a champion against FGM after the first day of the training. She talked to other parents to bring their children to school. My little brother and sister also joined in. After the training, I was given a certificate and a gift pack," Faith says.
"When I told my mother that I wanted to practice the business skills I had learned, she bought me five chickens using the money she had saved from the cash that World Vision had given her to help sustain the family during the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to have many chickens that I can sell so as to buy books and sweets for my sister,” Faith adds.
She adds: “I am proud because instead of undergoing the cut, I now have a certificate and skills that will help me in life. In school, I have become a champion against problems that affect girls in my Pokot community. I often share what I learnt with the other girls. I would like World Vision to make these training workshops frequent.”
During the weekends, Faith usually visits nearby villages together with her mother to talk to girls who are afraid of speaking out against the harms of FGM at Masol Location in West Pokot County, Kenya.
"We also encourage boys to go to school and let girls finish school first instead of marrying them early. I thank God that I got my confidence back after the ARP training. Now, I feel much better than before.”
* Featured Photo (at the top): Faith (16) an anti-FGM champion mentored through the World Vision Alternative Rights of Passage mentorship programme in West Pokot County Kenya.©World Vision photo/Martin Muluka.