Tasaru Ntomonok

Change Amongst the Maasai

By Maggie Ziegler

Amongst the Maasai of Kenya, SOLID continues to support the movement for girls education and against female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage. Recently SOLID member Dr. Candace Cole and her husband, Eric Field, visited Kenya, following up on educational outreach in remote villages funded by SOLID, and learning about recent successes and on-going needs.

The fight against FGM is spearheaded by Agnes Pareyio, who spoke at our 2006 conference. She is a Kenyan Maasai woman who suffered female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage at age 14, and how she began to walk from village to village, speaking in opposition to FGM and for girl’s education. Candace described her as “amazingly effective in untying the knot of this cultural practice that had bound generations of young girls to the trauma of genital mutilation.”

Candace reported that the rescue house for girls, opened in 2002, is now overflowing. The 30 beds at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok are holding 70 girls, many having walked long distances before arriving at the gate. I visited Tasaru two years ago and fell in love with these feisty and courageous girls who risked losing family and community in their search for safety and education.

Candace also noted that more parents are supporting their daughters in the week long alternative rights of passage that Pareyio initiated. Candace and Eric had the privilege to attend an unforgettable graduation ceremony for a group of girls who were just completing this making the transition to adulthood without the excruciatingly painful and dangerous procedure of cutting. In one moment during this ceremony, the attending adults (men and women) joined hands and encircled the girls with support and love. Parents who supported the alternate rite of passage signed that they would not get their girls cut.

Afterwards, Candace and Eric traveled with ten of the girls to their homes in remote villages in the highlands of Kenya. Crammed into a small van, the girls, rooted in oral tradition, sang songs that detailed their learning: songs about FGM, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and AIDS. “They sang of their wishes and desires for a chance to attend school, to say no and to take responsibility for their own bodies and decisions,” Candace said.

“As we climbed from the van at the end of the 4 ½ hr drive, preparing for the 2 hours of walking still ahead of us, the moon crested the mountains. As the line of beautiful, energetic young women stretched out ahead of me in the moonlight, I became suddenly aware that if it hadn’t been for Agnes, for other committed community members, and for international supporters including SOLID, these girls would not be singing their hearts out, but lying on their backs bleeding in excruciating pain”.

Despite these successes, FGM continues to be practiced, and the need for FGM education continues. The girls at Tasaru need post secondary skills training. Ironically, only children who leave home have a chance to be educated as the girls at Tasaru are supported through secondary school (which is not free). Girls in remote communities need support to attend school and families need economic alternatives to the traditional dowries that daughters bring.

Support for the anti-FGM campaign, and support for the girls, their families and their communities, means Pareyio’s vision – that FGM can be rejected while maintaining Maasai identity – will increasingly be realized.