During my interaction at The Guardian Media Academy training that took place in October 2015, I met a young passionate Anti-FGM activist,Human rights defender, Chistine Ghati. Christine inspired me a great deal.
Christine was born and raised in Kuria community, Migori County. She is a first born in a family of five, with two brothers and two sisters. She is a student at Karatina University where she is pursuing Bachelor of Science in Actuarial Science. She is a volunteer at Education Centre for Advancement of Women (ECAW) a community based organization funded by county women Rep Hon. Denita Ghatia. Christine is a role model to many.
Christine considers herself very lucky to have escaped the cut in a region where FGM is quite rampant, almost 8 out of 10 girls from this region have undergone the cut. She solely owes it to her late father who passed on when she was 8 years old, just before her initiation age. Girls in Kuria county are cut at the age of 12 and above. Her dad had however left a message to her mother that none of her girls should undergo the cut.
When Christine reached her rightful initiation age, she received a lot of pressure from friends and family. Her mother also received a lot of pressure from her circle. They both held firm on their decision. Christine too had learnt about the effects of FGM through training from Action Aid trainers who were going around schools to educate young girls. She made it a personal choice not to undergo the cut.
Christine’s family was denied economic assistance from the extended family for they withdrew all forms of support.
The struggling family turned to God for hope. Her mother had to serve around local hotels in order to feed her family. Life became really tough. She recalls days and nights that they could go without food…
Christine became a loner, none of her age mates associated with her. She couldn’t play, walk and talk to her peers. She opted to stay indoors. She only left on Sundays to teach Sunday school at her local church. She loved playing with the kids and made them her friends.
After completion of primary school. Luck befell her, someone from California was visiting her local church. He noticed her unique talent and developed interest in her. He learnt about her financial woes and volunteered to support her through her secondary education. He paid her school fees and upkeep all through the four years. She feels bad that she has been unable to reach this person and just thank him for his kindness. She has never seen nor heard from him again. I could see tears welling up her eyes. I consoled her, he was heaven sent, angels are real.
She performed exemplary in her form four exams. She scored an A- and became the best student ever to have scored that mark in the whole of Migori county. Now the whole community was proud of her and wanted to associate with her. Her unending financial woes came up again. Her mother was unable to afford her university fees. They prayed to their dear Lord. Her mother decided to organize for a fundraising and to their surprise, the poor village raised almost 400,000 shilling, (Approximately USD4,000) The collected monies supported her siblings school fees too.
She too applied for Higher Education Loan and was granted. She is comfortably about to finish her fourth year.
Christine’s passion to end FGM started when she was in primary school. She could gather a few girls during break time and encourage them not to pursue the the cut. Some agreed some distanced from her. During high school, one of her supportive uncle and friend introduced her to ECAW, a community organization that advocates for alternative rights of passage-during seclusion period where girls are taught the same things they are supposed to learn but minus the cut. Graduation ceremony and certificates are also awarded.
She loves working for ECAW since it has exposed her to other great opportunities. In 2014 one of the sponsors noticed her talking to elders using a story telling technique which triggered people to respond. She could then drive her Anti-FGM message home; which was a nice and unique technique in changing people’s attitudes towards FGM.
Early this year, she was nominated for the Queens Young Leaders program. A program by the Queen of England aimed at equipping young leaders who are doing great work in the community with necessary leadership skills. She is one of the pioneers from the 53 commonwealth countries. She is among the 8 applicants from Kenya. 3 young leaders received the award by the Queen. The remaining five are runners up and all qualify for mentorship program in the Cambridge University on leadership skills.
She is currently pursuing the online training and hopes to graduate by the end of the year. She enjoys the virtual learning experience, VLE since she gets exposure and share opportunities amongst the students. She recently got nominated as a delegate among other two Kenyans at the Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network, CYGEN launched in Malta, Europe May 2015.
A charity organization in UK, Feed the Minds partnering with ECAW is participating in a Royal Park half marathon aimed at ending the cycle on FGM. Christine is among the global participants who are running the race on 11th of Oct aimed at creating awareness on FGM and raising funds for the project of ending FGM in Kuria.
As I speak with her, an email checks in on her phone. She smiles while holding one hand on her mouth. Mixture of happiness and shock. Yes, she had been selected for the commonwealth youth forum in Malta Europe in Oct 21st- 25th
She bestows all this to her father and her passion to end FGM.
Behind this strong, passionate dedicated courageous beautiful girl. I meet the inner Christine. She is very afraid. She is still battling with fear. She does not trust her environment. She has never recovered fully from the FGM pressure and threats. She hopes she will, one day..
She plans to live, work and get married in Kuria Community, just to witness the end of FGM.