…..a request by Seleiyan Ene-Partoip, FGM survivor, The Girl Generation Brand Ambassador and founder Murua Girls Education Program.
Inhabiting the plains of Narok, Kenya, Seleiyan is often introduced by Dr.Faith Mwangi Powell, Global Director The Girl Generation as the girl who took a bus from Nairobi to Lusaka, Zambia, spending four days and three nights on the lonely road to attend the ‘Africa Summit on Ending Child Marriage’ in Nov 2015. Wow! Does’nt this depict passion for girl child? Certainly it does!
Before I started talking to Seleiyan few months back, I was lured to her by her unique beauty, her smooth radiant skin and a mid gap in her lower jaw. On interacting with her, I immediately loved her! She send me to silly senseless hearty laughters that I can not even recall what they were about! Yes, she is a comical girl, something you would’nt pick from an initial glance..She can crack joke after joke leaving you gasping for your breadth! How could she not be my friend? Huh!
‘Why call my culture barbaric, retrogressive,horrific,inhuman,backward? Who gives you the right to judge me, to judge my community, to judge my culture?’ Discloses Seleiyan during my recent interaction with her while engaging with the youth in Murua village to dialogue towards ending FGM (#YouthEndGMNarok)
Seleiyan tells me she encountered the ‘rude,ruthless,insensitive’ words a few years back while in a certain College in Nairobi. Words that threw her into sheer confusion…I mean all her life she has been very passionate about her culture and now ‘someone’tells her she is backward? Abeg something is not adding up? Either these people are simply mean to me or my parents were mean to me; If they knew FGM is a bad thing then why did they allow me to go through it?
Seleiyan recalls the day she underwent the cut…. ‘It was such an exciting moment! I felt proud! I mean we Maasais don’t practice FGM for bad reasons’, she says. ‘It was simply a right of passage that we all looked forward to! and yes we are taught amazing things that mould us into examplary adults as well as good wives’ adds Seleiyan
‘I was 13 when I underwent FGM. We bravely face the razor, crying is a sign of weakness, yes I agree the procedure is very painful but come on!, the cut signifies that you are growing up! Big girls dont cry’ Narrates Seleiyan
She admits that she was not only confused but also angry…At who? She couldnt pinpoint! The happy, bubbly girl now shuts down and becomes a loner.
She developed low self esteem. Her academic performance dropped, she hated her self, she hated her parents,she hated everyone. She was against the world! She even stopped going to school for sometime and completely lost herself!
She started going to church. She recalls that there is where she received genuine love. She enrolled for leadership and development programs. After two years, she restored her self confidence and character.
She later on went to school within her locality back in Narok, where most people shared her culture, where she was safe from criticism, where she was safe from stigma. She completed her diploma in Community development and social work.
She worked around her village. Her work entailed mentoring girls in primary schools about Menstrual hygiene, sexual reproductive health and Early Marriage.
She avoided to talk about FGM, in fact she never liked to hear that word. It had caused so much confusion in her life and she would rather not bother about it.
Unfortunately or rather fortunately, the word kept popping up during the baseline survey that she was conducting within ten schools in Murua. The survey involved assessing child marriage, early pregnancy,school drop-out cases. And yes the leading cause was FGM. She could not ignore it anymore! She had to learn about it and unravel the mystery about her culture!
She applied to attend a Pan African Youth Philanthropy conference in Arusha. She was considered. During the forum, she interacted with activists and started networking. Still, not saying much about FGM. What she read online and what she knew had a slight disconnect.
Effects of FGM such as death were true, she had witnessed death of a few girls within her village but their death was hushed and attributed to other things and not FGM. Other health effects such as fistula now made sence to her. She also realized that she had been denied an opportunity to enjoy her sexual activities since part of her genitalia was cut off. Again this made her angry. But now she needed to do something about it. Snapping wont help her, neither will it help her daughter..now that she is a mother.
In 2013, she started an awareness campaign to end FGM called ‘Own your body’ Say no to FGM. She started with schools, the girls shared the knowledge with parents at home. She was invited for community forums within Narok. She taught both men and women about FGM and its effects. She is happy that the community is slowly embracing change and that FGM is no longer a hushed subject.
Through Networks, she learnt about the Kenya Youth Anti-FGM Network. She joined the movement of young males and females working together to end FGM and Child Marriage within practising communities in Kenya. As a result of het passion and experience, she was appointed as The Brand Ambassaordor for The Girl Generation-a partner organization to the youth network. She is the representative for TGG activities and face of the media. She has received a series of trainings on FGM including social change communication and monitoring and evaluation, strategies she believes can work in the remotest village since it targets the community in a less aggressive way, slowly changing attitudes and believes, giving the community a chance to think for themselves!
So far Seleiyan has experienced change in her community. Her people have moved from seeing FGM as an acceptable social norm and a secretive subject to a point where cutters are publicly declaring that they will no longer cut girls while parents have become true guardians to their daughters.
‘FGM in Murua village Narok has significantly dropped’ confesses one of the women cooks who was preparing our evening meal. The woman, Gertrude, I can remember her name also attributes the change to the churches and church based organisations in Narok. The church besed organizations have trained priests about FGM and the priests have in turn educated their congregants on effects of the cut in a loving way without attacking them. These has immensely contributed to change in Narok!
Seleiyan also says that rescuing girls and arresting practitioners is a temporary measure. ‘We will never reach every girl and rescue her. The drive to end FGM should come from within the community!’ She affirms..
Well Seleiyan shares with me her future plans where she intends to bring all the youth in four sub counties in Narok county this coming year to work together towards ending FGM and Child Marriage. She knows that the youth are the most suitable change agents and they can end fgm within their generation.
She also plans to have a program for survivors who suffer in silence. She hopes to rebild their esteem using herself as a role model. She however urges campaigners to be careful in their choice of words while campaining. ‘Mean words retraumatize and revictimize survivors! ‘A lot of harm is done during fgm campaigns’, She says
Seleiyan is sad that she wont be attending a conference in Washington DC at the US scheduled early December. She threatens that if it was a bit nearer she would have rocked a boat all the way across the Atlantic ocean! Am not surprised! This girl took a bus for four days! Again, I laughed my heart out. What a good way to conclude my interview with her!
Aha, not to despair much, Seleiyan is preparing to leave for Korea in January 2017 for a youth conference. Yes, her dream to board a plane will be realized. And the whole village will be very proud of her!