‘Age sets of Morans against FGM.’

IMG_20160617_163300
Leshan Kampaine (Assistant chief) left, Joseph Toret (Chief) centre, Ntipapa Amsa (Assistant Chief) right ( Rombo Manyattas)

Morans in Rombo, Lugulului, Kuku and Mbirikani manyattas Loitoktok are the first age sets of Morans to turn their backs on (Female Genital Mutilation) FGM. Under the age set system, groups of the same age are initiated into adult life during the same period. The age-set thus formed is a permanent grouping, and lasts throughout the life of its members. Each set consists of about 10,000 Morans. They move up through a hierarchy of grades, each lasting approximately 15 years, including those of junior warriors, senior warriors, junior elders (sometimes classed as senior warriors), and senior elders, who are the ones who make decisions affecting the whole tribe.

This current set of Morans sworn in in 2011, has ten more years to rule. Meaning during their tenure there will be few to almost no cases of Female Genital Mutation (FGM) and early marriage.This declaration gives girls an opportunity to go to school and live up to their dreams.

One of the main reasons why FGM is practiced among this community is to prepare a girl for womanhood and for marriage. Most girls ages 8-15 are circumcised and married off immediately leading to high school dropout cases.

I sought to find out why these sets of Morans are against FGM, a culture that has been very rampant among the Maasai community for decades. I visited two manyattas, Rombo and Lugulului. The Morans here admit that they have been trained by AMREF Health Africa and a few other local CBOs mainly NOYA-Network of Youths in Action on the effects of FGM on their girls and they wholesomely agreed to be the protectors of their girls and women. They too have seen that the consequences of failing to educate girls has led to underdevelopment in their region. Needless to mention, they also confessed that uncircumcised girls are better to marry since they enjoy sex with them as opposed to cut girls who are hard to arouse! They are therefore appealing to women to spare the girls.

The Morans, apart from being physical guardians of the community and  the decision makers they are also role models to younger boys and their peers.

Marriage before used to be determined by fathers but these days marrying is no longer a father’s choice, the decision has entirely been left for the boys to decide when and whom to marry.

I also interacted with a number of female Ex-cutters who have proudly dropped the knife and converted to champions/strong activists who condemn FGM and call for arrests on other females who are still secretly cutting girls.

Transitioning to womanhood is now taught during school holidays. AMREF Health Africa has been teaching girls about Alternative Rites of Passage (ARPs), during school holidays in April, August and December. ARP is a cultural day event which embraces the positive cultural training and ceremonies that initiate girls from childhood to womanhood but removes the harmful cut. The girls are also awarded certificates as a show of passage.

NOYA under its programme, Morans For Girlchild Education and Empowerment (M4GEE) has been able to bring together morans to learn about the effects of FGM and Early Marriage. Morans under this programme are holding yearly festivals dubbed ‘Moran Festival’ where performances are held to raise funds towards education of girls.

The Morans together with the local leders have been the strong voice behind the reduction of FGM in Loitoktok and the strong security that curbs cross-border FGM. Cross border FGM is when girls are taken to the neighboring country Tanzania for FGM since Tanzania has not yet outlawed the practise. The Morans are however watchful of these cases because the last case in 2013 led to a girl bleeding to death.

The East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) in May this year introduced a bill outlawing the harmful practice which affects young women and girls in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania. It is seen as critical among the six member states to totally prohibit Female Genital Mutilation. if this bill is enacted, cross boarder FGM is going to be totally illegal.

Additionally, Morans here are involved in exchange programs with other Morans in Tanzania to help them understand the effects of FGM. They also consult each other a lot on various issues and celebrate most ceremonies together.

Alternative rites of passage among other anti-FGM campaigns have been estimated to be 80% productive in Loitoktok. More and more girls are attending schools. Morans have taken it upon themselves to ensure that girls complete primary ,secondary school and college education since they will significantly contribute to development in their own community and the country at large.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Francis, a young male who vows to end FGM in Loitoktok

“FGM is soon going to be history in Loitoktok as it largely contributes to school dropouts and early marriages,” says former reproductive  health expert, Mr Francis Odhiambo.

Mr Odhiambo, who formerly worked with the United States Agency for International Development, (USAID) said he had developed an aggressive but friendly approach to fighting FGM as he had learnt a lot since 2010 when he was posted to the area.
In an interview , Mr Odhiambo said his passion arose after he realized many young lives were being destroyed due to the FGM practice which ensure women would never rise beyond the ‘kitchen’.

francis
Francis dressed like a Moran

Five years later, Mr Odhiambo vividly recalls a particular incident that pains him to date;
They had just retired for the day when they received a call that there was a dying 13year old expectant girl who had been rescued from Tanzania a few minutes after she underwent the cut.“We drove to the border area and received the girl but the bad weather made the roads impassable and the girl died from excessive bleeding before reaching hospital.No one was arrested or punished for her death,” he says.
After the disturbing incident, Odhiambo vowed to do something that will put an end to the barbaric practice that kills and denies young girls opportunities for a better future.
He quit his work and together with a few more youth from the county formed a community based organization named ‘Network of Youths in Action’ (NOYA) .
They organized for inter-school and community outreach programmes where they used comedies, skits, folk songs, theatre and dances to teach girls on the effects of FGM.
Still, he did not see any change, girls dropped out of school, girls got pregnant forcing them to get married off to old men. He realized that it was not the girls that made decisions but their male parents as women in the Maasai community have no ‘voice’. His messianic approach to save these young generation from this cruelty was met with a lot of resistance from men who viewed him as an outsider claiming  he was ‘poisoning’ the young girls.

Odhiambo slowly penetrated groups of ‘Morans’ (Morans are Maasai male teenagers/warriors) by attending their weekend evening feast of ‘Nyama choma’ (roast meat) and even sipped raw blood from bloody gourds. He chatted many nights away with the morans and was soon assimilated into their weekly feasts where he donned their red coloured ‘shuka’ and adopted to the culture.
He quickly started a program targeting the Morans called ‘Morans for Girl Child Education and Empowerment, (M4GEE). The program was aimed at training Morans on the effects of FGM and the importance of educating girls. The Morans became champions, Anti-FGM ambassadors and the security that curbs cross-border FGM. In 2013, NOYA started aggressive community outreaches using magnet theater whereby they use drama and skits to educate the community.
Early this year, to mark Zero Tolerance day to FGM in February, they held a Moran festival , a festival that brought together all the Morans and the Maa community where messages to end FGM were propagated. T he festival was also meant to raise funds that would go to education of the young girls. Francis admits that there has been a significant drop in FGM cases in this comminity.

He acknowledges Alice Masinte who is a key ambassador for NOYA projects. The only challenge was in the beginning when he received so much resistance. He has over a period earned trust from the community and has also created dialogue with the necessary policy makers in Kajiado county.

In addition, Francis is an artist. He records and sings music with messages that urge communities, country and world at large to abandon FGM. His advocacy through music is bearing fruits as he also gets opportunities to perform during Anti-FGM festivals and events.

Francis does not even come from this county but lives, works and relates quite well with a people that he can hardly speak their language. Francis was born and raised in Kisumu, a region that hardly practices FGM. He urges fellow men to be the voice of change since Kenya is a patriarchal nation.

Currently, he is a member of the Kenya Youth Anti-FGM Network- a national Anti-FGM Youth movement that has recently been formed by the youths from the different FGM practicing communities in Kenya.

There is a future after the cut…

Group of Youth around Kenya and their support leaders during The Girl Generation Conference
Group of Youth around Kenya and their support leaders during The Girl Generation Conference

Working with activists, survivors, support groups, organizations whose core goal is ‘Ending FGM in Kenya’, I meet Alice Masinte at The Girl Generation conference. A conference that encouraged the youth to dialogue towards concerting effort to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Kenya.

Alice,25, third born in a family of ten (four girls and six boys), underwent the cut in 2002 while she was in class six.

“The pain was excruciating, they cut off everything,” she explains her ordeal during a brief interview with me. I can clearly see the pain in her eyes as she stops to talk for a minute and breaks down. This is heart wrenching…and immediately sends shudders through my veins. I can feel her pain.

She gathers courage and continues, “the procedure was so  crude,  I almost bled to death.” 

Even before she had healed, her father was still at it. He had secretly received dowry payment and arranged that she marries an old man enough to be her fathers age.
This,she learnt from her mother who helped her to escape to a nearby catholic church.
She was enrolled at a local Catholic Missionary School and after intense counselling,now fully recovered she resumed her studies.

She became a pariah at home but concentrated on her studies. She performed well and was admitted to Egerton University where she pursued a diploma course in Agriculture and Extension.

Alice got a job as a Biology and Agriculture teacher in Kisumu at a girls school.
Now enjoying fruits of a learned professional, she joined hands with like minded village peers from Loitoktok and launched a campaign to fight FGM.

Network of Youths in Action (NOYA) was born bringing together 99 youth. She was elected as the founding chairlady as well as the key ambassador.

She quit her teaching job and now focuses on visiting local primary and secondary schools teaching girls on the effects of the cut while encouraging especially those who have undergone the cut that there is life after the experience.

She urges parents not to subject girls to the cut because it does not make them superior than those uncut. It only subjects them to pain and other adverse health complications. 

NOYA has been working with morans under a program called Morans for Girl Child Education and Empowerement (M4GEE). They have successfully been able convince morans to lead in the fight to end FGM. They have also involved local leaders and even religious leaders in their dialogue.

She is grateful that her zeal has been able to save her youngest sister and a few other girls, since they have rightfully escaped the cut. She vows to save more girls.

Alice is Shrewd, I admire her courage and determination. I feel success in her struggle to end FGM.