NCFM Kenya Liaison Kennedy Owino’s report on genital mutilation and a related seminar near the Kenya-Tanzania border
Lenkisem is a small village found on a vast flat land to the South of Sultan Hamud in Kajiado County. We were able to access the area driving on a murram road snaking through a jungle which is full of short scattered thorny trees, baobab,cactus, euphobia,an undergrowth of green grass and various other species of trees. The area has fertile sandy soil which supports a variety of vegetation. The goats and sheep I saw there were healthy and the cows were gigantic. On our way back we were lucky to see many giraffes and antelopes. Mount Kilimanjaro was also visibly near meaning that we were not very far from the Kenya-Tanzania border.
On Saturday morning after breakfast, I was joined by a young Maasai Moran called Samson Saigilu who is also a public health officer. Under the guidance of our host Chief Joseph,we assembled about 51 young girls who had arrived that morning to attend a Genital Autonomy seminar at Lenkisem Mixed Secondary School. We grouped the girls into two on the basis of their ages. Samson taught the group consisting of the relatively older girls while I attended to the group of younger girls. At some point in my class, I was astonished to hear more than two girls saying that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is good and it’s continuation among the Maasai community has benefits. A few others said that FGM is bad and should be stopped.
Later on that morning,Hartmut Schwinty,a German arrived together with Maria Narheku from Taita Taveta and Farhia Mohammed who comes from Mombasa. We combined the girls in one class as Narheku took over the mantle of teaching the girls about FGM. When Narheku asked the girls why FGM has been practised for time immemorial, Simalo a young girl of 13 years said that it marks the transitional point from childhood to adulthood. Another girl, Siloma,mentioned the promotion of marriageability as one benefit of FGM.A plethora of other reasons were mentioned as purpoted benefits of FGM among them being stopping bad smell,early marriage,enhancement of menstruation,inhibition of barrenness etc.
As the lesson progressed, Narheku took the young girls through a session using a model of a female genital anatomy to demonstrate the different types of FGM and how they negatively impact the normal structure and functions of female genitalia. It was horrendous to see what girls go through in the hands of genital mutilators. Finally,she taught told the girls to avoid engaging in early sex which can lead to unwanted pregnancies, STIs and dropping out of school. Her demonstration on proper and consistent condom use was well articulated for the event.
In the afternoon,we headed back to Sultan Hamud. When we arrived it was already dark,however, I was happy to see Ulla Barretto for the first time.I wanted to board a bus to Nairobi but she refused suggesting that we had some issues to talk about at dinner. At dinner when the two of us were alone, she told me that Maria Narheku has in several occasions thwarted her attempt to include the fight against MGM in their work. It was not the first time I was hearing about the dark side of Maria Narheku being against the perpetuation of FGM which was done to her at the tender age of 13 years while supporting Male Genital Mutilation(MGM). For the two days I interacted with Narheku,she occasionally interjected our conversation by saying that her sons will undergo the “modernized” method of circumcision which is carried out in hospitals. I kept asking myself,”does this mean that she could not have condemned her own circumcision if only it could have been done in a hospital?”, ”Is it true that hospitalized genital alterations have benefits which does not come with it when done in the traditional way?”
Ulla Barretto said that we will still have to talk more through email,promising to send me more articles on Male Genital Mutilation. We then had a light moment of sharing jokes,talked about the similarities and differences in political and educational patterns between Kenya and Germany. Hartmut lamented about the torture African children are undergoing through in the hands of their teachers who pump excessive content into their young brains.He said that the German way of implementing the syllabus in institutions of learning is well organized and closely monitored by both the parents and the government. We later parted for sleep at around 10pm.
The following morning. on Sunday 17th ,April 2016 after taking breakfast we posed for a group photo holding the stickers of World Wide Day of Genital Autonomy which will take place on May 7th. We then departed for Nairobi, Hartmut on the wheel and Ulla on the front passenger seat, Maria, Farhia and I on the passenger seat behind them.
I alighted at a bus stage in Nairobi and walked through a fly over in Industrial Area where I boarded a bus to the city centre. At 10 pm my journey back home started. I arrived home at 5 am the following day,on Monday 18th and went straight to bed.
I’m very grateful to Ulla Barretto for the invitation and Chief Joseph for hosting the event in the best way possible and for their immense contribution that made my trip a success. I appreciate the contribution made by Maria Narheku even though her view on genital mutilation is lopsided. I’m grateful to have met and talked to Hartmut Schwinty. Our discussions yielded bountiful results. I thank Farhia Mohammed, Samson Saigilu, Rose and all the others whose names I may have forgotten but contributed to the success of my trip to Lenkisem.
Thank you all.