2 April 2015

Stories of change and hope from Kenya

A blog by Ann-Marie Wilson. 

Stories from Kenya

During my visit to Kenya last year I was able to catch up with my friend Danladi. As we drank African Chai tea whilst eating Mandazi snacks, we exchanged news in the typical African way of sharing lives. It was the third time I had met Danladi, a church elder and NGO worker. The first time I met him was in 2010, with his bishop who said that I could write a module on FGM for his Sunday school material. At that time, the offer was both overwhelming and amazing. Yet now, five years on, we have started seeing this offer become a reality.

Earlier I had been looking over our child and vulnerable adult protection policy. It reminded me of an uncomfortable story I had heard on my past visit to Kenya. Danladi had driven me up country to visit a Maasai community. Soon, the road changed to a one track road, and the recent rain had led it to be muddy and unsafe for the bus. We were asked to alight, and my London pumps quickly sank into the mud and I realised that we would have to walk the rest of the way to the village barefoot. The rain soon started and I felt like Mary Poppins with my English umbrella, walking across agricultural fields that were brown and furrowed. 

As we approached the village I could hear singing, and saw my first glimpse of Maasai clothes, beaded jewellery and headdresses as the villagers jumped up and down, as was customary for greeting a visitor. We joined around 70 people for a simple church service; I walked with two young women aged 13 and 15, who had avoided having FGM two years before. As their community had abandoned their dying cows in the famine, the elders decided to try to settle on reservation land, and became pastoralists, planting crops. This enabled the young people to walk four hours each way to school. It was in a health club where these two girls, then aged 11 and 13, had learnt of the harm and dangers of FGM. They decided to avoid the cut, and ran away to an aunt and grandma. After the cutting season ceremony, the girls were returned home and were invited to speak to the elders and explain why they had run away. After much inter-generational dialogue, the girls persuaded the community to abandon cutting, and no one has been cut since.

I asked after these two girls, and Danladi told me that now, aged 16 and 18 respectively, they were enrolled in senior school and college courses, one to be a teacher and the other to be a health professional. The community was thriving and still no girl had been cut for the past five years.

I remember being so pleased to hear on my last visit that the community has abandoned FGM. And yet I also learned of another sinister story. We were invited by the pastor to eat in the community, and the bishop, Danladi and I accepted and headed to our host’s home. I overheard Danladi asking our host why she had not been in church, and she shared that she “could no longer face church as the pastor had begun to demand sex from her”. I was outraged to hear of this abuse, and told Danladi that I wanted to tell the bishop. He quickly emphasised this was not the best plan, and that he would deal with it. As I had been reviewing 28 Too Many’s protection policy, I had been reminded of this story, and I realised that I had not yet checked what Danladi had done to sort out this problem.

As we sat drinking our tea, I reminded him of this situation and asked for an update. He was surprised that I remembered this scenario, and quickly wanted to fill me in on what had happened. Instead of going to the bishop, he had taken the issue to a senior community elder other than the pastor. When confronted, the pastor had admitted his behaviour, accepted his wrongdoing and sought forgiveness. Although the pastor avoided seeing Danladi for many months, in time their relationship was reconciled, and was stronger for the incident. He has not relapsed again, and is accepted as a good community pastor. The woman attends church, and the bishop keeps a watch for all aspects of abuse in his diocese.

Abuse, either FGM or sexual, has no place within an enlightened community. I feel happy to work for organisations such as 28 Too Many, CMS and Restored, which pioneer against harmful traditional practices and abuse, and protect the rights of the vulnerable. I’m glad I can see progress in our work together in Kenya.

If you can please make a donation to help support our work to end FGM. A small monthly donation would make a huge difference to us so please consider setting up a standing order. There are many other ways to give and please email donate@28toomany.org for details. You can also support us by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.