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Ambassadors of Change in north Kenya! Stories from Samburu Women’s Trust

Samburu Women Trust, an Influencing grantee in northern Kenya, is implementing a project called Usawa Dada to amplify thus far unheard voices of indigenous women, girls and their allies.Usawa Dada helps these so-called Ambassadors of Change to speak out boldly against harmful cultural practices, such as child marriage, female genital cutting andbeading which has continued denying them dignity.

Here are small excerpts of their moving stories.

Meet Stephen Letooiye, a proud community warrior or moran on an endless mission to convince his peers to marry Samburu girls that are uncut. In his quest he already managed to convince one disciple and plans to continue the soft approach which has resulted in many listening ears. 

From cutter to crusader

For 40 years Kongoma Nolaso had been cutting girls in her Rendille community, using only a razor blade and long fingernails.  But fearing enforcement of the anti-FGM law,she stopped and has now become an anti-FGM crusader on a journey to convince her former peers to do the same. In her own words:

As we talk now, I do not know of anyone earning a living by subjecting girls to the cut. If you know of one, tell me where she is and I will visit her with a piece of advice.”

From sceptic to supporter: Sister Mary Flora

Teaching at a primary school in Kipsing Village, she saw with her own eyes the effect of 7-year girls being married off. “Previously, I did not take what I read in newspapers seriously, thinking it was an exaggeration of facts,”  Carefully Sister Flora started counselling them to stay away from older men, until her school was chosen to be part of the SWT”s mentorship programme.  Using empowerment techniques, barely a year into the programme the girls have been trooping to the school, some of them secretly while clad in their traditional beads which they shed off and requesting instead to be Issued uniforms.

Of  a pupil, popular among her peers: Stella Letimalo

Being a mentor in SWT programme, Stella has been reaching out to girls at school and in her village, inculcating a sense of confidence to the youngsters. The girls she has mentored are now standing up for their rights, even convincing their parents not to subject them to FGM and early marriages, something that has not been witnessed before.

Of traditions, transformation & teaching: Baraka Lekula 

Uncut herself, teacher Baraka Lekula has vowed to use her name (Blessing in Swahili) and passion for education to prevent girls from being cut.  Since she started teaching early in 2018:  

I have had individual talks with more than 20 girls. While five of them have wholeheartedly committed themselves not to undergo FGM, the rest still need more persuasion since they are still fearful of their parents.”

From  enforcement to encouragement: Henry Lesokoyo

Assistant Chief Henry Lesokoyo is a man of stature, who quickly realised that enforcing the anti-FGM laws only led to resistance, from people ready to pay the fines and in worse cases pastoralists moving to avoid the law. “I realised that applying the law as spelled out in the statute books would not bear results.” Instead he chose dialogue to explain the importance of education to  the community where illiteracy level is still high. This has yielded much better results as education plays a crucial role in eradicating FGM. 

From stigma to singleton: Salante Lebulkash

I reached to a point I could not withstand the disrespectful way he was treating me despite being the mother of his children. I moved out and started my own life as a single mother.” Frowned upon at first by the community, 20 years later she is a respected woman, empowering other women to guide them on entrepreneurship and self-esteem.

Turning pain into passion: Teresa Lekuraki

She was beaded by a moran at the age of 10 and three years later was already a mother. The thought that that may be the same fate for any other girl has turned Tereaa into the passionate human rights activist today. Out of my unpleasant experience, I vowed to lead a campaign to stop exploitation of the Rendile girl child.She formed a small group to gather intelligence where potential abuse may take place and with support from some chiefs addresses the problems head on!

These are some of the voices of the unsung heroes from the north of Kenya. For the full stories please download the Ambassadors of Change publication. With thanks to the team at Samburu Women’s Trust and the Ambassadors for allowing Voice an opportunity to amplify their voices.