Italo folds her legs and covers them with her long skirt. Her bare feet are charred and rough. Her skin looks dry and cracked. Her running nose shows how she braved the chilly morning to make it to school.
Nareiyo, the school cook, pushes some pieces of wood around in the open fireplace. They both cough and tear because of the sting from the smoke. Porridge is cooking in the big pot as they talk in hushed tones. Nareiyo is afraid of what Italo’s actions will cause.
The porridge is finally ready. Italo’s eyes follow as Nareiyo carefully removes the heavy pot from the now fierce fire. She manages a smile because breakfast is ready and soon she will warm her cold and grumbling stomach.
Lekanka Primary School is found in the vast Maasai Mara region of Kenya and accommodates about one hundred boys and girls in makeshift dormitories. This accommodation was built to help students prepare for their national exams because many of them had to travel as far as 10 kilometres to get to school each day. Their parents pay a fee that caters for their food.
Nareiyo turns to Italo and hands her a steaming mug of porridge. She gulps it down and the porridge slightly burns her lips and throat. Nareiyo reminds her to observe her manners.
No sooner had she gulped the second mouthful when a group of maasai women, followed by men, probably their husbands, came rushing in through the school’s gate.
Madam Judy acted quickly to hide Italo and the other two girls in her office. Italo is about ten years old and only speaks Maasai. She has never stepped into a classroom. She has been visiting the school most days for a warm feed. She desires to go to school to learn Kiswahili and English and to count like her younger brother does, but her fate, as it would seem, is already sealed. Her dowry is already negotiated and all the marriage rights have been put into place. In three months time, she will undergo ‘the cut’, which will make her a woman ready to be handed over to her husband.
The men, very angry now, started waving their clubs in the air. Madam Judy called the police and finally, Italo was safely guarded in the school as the parents receded to their manyattas (huts), albeit full of fury.
Italo is just one of the many girls who are still denied their rights as children in Narok county in the south-west of Kenya, and sadly, will undergo cutting like many young girls before her.
While Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was outlawed in Kenya in 2001, the war is far from over. About 9.3 million women and girls across the country have undergone ‘the cut’ according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which makes up 27% of the Kenyan female population. In the county, the cases of cutting are the highest across Kenya. Every year in fact, 500 girls are at risk of this traditional practice that mutilates their external female genitalia.
The risks are many, including over bleeding, prolonged labour and fistula, the spread of HIV/AIDS if the cutting blade is not sterilised properly, not to mention the psychological and mental impact this practice has on young girls as they grow up into women.
I tell you this true story because I think our culture and our customs should foster the equal growth and development of both men and women in our communities.
I tell you this story because we need change and we need it now. The Girl Generation is an African-led movement who are fighting to end FGM. They believe FGM can end on one generation and I do too, but it will take the collective to do so.
Let’s support the cause and join the movement, collectively.