On 17th Oct 2015, I made 4 new friends. Virginia Muya, Carol,Leah (met her a week before at Sitara cancer brunch with Njeri Olang’) Led by Tuta Mionki, we embarked on a journey to Soila Maasai girls rescue centre in Suswa. We were so anxious about the visit we had an “are we there yet” conversation every 10 minutes!
On arrival we got a wonderful welcome from their deputy head teacher, who gave us a tour of the school and home. The centre has 50+ girls at the moment, with 11 of them sitting for the KCPE exam 2015.
The Soila Maasai Girls Rescue Centre at Suswa in the Rift Valley, Kenya, was launched by Kenya Children’s Home in 2005 as a refuge centre for young orphaned or destitute Maasai girls.
With the co-operation of the local Chief, the centre was established to save the girls from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early arranged marriage – still a common practice and tradition in the Maasai community of Kenya.
Through the Suswa centre, the girls are offered a home and an education as an alternative path in life to FGM and early marriage, and in turn they receive the chance to empower and change their lives and those of generations to come. In all cases, the girls’ guardians have given their permission for their daughter to embark on this new way of life.
The project has grown significantly over the years and there are now more than 60 girls aged between 7 and 15 at the centre, for whom KCH provides full care.
The refuge centre is run as a partnership between KCH, the Balcraig Foundation and the local community of Suswa. KCH contributes staff, medical and educational supplies, and Balcraig Foundation provides the set-up and running costs, and manages the Suswa Project.
The welcome was wonderful with a rap, poem and a traditional dance that landed them in the National music festivals 2015! the girls can shake their mabegas! The song is titled mabega (shoulders) from the luhya community.A rap poem about them standing and demanding their right. A right to education, to life, to being children.; saying no to FGM and early marriage.
These girls are no ordinary girls. They have braved the shame and discrimination that comes with saying no to FGM and early marriage. You never really get the picture of how real this is, until you come face to face with them.
We shared the story of Malala Yousafzai, #IAmMalala. We felt this was an ideal story to share with them. Malala, a girl’s decision to seek education at all cost. Something we felt they all associated well with.
We had general talks about their growth, joining high school, changes in their body, the birds and the bees. I remember my first lesson on the birds and the bees was at Kijabe Mission Hospital, they chose to focus on STDs ; images and videos included. I’m sure you get the picture. From 12-15yrs girls start growing fast, accompanied by a lot of questions that they shy away from asking.
Having finished that session, we broke into groups. From the previous visit, Tuta noticed they opened up more in smaller groups. We handled questions about how to prepare for their main exam, handling subjects they felt were a challenge. Truth be told, they are a bright pack of girls. I wondered if i was ever as well prepared. They are taking exams from different counties every two weeks. And of course, how to deal with the stigma that comes with being “uncut” and not married.It was a tough session I must admit, no one is ever prepared for certain questions from kids, because they are just that, kids. They were honest enough to share their previous experiences. How they are looked down upon, people from religious bodies from their home areas may allow them to come and worship together but they can feel the rejection. Their age mates refuse to interact with them, and those who do its in a very hush manner.
The centre also caters for those who are called to secondary schools i.e they cover their school fees and anything else they might need. However, they have to go back home or be placed with relatives who support their education. About 10+ girls are in secondary schools across the country. This for them is a great achievement and motivation.
Carol and Leah presenting cards to the 11 candidates. The head teacher(in the 2nd and 3rd pic was an amazing host)
We may not have exhausted all the questions they had, but we did our best. As we left, they shared some of their worries.
1.How do they deal with segregation and victimization from their married age-mates, relatives?
2.What happens as they wait to join high school?
3.Who will be there to walk with them once they exit the centre?
4. Is there hope for them outside their community?
5. How do they help those who’ve gone through the cut, have families but want to do more for themselves?
As we left, they shared a song that they love singing :
I am fearfully and wonderfully made ,
I am fearfully and wonderfully made,
when I think of creation that was made,
when I think of creation that was made,
I going to stand up( oohhh), i raise my hands up,
I’m going to sing a song and then I do like this! * here you touch a part of your body*
(the part that is fearfully and wonderfully made 🙂
The team that made the visit possible included :
Its taken me a while to write this post (Njeri I can hear you asking for it) because their worries have become my worries. I didn’t know how to explain that after completing class 8 they have to go home and wait for results; The homes that they were rescued from. I really hope we can work towards expanding the rescue centre so the girls can continue with their stay even after clearing their exams, and move on to high school. Nothing will ever beat a place you feel safe enough to be yourself, be a child with no inhibitions and just grow.
Enjoy your day and say a prayer for my precious girls. We might be joining them again on 3rd Nov 2015 for the candidates prayer day.
Cynthia Ythera Mwangi
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