Asha Leresh, a bright high school girl, smelled a rat one day while she was collecting firewood outside her small village.

A group of young boys were making fun of girls who will cry while undergoing initiation. One was holding a dirty-rusty knife. Asha stood still, carefully observing the drama acted out by the boys. They tightly held the legs of one boy while others chanted circumcision songs. Asha sensed danger.

“My heart started throbbing with fear. I felt an imaginary pain.”……. One innocent boy ran towards me comforting me not to shed tears when she (the circumciser) arrives.
Asha wondered about what the boy was saying.
“Each time he talked to me, tears rolled down my cheeks. He knew I couldn’t withstand the brutal surgery.”

Asha composed herself and asked him what he was saying. Without hiding, he told that women were planning to get hold of her and forcefully cut her.

People were planning a big celebration to have me cut and change my life to be an adult…God created me full but they want me half.

Sadly enough, the firewood she was collecting was for roasting a goat at her mum’s house because she was to be circumcised.

“I went so down, I couldn’t think anymore. I hated myself for being part of this merciless community.”

Asha ran away to her uncle’s home, but unfortunately, he was part of the team who wanted her cut.

Luck

Asha’s luck came when Samuel Siriria Leadismo, the Director of Pastoralist Child Foundation (PCF) and his team visited her village creating awareness about FGM/C and sexual reproductive health.

“They came at the right time when I needed someone to help me. The village girls weren’t scared as they had no escape. They waited to be cut in order to fit in the society. It was a godsend to be rescued by PCF. I knew I was safe in their hands. Immediately, other girls who were to be cut were saved from the planned cutting.”
“Since then, I value PCF for helping me and others from FGM/C.”

Girls attending PCF Seminar
The girls (pictured) are beneficiaries of seminars and workshops held during school holidays. The Pastoralist Child Foundation has been their refuge and more girls in the villages are being saved.
Today, Asha and 6 other girls are role models in their community, and during all school holidays they volunteer, changing the lives of other girls by advising and giving them personal testimonies.

PCF has taken the initiative to give the girls secondary school scholarships and help them become ambassadors of change in Samburu.

An extract of this article, #16Days – The Pastoralist Child Foundation Story, was published by Women Thrive Alliance during the 16 days campaign to end violence against women,

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We recently completed our first four day workshop for young boys and teenagers.

During the workshop the boys learned about the harmful effects of female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence, reproductive health, sanitation, child rights in Kenya, and the importance of formal education.

It is an important part of our work to help create young ambassadors who will help protect their sisters from FGM and all other harm to girls and women.

The workshop was funded by our partner The Girl Generation
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Namayiana Village elder and spokeswoman Malian Lechudukule, Chairwoman of the Namayiama Village Women’s Self Help Group, and Namayiana Village elders collectively made the decision following newly introduced PCF sponsored Anti-FGM workshops.

Sayydah Garrett, Founder and President of PCF said,

“This is a positive step toward eradicating FGM widely in Kenya. FGM has harmed countless girls for hundreds of years across Samburu County, over 2,000 years overall in Africa, causing unspeakable health issues to girls before and after pregnancy.”

“The decision to end FGM has to be done by the villages, and we have found success through mobilization and education. We are also hearing of the ‘ripple effect’ decrease in FGM practice among other villages nearby.”

In 2013, PCF began to host three annual educational and health focused anti-FGM workshops in the spring, summer and fall. Today, sixty (60) girls attend each four-day PCF Workshop during school holidays. Each Workshop costs $3,600 for materials, meals and staffing, the funds which today are primarily raised by private donors. PCF Workshops culminate in a future affirming, celebratory Alternative Rite of Passage for the girls who attend. Families, friends, elders, Samburu government dignitaries, teachers, and religious leaders also attend and lend their support during PCF Workshops.

The current population in Samburu County, Kenya is 224,000 and the FGM rate in Samburu County overall is 91%. The Namayiana Village population is 200, with a total number of 75 girls. Approximately 95% of girls ages 1218 in Namayiana Village had previously undergone FGM, and historically, 70% of girls ages 1216 have been married, resulting in a 93% girls dropout rate from primary school as a result of early marriage. These statistics are consistent across all villages in Samburu County, Kenya.

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The communities will benefit through community mobilization, education, inter-generational dialogues and capacity development of duty bearers. PCF is training all sectors of the communities – school children, teenagers, adults, elders, village chiefs, circumcisers, healthcare workers, law enforcement, teachers and religious leaders in order to prevent and respond to FGM/C and child marriage incidences.  In addition, the communities are trained on how to use referral systems for quality service providers and child protection services in Samburu County.

Promoting and providing support services for children:

Encouraging children to seek quality professional support and report incidents of violence helps them to better cope with and resolve experiences of violence. Giving children and adolescents the skills to cope and manage risks and challenges without the use of violence and to seek appropriate support when violence does occur is crucial for accelerating the abandonment of FGM/C and child marriage in communities. The information that Samburu girls learn at Pastoralist Child Foundation’s educational camps is crucial in providing them with the instruction, confidence and self-esteem required to reclaim control of their own sexuality and make decisions about their future. Through comprehensive sexuality education Samburu girls now have the power to protect their future.

Young people leading the change:

Young people are trained on issues of FGM/C and child marriage. The youth proven to be effective champions of change together with various teams working on sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy conduct door to door rallies and public gatherings in the 6 selected villages to strengthen community based dialogues and increase awareness on the detrimental effects of FGM/C and child marriage to girls and women.
All-inclusive community participation:

Community inter-generational dialogues are vital for the abandonment of FGM/C. Therefore, the all-inclusive participation of youth, women, men, elders, chiefs and circumcisers is essential. Religious leaders will join dialogues to present factual information from religious texts that remove the belief and perception that religion condones FGM/C. The participation of teachers is also critical due to their important and respected roles as educators and role models who have the trust of their students.  Community change agents also facilitate sessions on FGM/C and child rights, the social implications of FGM/C and its adverse health effects.  Pastoralist Child Foundation’s efforts to bring everyone together to peacefully discuss the sensitive issue of FGM/C will advance the efforts to eradicate it.  Listening to the population affected by these issues gives a voice to the “unheard.”  Success is better guaranteed when everyone’s voice is heard and viable solutions can be collectively gained. Sustainability is assured when everyone is educated and agrees to make the life-changing decision to abandon FGM/C.

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Fifty girls aged 12-17 from 5 primary and secondary schools in Samburu County attended a girls empowerment workshop.  The event was held at the Lorubae Primary School at Archer’s Post.

It was a delightful, happy and smart group of girls who took many notes.  

We’re certain the girls’ hands were quite tired at the end of the 3 day workshop after writing so much! We covered more topics than ever before and classes were very interactive.

We encouraged the girls to always ask questions and contribute their ideas and opinions.

Our youngest participant was Freda, 12 years old, and although it seemed at times she would fall behind during the fast-paced lessons, she kept up! We’re so proud of her and every single girl who attended. This was their school holiday and they chose to “go to school,” and for that, we offer our respect.

Subjects taught:

1.    Self-awareness & Self-Esteem
2.    Teen Pregnancy & Early Marriage
3.    Gender Equality & Human Rights
4.    FGM/C & Sexual Reproductive Health
5.    Beading of Young Girls
6.    Child Rights & Child Labour
7.    HIV/AIDS & Sexual Transmitted Diseases
8.    Sex Education, Love & Relationships
9.    Importance of Formal Education
10.     Moringa Tree Planting
11.     Save the Elephants Presentation

Our esteemed facilitator, Anastasia Leporporit reports encouraging feedback from girls,

“They’re telling us that they’re happy they attended our workshops. They now know that when they see a girl or woman who is experiencing pain during her periods or childbirth, it’s very likely due to the effects of FGM. Girls are more self-confident as well and are not afraid to discuss “taboo” subjects such as FGM and early marriage – 2 factors that prevent many girls from completing primary school. They are telling their parents/guardians that formal education is very important and are seeking their support to finish school.”

Our sponsored student, Asha, in Form 2 (grade 10) wrote us a very encouraging letter:

“First and foremost I would like to congratulate you for coming up with a good idea for organizing a workshop. These workshops have really changed the lives of many young girls in our community. Also, the rate of FGM/C is decreasing day by day and I no longer hear cases about FGM/C in my community. This is my third time attending the workshop. It has changed my life a lot and made me know how to socialize and know how to live with people in my society. Did you know that I was elected as the Deputy President of my school? I was re-elected by the students in my school and I now have top responsibilities on my hands, and probably all the students in my school are happy for me. I feel proud of myself because you are helping me to fulfill my dreams.”
We added 2 classes: planting Moringa seeds and a Save the Elephants presentation. The Moringa leaf is a highly nutritious food and the tree is easy to grow. Thanks to a donation of hundreds of seeds and instructional booklets from our friends at HOW Global, the girls planted the seeds in used water bottles and took them home to care for and watch grow into trees. The presentation by Save the Elephants educators, Daud and Jerenimo, was excellent. 

They showed a documentary film about the plight of the elephants due to poaching for ivory tusks, and the importance of elephant conservation.  We want our girls to care about their beautiful African wildlife and environment.

Our next workshop will be in December 2015 followed by an Alternative Rite of Passage for 200 girls.

We’re honored to serve the Samburu community where, for the most part, people are open-minded and welcoming. As difficult as it may be for some, they see the need for change in order to improve the status of girls which, ultimately improves their communities. The conversation is alive… girls are getting the support they need… they’re more optimistic and confident about their futures.

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