A Report from Kenya by Theresa Wolfwood
Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative, Narok
In 2006 we heard and met a dynamic speaker at a conference in Victoria. She talked passionately about the terrible practice of Female Genital Mutilation in her region of Kenya. Agnes Pareyio had been subjected to this enforced cruelty and has suffered ever since from the results of this painful procedure.
She founded The Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative (TNI) to help girls faced with this still practiced but illegal custom. TNI is a community based organization (CBO) in the southern Rift valley in Narok district; it is a non-political and non-profit making CBO. Tasaru Ntomonok simply means “rescue” in the local language.
Like most Africa communities the Maasai community is closely bound by deep-rooted traditions in a culture that exerts a strong influence on its people. Tasaru was started in September 1999 to provide a safety net, a haven, for the girls who run away from FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and ECM (early childhood marriages) which are rampant cultural practices in the Maasai community. It ensures that they are protected from further harassment, that their rights and integrity are respected and that they can continue in school.
Its main aim is to ensure that girls who are thrown out of their homes as a result of saying no to FGM and ECM are sheltered and supported morally, socially and economically so they can continue their education. These opportunities create an impetus in which respect is cultivated and the girls can support themselves and be independent and positive in their lives.
We visited the Rescue Centre, driving three hours on a bumpy road down and along the floor of the rift valley. It is a semi-arid land where Masai tend their cattle and herds of zebra and giraffe graze with the cattle.
We had attended the World Social Forum in Nairobi in 2007 and Agnes invited us to Narok after it closed. We were very impressed by the wholistic and thoughtful way that girls in need are supported in an excellent facility on the edge of a town of 60,000 people.
TNI works in communities giving workshops and sensitization seminars on women’s health, the dangers of FGM & ECM, sexual transmitted disease and the legal rights of girls to choose their future. Throughout the region, trained peer counselors are ready to help and to inform endangered girls and their families.
TNI offers an important alternative (to FGM) rite of passage for girls that includes elders, music, story-telling and the presence of parents who have learned to support the girls in their refusal of FGM and their need for education. While working in communities and with girls and families TNO can create awareness on HIV/AIDS and health issues to girls and the community at large. The girls are empowered to make their own informed decisions about their life and future.
The organization also has created a channel to re-unite the girls and their parents. The process of reconciliation involves traveling to the girls parents and looking for elders to help in the reconciliation process, the provincial administration is also involved in the process.
Tasaru is home for 58 girls rescued from FGM and ECM; they can continue with their education and are empowered to make informed decisions about their life and future.
Community training is another major activity carried out by Tasaru. TNI focuses on opinion leaders, religious persons, circumcisers and traditional midwives to help campaign for the need to respect the rights of girls.
The organization faces major challenges including, fighting a culture that is deeply rooted in the Maasai community, illiteracy and poverty in the community, some adamant parents who refuse to accept their daughters who said NO to FGM and ECM, and the girls themselves often fear the reaction of their community peers after they have said NO and have chosen their own future.
The TNI Centre is a comfortable and modern complex of well-equipped buildings, protected behind high walls. The atmosphere is calm and safe and girls are counseled and respected in this new home they have chosen.
BBCF has been able to raise funds and to donate to TNI to pay the schooling expenses of several girls; some BBCF supporters have taken on yearly commitments on their own to school a number of girls.
The practice of FGM is decreasing, thanks to the dedicated work of Agnes Pareyio and her staff and the example of girls who have been able to become independent and empowered.
In a related project that we also visited in Narok, Agnes helped a group of Maasai women get a UN grant to set up a cooperatively run grain mill. This was during a four year drought when food was scarce and women were desperate enough to turn to the sex trade to feed their children. A group of women learned to operate the mill, budget planning, business methods and banking. They have been so successful that at the time of our visit a second mill was planned. One of the leaders of the cooperative is a former circumciser who needed a new source of income.
Please contact BBCF if you wish to support a girl in The Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative or to make a donation of any amount: bbcf(at)bbcf.ca