I continue to be incredibly moved by the courage and bravery of the girls who refuse to undergo genital mutilation in Pokot. The story below is about one of these girls, and how her life is transforming at St. Elizabeth Girls Secondary School. In the telling of this story, I hope it brings you a deeper understanding of the cultural forces around FGM, the power of hope, and the immense importance of access to quality education in transforming a life. Yet, for as much as this story is about one life transformed forever, it is equally about the greater miracle of those transforming, transforming others and quite literally being an integral part of the solution for cultural change that has now taken hold in Kenya.
Justus Koech works for World Vision in Kenya and has just sent this story about Emily. I hope it moves you as it has me.
Emily Finds Freedom From FGM at St Elizabeth School, Morpus Rescue Center
North Rift Child Protection Through Education Project – Dec 2012
By Justus Koech
The tone from her mother was firm and clear. “You have no place to live if you are not circumcised!” Emily Chepingat’s parents from Poroswa village in Pokot are staunch believers in female genital mutilation (FGM). It was the season for circumcision, usually the December holiday. FGM is usually done with celebration full of drinking and eating. Emily’s parents had been going from home to home enjoying the feasts as other girls get circumcised. Finally the mother decided it was time she hosted a celebration in her home as she demanded Emily get the cut. “ She said it is time I hosted people to my home too for this celebration, ‘why am I only going to other homes?!’- she declared” explained Emily .
In traditional Pokot culture, girls are only good for dowry. FGM is the process by which girls are released into the ‘marriage market’ as it were. The suitor with the highest number of goats and cows, no matter the age, would get the girl.
When Emily resisted the idea, she was warned that she had no place to live. “You cannot rebel against us. Forget about education, that is no business for girls” she was told. This is the story of nearly all the rescued girls in St Elizabeth Girls secondary and Morpus primary schools. For Ruth Chepchumba, another rescued girl, the message could not be blunter. She was told “we need you married off for cows to educate your younger brothers.” In other words her value is only dowry and nothing else. This is what girls in Pokot are up against, a future with virtually no hope. A future they have no say in.
Fortunately, Emily had the resolve to run away to escape FGM this cycle. One night she took off. After 2 days of running and evading capture by pretending that she had been sent to a relative in another village, she finally got to Morpus Rescue Center and primary School. This is where St Elizabeth Girls Secondary School is. She was welcomed with two arms by the ever helpful head Teacher of Morpus Primary School, Mr. James Lokuk. That was in 2010. Emily now 17 years and safe from FGM completed primary school and had no worry about her secondary education thanks to St Elizabeth School built by World Vision, through US donors. She transitioned to grade 9 this year.
Emily now enjoys consistent schooling unlike before at home when she went on and off. “At home I was not allowed to school fully. Because I was the second born in a polygamous home, I was often asked to stay home to take care of my younger siblings. But boys were allowed to school” she said. But now she has the best schooling environment she could ever imagine. Her dream is to become an electrical technician. She is thankful to WV donors for giving them a chance to further their education to secondary school. Emily like most rescued girls want to succeed in life and eventually go back to their villages to advocate for other girls who are bound by the oppressive culture of FGM. “I want to succeed so I can help those I left behind, by advocating for their education” she explained.