Our ambassador reflects on her journey from Kenya to Brussels for the European Development Days.
This journey began two years ago. I have been to different parts of my county and different corners of my country. I travel this road in the footsteps of those who went before me, tramping the myths and overcoming the obstacles of fear. One quest is mine - to have an FGM free society by 2030! I have been forced to walk the road less travelled, where I should go by bus I walk or ride a motorbike, where others fly I take a bus. Days and weeks are spent on the road, fatigue and exhaustion become my order of the day, loneliness as I go further and further from friends and family, but my quest drives me. Powerfully, but slowly, changing one mind at a time until everyone is reached and drawn to the end FGM movement and an FGM free society becomes a reality!
Well this time around I had a contrasting journey, one from the grassroots the global arena, the mode of transport varied and the scenery contrasted but the quest and drive remained. The main force driving me is my deep belief that an FGM free generation is possible in my lifetime.
My first trip was by van; it took me and the team I was with four hours to reach our destination. ‘It is the end of civilisation’ as my friends jokingly refer to it, a place where the last known president of Kenya is Daniel arap Moi! Yes, you are reading right! The only school in the village got its first female teacher two months ago! And culture is alive and the order of the day. Many see the challenges and how far back the community may be in terms of literacy and modernisation. But I see a gold mine of untapped treasures. For starters the village is surrounded by mountains, (my dream scenery) and its border with Tanzania is marked by a spectacular breath taking crater that hosts the famous Lake Natron. At the horizons you will be greeted by the spectacular view of Mount Lenkai and Mount Meru in Arusha. Aside from the natural beauty, I was blown away by the warmth and kindness of the people and the genuine, uncorrupted, loyal and receptive nature of the original Maasai tribe. Yes this is a small community but their love is deep and their openness and willingness to change motivates me to keep going. Their genuine need for knowledge and understanding inspires me to seek and share more knowledge.
We held three day community outreach programme on FGM, gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health. The youth session moved me to tears when they expressed their interest and genuine cooperation as they made a pledge to end FGM/GBV in the society and allow women and girls to thrive in a safe and secure environment. The women’s forum was full of laughter as we explored the limitless possibilities and opportunities we have as women. The sexual and reproductive health session was filled with embarrassed laughter as we explored the hidden world of openly talking about sexuality.
FGM is a practice the young and old, male and female, and collectively we all agreed to work towards abandoning it. The young men raised a concern of how possible it is to marry a girl who is not cut. Even though the idea sounds far fetched and unrealistic to the community, we have young men who see the possibility. Mothers also agreed that their daughters deserve a better life and a better future empowered through education. Every word spoken and every pledge committed is moving us one step closer to creating a world free of FGM and gender-based violence.
A week in the bush as we called it ended with a trip to the mountains. The view point, apart from the breath taking view of Lake Natron and the crater, is also a place where you can get a cell phone signal! So on this mountain I frantically restarted my phone to search for a signal. The week ahead was a special one as I had an upcoming trip abroad! After I found a signal, texts started streaming in, one after another. The interesting one was a confirmation of my flight and hotel bookings! Well, for a girl who is famous for her bus and motorbike rides, a flight is a big deal (at least for now before I gain the status of frequent flyer!)
We left for Narok town the next day, and I travelled to Nairobi to get ready for my flight. I was headed to Brussels, Belgium, the home of The European Union the European Development Days conference. My flight was uneventful and I arrived safely at 11:00 in Brussels. Compared to the village I just got back from the contrast could render one numb! From mountains to tall buildings, I spoke all the French could remember from my high school days!
The next day I walked to the conference venue and I collected my badge - this time it was a speaker badge! Yes I have participated in conferences where my badge read delegate, but for the first time I wore a speaker badge. I was excited and anxious but I remembered what my mentor said to me earlier that week, "What you are going to talk about, you are the expert so be bold, be confident and speak with authority". With this sound advice I was ready to show them what I got. This was a great opportunity to connect my grassroots efforts to the global audience - after all FGM is a global issue, right?!
I spent day one of the conference at the global village, engaging participants at our stand. Behind me was a portrait of an African woman in 2030. This image is still engraved in my mind - a young woman who is not just a victim of circumstances but an overcomer, not just a survivor but an activist. A woman who has the whole world right under her feet as she walks towards her destiny with confidence. The young woman who in the present is portrayed as a helpless victim to her cultural, environmental, economic and religious challenges is now the key agent of change, shaping and changing her narrative and telling her story, no one speaks for her as she is vocal , she is not a receiver, she is a giver!
Well, walk with me back to the conference. The visitors to our stand were able to share this dream with me; they wrote post it notes, sharing their dreams, wishes and aspirations of this future African woman. The second day of the conference was our panel discussion and with me were three other young African women. I was overwhelmed by the power at that table – yes, young African women who have decided to own the future by accepting the past and changing the present. What or who can stop them?
In one voice we claimed ownership of our bodies, our dreams, and our future as we boldly shared our experiences working to end FGM and our dreams for the future of young African women!
Yes, I was part of this powerful panel! This was the only panel dominated by young people talking about issues affecting young people! Yes, we were not represented, we were present. The attendance was impressive and the audience engaged with us by asking questions and commending us for our work. We later exchanged contacts with participants who were interested in keeping up with our work, as we end FGM in a generation.
The media personalities were not left behind; a day later I read an article about our panel in Spanish! It was very informative, save for the fact that all I could read was my name! We shared interviews and short videos on Twitter. Yes, for the two days we took over social media with tweets, videos and Bleepers (don’t ask; I also heard of it for the first time thanks to the young ladies from the UK!) In case you forgot, I am from the village so stay focused here!
These two weeks were the most significant ones in my end FGM journey. I literally moved from Murua to the European Union, from grassroots to global platforms, all to end FGM in a generation! All this was made possible by The Girl Generation activity grant that enabled us to hold the three community forums, and the travel grant that got me to Brussels. When money is not a problem, every idea us turned into an action to end FGM. See you in the other world where FGM is ancient history!