KENYA: Woman Quits Job to Wage War Against the Cut

She quit her job as a primary school teacher to save girls in her community from early marriages.

Hurt by an alarming rate of young girls dropping out of school after forced circumcision, Rose Chepchumba Kilimo, 46, one day woke up early - and decided she won't report on duty. That was 2003.

She instead decided to embark on a mission of educating communities in Kerio on the importance of educating their daughters.

A waste of time

And three years after she started Chetastai Girls' project - using her own money - to advocate against female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage, members of Marakwet, Tugen, Pokot and Ilchambus communities are reaping the fruits of what they had hitherto dismissed as a waste of time.

Even the death of her husband, through a road accident at more or less the same period her organisation was started, could stop the former Tot Primary School teacher from soldiering on with a voluntary work.

Many girls who had dropped out of school have since trooped back to pursue their academic dreams.

"Although I am out of a salary at the moment, I am proud of the achievements I have made within a short period. Most girls who had given up their academic ambitions are again back in class," says the mother of five.

Two years ago, she helped to rescue 40 girls in Marakwet District, who were about to face the knife in readiness for early marriage.

Ms Kilimo says the girls from 10 primary schools in Kerio Valley region had left school for home in the evening but they did not report for classes the following day. It is only through enquiries from other pupils that teachers in the respective schools learnt that the girls were preparing to be circumcised the same night.

When Ms Kilimo knew of the plans, she alerted the local provincial administration who rescued the girls and arrested the circumcisers.

The liberated girls were taken to a children's home in Eldoret and 16 of them have since completed their Form Four level of education and are currently pursuing courses in various middle level institutions.

But this is one of the numerous challenges Ms Kilimo has to overcome in championing the rights of girls among communities where they are considered as a source of wealth and have to be married off soon after circumcision.

She has had to overcome stiff opposition from some community members. In some cases, she was humiliated and treated as a traitor for advocating against the culture of her community.

At first, most of the community members, especially the traditional circumcisers and old people, were resistant to the education of girls terming it a waste of time and resources.

Although Ms Kilimo's office is located at Arror trading centre in Marakwet District, the moral support she gets from anti-female genital mutilation advocates among the Pokots, Tugens and Ilchambus has enabled her fight the outdated tradition and have more girls enrolled in school.

Joined forces

Her efforts are now paying dividends as some of the female circumcisers have themselves abandoned the practice and joined forces in advocating the education of girls.

"I have to be in constant touch with anti-FGM crusaders in other parts of Kerio Valley. It is through such collaboration that we have managed to sensitise community members on the need to abandon the culture and accord equal education to both girls and boys," explains Ms Kilimo, who had taught for 25 years.

So crucial has been her contribution that Marakwet district commissioner Joseph Otieno confesses that the role played by her organisation, together with related institutions, has helped in the fight against early marriages and has boosted the education of girls.

"The rate of female circumcision and early marriages has drastically dropped due to the role played by such anti-FGM and early marriage crusaders," admits Mr Otieno.

Ms Kilimo has helped put a smile on the faces of many mothers, whose children have now been in school for fairly a long time.

"It is through her that most of our children have managed to complete their secondary school and look at the future with hope," admits Ms Nelly Chepchumba, a mother of eight, whose daughter is among those rescued by Ms Kilimo's efforts.

Her sentiments are echoed by Mrs Kamosong Kapkipigen from Tot, who has also benefited from the same programme. Her daughter is now pursuing secondary school education.

Among Ms Kilimo's main collaborators is Ms Jennifer Yatta of East Baringo, whose role is to mobilise anti-FGM activities in the district and champion the fight against child abuse.

The challenges they face include financial constraints, transport difficulties and family commitments.

"In some cases, we are forced to foot the cost of learning equipment and even settle school fees for some of the girls, yet there is no stable source of income to meet such obligations," discloses Ms Kilimo.

The rough terrain is another factor that contributes to transport problems, making it difficult to access remote areas.

But Ms Kilimo says her family members have been very supportive, especially when she lost her husband.

Ms Kilimo is now contemplating addressing the issue of conflict resolution and promotion of peace in Kerio Valley.


AUTHOR: Barnabas Bii

URL: Click here

DATE: 12/10/2007

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