School Empowers – Education Against Female Genital Mutilation
Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) could be prevented, if there was more education for girls, says Selina Nkoile, who runs a project for Maasai Girls who face this horrific fate. Earthbeat employee Julia Gajewski met Selina in Kenia and learned more about a project that shows once more: Education is the key to empowerment and a self-determined life.
Earthbeat Foundation: You run a boarding school for Maasai girls that you rescue. Why is that necessary?
Selina Nkoile: We rescue the girls, because their parents let them stay at home to do house chores, look after animals and their siblings, then they force them to undergo Female Genital mutilation (FGM) and later marry them off as early as 13 years. We instead bring them to school where they are given free primary school education and are safe and free from all these forms of violence.
Earthbeat Foundation: What is your motivation to run this school? Have you faced a similar history?
Selina Nkoile: I was ‘’booked’’ or ‘’preserved’’ for marriage at the age of 9, just before this school started. It was during that time when the school was established that me and girls my age started being booked for school, instead of marriage. – That was the agreement that the NGO and the community elders made after completion of the school.
Were it not for this school, I would have ended up a child bride. My life changed, I got an education, I am now an empowered young woman and I want the same thing for girls in my community. I want to see them educated, empowered and with equal opportunities to thrive.
Earthbeat Foundation: Please describe your project for us.
Selina Nkoile: Nashipai Maasai Community Projects is a community – based organization in Kajiado County Kenya. Its aim is to empower our community. Our focus project at the moment is saving Naning’oi Girls School. Naning’oi Girls is a school that provides primary school education to girls from my village. It was started by an NGO (CCF) in 1999. I am among the pioneer class and it really gave me hope and a future. It was a home for me.
The NGO later pulled out and stopped supporting the school. It was handed over to the government and its condition deteriorated with time. Girls also dropped out of school since parents couldn’t afford school fees. The number of enrollment went down and the school was almost being shut down. This is where I felt I should do something. There were girls in the village who were not going to school so I went to the village to rescue them and bring them to school. Currently we have 250 girls enrolled and determined to have 800 more girls, who are out there in the villages facing the risk of retrogressive cultures such as FGM and Child marriage.
Earthbeat Foundation: How do you save them? Don’t parents or authorities intervene?
Selina Nkoile: Child marriage and FGM are illegal in Kenya but it’s still rampant in my community. The parents also know it is illegal so they never argue with us. They know we are educated and informed so they also don’t want to mess with us. I also most of the time use my own example by telling them “I want these girls to go to school to be educated like me and other girls from the village and become doctors, teachers etc..”
This is how we rescue the girls: Once we have a car with a 4-wheel-drive (because most parts of the village are hard to reach since there are no roads) we decide the exact village that will be our target for the day. We will always find girls at home.
We drive there, most of the times accompanied by the local authorities, so it becomes easy for the parents to comply. Once the car is full to capacity, we drive back to the school with the girls, and start working out ways to get them school supplies such as school uniforms, books, sanitation facilities, beddings, and food.
Some of these rescued girls are also very helpful, because they give us information about other girls that we might have left out (while at the rescue missions) or that have probably been hidden by their parents.
Some of the girls also escape from their homes and come to school, especially when they get back home in the evening from grazing animals, and find out that their sisters have been rescued (we have around 15 girls who escaped into to the school by themselves).
Two girls who are sisters also heard me speaking on a local Maasai Radio station, telling the story of the Naning’oi and how we rescue girls, and they made their way to the school. Their village is quite far and they walked for two days to get to there.
Earthbeat Foundation: How do the girls you save cope in your school, being away from their families? What is important when you work with them?
Selina Nkoile: The girls love being in school, so they have no problem at all. For those whose parents have agreed for them to be in school, they go back home during school holidays and are reunited with them. We, however, have some girls who do not go home when schools close since their parents will marry them off. So we retain them in school, until we reconcile them with the parents.
Earthbeat Foundation: How do you gain their trust and new self-confidence?
Selina Nkoile: Once the girls have been exposed to the benefits of education they are really happy and grateful for having been rescued. Others hear about the school from their friends when they are on vacation.
Also , I am always there, to talk to them ,to help them and to make them feel that there is someone who loves them, cares about them and wants the best for them in life. They all look up to me as a big sister and always share their concerns with me.
Earthbeat Foundation: What do you have to say to people who argue that this is a tradition and that people don’t have the right to interfere?
Selina Nkoile: I love my community and traditions, but when some of the practices are not only primitive and brutal, but also harmful I have to stand up against it. Every child has a right to education and deserves to enjoy a childhood that is free of violence.
Many complications arise during childbirth for many women who undergo FGM. Thus, such traditions should be eradicated and education needs to be embraced in order to have a happy and empowered society.
Earthbeat Foundation: Have you ever faced threats for the work you do?
Selina Nkoile: The work I do is not for the faint hearted. It calls for resilience. Of course there are people who threaten me but they don’t do anything, since they know I’m right and what they are doing to children is wrong.
This is a cause I believe in and I will fight until all girls in my village can enjoy their right to education and have over 800 change makers in the next 15 years!
Earthbeat Foundation: What would need to change in your country to prevent people from pursuing child marriage and female genital mutilation?
Selina Nkoile: Everybody needs to stand up and condemn child marriage and FGM. The government should have campaigns running to educate the communities on the effects of child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation. People need to report the people who are practicing FGM or marrying off children.
Governmental and Non – Governmental organizations that are addressing FGM and child marriage need to target areas that practice them most and start dealing with it from a grass-root level.
If the government ensures that all girls can access free, safe and quality education, child marriage will end because girls will spend most of their years in school, and FGM will reduce by far, because girls will be informed on its dangers, and can stand up against it strongly.
If you wish to support Selina with her extraordinary work, feel free to make a donation:
Account name : Nashipai Maasai Community Projects
Account Number: 1206787244
Bank name and branch: KCB BANK NAROK BRANCH
Bank Address : P.O Box 406 20500 NAROK.