The Power of Partnership: tackling FGM and hitting it for six


22 February 2015

A blog by Esther Njenga.

Who would believe that an elite Maasai cricket team with a growing global reputation (the Maasai Cricket Warriors), a gender mixed team of passionate cricket enthusiasts (Cricket Without Boundaries) and an anti FGM charity working across Africa (28 Too Many) would make an effective partnership to bat FGM out of Kenya. 

A team of 7 volunteers left London and were joined by 4 Kenyans in Nairobi before we all headed north to rural Maasai land in Laikipia County and were further joined by 2 Maasai Cricket Warriors. In the team, most of who are qualified cricket coaches, there was a nurse, a midwife, a psychologist, a social worker and a lawyer, each able to share specialised knowledge. There was much anticipation and hope for the first pilot project to use cricket coaching to tackle the harmful traditional practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which affects 28% of Kenyan women and girls, rising to 73-98% in rural Maasailand.

The project delivered integrated cricket coaching with anti FGM teaching to more than 1,500 children at primary and secondary school. We heard very moving stories as we worked alongside girls who had been cut and those still at risk. Monica (all names changed), aged 13, positively shared how her parents had chosen not to have her cut at the time of her rite of passage to womanhood. More sadly, Muthoni realised now the life-long health implications of her having had FGM at age 10. Sarai was lucky enough for her brothers to have learnt of the harm caused by FGM and her parents were convinced she should carry on her education rather than face FGM and immediate child marriage. Now aged 17 she is doing excellently at school and wants to be an anti FGM campaigner to protect other girls in her Maasai community from FGM.

Another aim of this project was to increase the technical knowledge of hospital workers, rural community health workers (CHW), teachers, faith leaders, paralegals and youth ambassadors to become qualified cricket coaches/anti-FGM trainers. We were pleased to qualify 24 coaches who were equipped with train a trainer workbooks, visual aids, cricket coaching cards and donated kit to run cricket sessions. The messaging for the anti-FGM lessons was arranged around cricket, summarised as BAT: Break the silence, Advocate for Change and Team Together. We are excited to imagine the impact of 24 trainers taking their message across Kenya. 

Success would not be possible without the engagement of community elders, especially in such a remote community highly valuing culture and tradition. On our second day we were invited to join the elders for a goat stew lunch and then a traditional elders meeting of 12 men and 6 women, segregated as is their norm.  After the meeting was opened by the Chief, Gary, CWBs HIV/AIDS awareness lead and the only male team member from the UK, respectfully responded on behalf of our tripartite team. Then, Ann-Marie, 28 Too Many's Executive Director explained the concept of the project and its importance in lowering rates of FGM in the Maasai community. After a slightly tense beginning, we were given "the right to speak" by the Chief on these very sensitive issues in mixed company. At the end of the meeting and after a long, dramatic pause, the Chief addressed his male and female elders and gave his blessing for us to carry out this project on his patch. Our team breathed a huge sigh of relief and responded with gratitude for this important support. Finally we gave modest gifts of food and information on the project to each man and woman.

 

The Chief then walked us over the sandy hills and thorn bushed remote land signalling the challenge he has of eradicating FGM and early forced marriage (EFM), which are both illegal in Kenya. Without his blessing we could not have carried out this project, and following this meeting we were able to meet the County Commissioner and the Head of the Police to get their commitment to protecting girls and upholding the law on FGM and EFM. We were then able to reassure all the school children participating in the coaching that they could call on any of these three leaders for protection in the case of threatened FGM. As well as delivering the cricket coaching and anti-FGM training, we have collected individual and group pledges to end FGM in Laikipia County from 1,750 people showing their commitment to this important work. We will continue to support the Warriors and people of Laikipia and we are optimistic that we will see positive changes when we revisit the community over the coming months and years.

It was an honour for 28 Too Many to be invited to support the inspiring work of the Warriors to tackle harmful practices and secure a better future for the young people of the Maasai. We are proud that together we can end FGM. For more information, pictures and daily diary entries on this project please visit the team blog.   You can learn more about 28 Too Many’s work to end FGM and how you can help at www.28toomany.org. You can donate to support our research and campaigns and follow us on Facebook or Twitter for updates on the global movement to end FGM. 

For more information, pictures and daily diary entries on this project please visit the team blog.  

You can learn more about 28 Too Many’s work to end FGM and how you can help at www.28toomany.org. You can donate to support our research and campaigns and follow us on Facebook or Twitter for updates on the global movement to end FGM.