S.A.F.E. Maa is a Kenyan-based NGO and UK charity working with the Maasai in the Loita Hills, South West Kenya, on ending female genital cutting (FGC), environmental sustainability, and addressing HIV and AIDS. They have been delivering programmes since 2008, and are dedicated to changing the attitudes surrounding FGC in Loita as a way to help create community-led change. Orchid Project partnered with S.A.F.E. Maa in 2013 to support an awareness-raising performance tour on FGC and have continued to work closely with them ever since.
The Loita Hills is a small rural area with a population of 40,000. Type II FGC, the removal of the clitoris and labia minora, has been traditionally practiced here. There is a move away from the traditional cut (WHO type II), practiced by 16% of the community to kisasa (WHO type I) which is now practiced by 52% of the community. S.A.F.E. Maa are working towards total abandonment of FGC. FGC is performed as part of a rite of passage ceremony, which generally takes place between the ages of 12 and 13. It is expected that in order for a girl to become a woman and secure her future as a wife and mother, she must complete the rite of passage, and thus must be cut.
S.A.F.E. Maa’s Approach
S.A.F.E. Maa work by consulting around the practice of FGC with all members of communities, from elderly men and women, to children and youth, cutters and families. They’ve developed an Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP), in which milk is poured on a girl’s thigh. This becomes a new tradition for girls to publicly graduate into womanhood while remaining uncut. S.A.F.E. Maa have developed a performance aspect of their programme which is toured with communities surrounding Loita to raise awareness and break the silence around FGC. These performances involve the Moran (young male warriors) from Maasai communities declaring that they will marry uncut girls and discussing issues around FGC. S.A.F.E. Maa also train community volunteers to be awareness raising champions.
S.A.F.E. Maa embarked on an awareness-raising tour with the newly formed S.A.F.E. Moran performance team in September 2017. The Morans have been working with S.A.F.E. Maa to spread the message of issues around FGC with communities surrounding the Loita region. The team interviewed different members of the community and staff members on their experiences in working with S.A.F.E. Maa and discussing FGC.
David Shakai Chief – S.A.F.E. Maa chief outreach officer
David is part of the S.A.F.E. Maa team and spoke about the work in Loita.
“When we started our work, the community did not want to respond to us, did not want to listen to what we had to say. When we started all girls were undergoing the traditional (type II circumcision), now, 30% of girls are receiving no cut and of those who still practice the cut, most have moved onto ‘kisasa’ (normally type I circumcision). I believe the next stage from this will be total abandonment.
“A huge boost to the programme has been the training provided by the Orchid Project. They taught us the ‘6 levels of abandonment’ model, giving the team professional tactics for approaching the community. They have allowed us to take the work up to another level. I believe that [FGC] will come to an end.”
Saitoti Sayailel – S.A.F.E. Moran
Saitoti works for the S.A.F.E. Moran performance team. His testimony was taken after local safari companies had sponsored the team to perform in Talek and Aitong, two towns outside of Loita on the edge of the Maasia Mara.
“Before I attended a S.A.F.E. work shop I didn’t think about FGC, after, I saw the effects and I realised that there was no important reason for it, so I now support girls not being cut and I am ready to marry an uncut girl. FGC is something that was just created by people in the past, and now it is our turn to change it.”
Resian Kashu – Head Teacher, Talek Girls School
Resian is the head teacher of Talek Girls school, the team visited the school as part of the recent tour of the Mara.
“The teachers in the school don’t talk directly to the girls about FGC, it is thought of as a private family matter. The subject, however, does come up in during school life and discussions about it are had amongst the girls. It is clear from these discussions, that the information the girls have is wrong. Most of the girls in the school are therefore cut and those who have not been are often ostracised.
“The girls were very attentive when S.A.F.E. Moran performed and I know they will now be talking about the … message the Morans were giving out. They will be particularly interested in the fact that these young men were openly saying they were ready and willing to marry uncut girls. This will impact their view of FGC.”
Stephen Munter – Youth Coordinator at the Maa Trust
Stephen works for the Maa Trust, a community organisation based in Talek. Stephen is facilitating the expansion of work into this new community and in the below testimony he is talking about the FGC situation in Talek, which S.A.F.E. has found to be vastly different to Loita.
“The Maa Trust estimate that 82% of girls in the Talek region are being cut. S.A.F.E. Maa … bring colour to a difficult subject, using culturally appropriate, non-confrontation and peaceful means. At the show in Aitong … young warriors were talking about something that most people avoid discussing.
“S.A.F.E. Maa are realistic. People are worried that if they don’t cut their daughter, they won’t be a real Maasai. But the gentle way that S.A.F.E. introduces the topic allows people to cross over without losing their culture. I believe that it is girls who are the most important group to hear S.A.F.E. Maa’s message. If the girls are informed they can make their own decisions, if they are empowered they can ask for help. If men start to publicly marry uncut girls, this will also help accelerate the end of the practice in the Talek area.”
Orchid Project are excited to be partnered with S.A.F.E. and to see the inspiring impact of their work with communities to abandon FGC. We are working together to support the Loita Hills’ Maasai community transition from FGC towards the ARP which was developed by the community.
S.A.F.E. is extending its work into the Samburu region of Kenya, where they will be working with communities to develop ARPs, carry out workshops with elders, youth, Morans and women, and support awareness-raising tours to spread the message of FGC abandonment.
Orchid Project is due to support a Knowledge Sharing Workshop in February 2018, where learning from S.A.F.E.’s work with communities will be shared amongst its staff working in different regions. Orchid Project is delighted to see the progress and impact of S.A.F.E.’s work, and to continue working together to end FGC.
Featured image credit: ‘Olarro, Kenya’ by Ninara. CC by 2.0 via Flickr.