My eye-opening meeting with Satla and Saatho from Sarara Women’s Group

After working in the office all morning, Lucas and I headed back to our lodging around 1PM for lunch and to rest before going back to the office later in the day. I didn’t appreciate just how cool the office was until I stepped outside; by this time the sun was beating down with no reprieve. I am extremely thankful to Lucas for allowing us to “take it easy” today rather than going straight to the field- I don’t think I could have handled walking to the nearby wells on my first day in this beautiful but very hot region.

Anyways, I got back to my room with lunch waiting for me (will upload photos of food later… it is absolutely delicious!) and decided to take an afternoon nap although the temperature in my room was not conducive for a lovely cat nap. Nevertheless, tired from all the traveling, I was able to pass out before waking up to a phone call from Lucas. He had run into two ladies, Satla (the one on the right) and Saatho (the one on the left), from one of the women’s group and they were eager to meet with us. My first interaction with local well community leaders!  I began to realize that a “regular day in the office” came with many unexpected turn of events as community members will constantly seek out Lucas. In this case, not only did they want to meet and talk with us, but they also conveyed to Lucas that the well in their community, Lentanai/Ntepes Well, was not pumping water at the volume that it normally does. Lucas immediately called Paul, our well maintenance guy, who sped off on his motorbike to investigate.

At 3:30 pm, the two leaders from the Sarara Women’s Group (one of many women’s group in Samburu; Lucas’s late mother was actually the previous leader of this group!) came to where I was staying to show their appreciation and also inform me about the problems in this community. They began by saying that they were really grateful for The Samburu Project to come into this community and drill wells. They testified how access to clean, safe drinking water has reduced their burden of finding water. With the free time they now have, these two women are committed to better the lives of the women and children in this community. They are truly shakers and movers in their community.  Satla and Saatho are involved in the getting women to do the following activities and do all of this without being paid: bead and jewelry making, farming initatives, micro-enterprise loans, environmental protection, political empowerment, and last but not least awareness about FGM, female genital mutilation.  The purpose of writing this particular blog is to share what I learned about this last matter and to bring to light what goes on in this culture and in many other African countries. I am not writing this to judge or ridicule the culture but because I know it is Satla’s and Saatho’s desire to have the international community informed about this practice in hopes that together we can slowly bring an end to this engrained procedure. Moved by their discussion about it today, it is the least I can do but to share it with you.

Like in many countries, FGM is very much engrained in the Samburu culture, especially in Samburu East.  I do not claim to be an expert on this topic or why the Samburu people practice this, but I have included a few cultural/social causes taken from the World Health Organization website: FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore believed to help her resist “illicit” sexual acts. FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and “beautiful” after removal of body parts that are considered “male” or “unclean”.

Whatever the reasoning might be, I learned that the elder men are the ones that promote this practice.  Therefore, the women try and educate the community on the negative aspects of FGM (there really are no positive aspects).  Satla herself went through the procedure and I could see in her eyes the pain and anger she harbored because of it; she is motivated to end this procedure in her community so that her daughter and other young girls will not have to go through the pain and violation as she did.

In addition to persuading the community to put an end to FGM, the women go further and become pro-active. If they hear that a girl is about to undergo FGM, the women will go to the lady that will be performing the circumcision and come up with a plan. Since the men will not go with the child to the procedure, the ladies in the women’s group will crowd around the girl and pretend to do the circumcision themselves. In order to convince the father that the procedure happened, they will make a small cut somewhere (such as the leg) so that there is some blood present. Also, they show the girls how to walk as if they did get the procedure. So far they have successfully done this 3 times already! But it doesn’t end there. If the girl gets married and pregnant later on, she cannot have her baby in town because the women that help with the birthing will notice that she is not circumcised and will circumcise here then and there. Instead, the women need to make sure that these girls give birth in the hospitals where they will not be forced to have a circumcision.

Out of the two women, Satla spoke the most during the entire meeting but when it came to this topic, Saatho chimed in and you could tell how strongly she felt about this issue.  I hope that if this raises any questions, that you will look into this issue and become informed as well.

Oh and for those that were wondering about the well and what the problem was… On our way back to the office, Lucas gave Paul a call. Paul said that it was an issue with the rubber and it has been fixed and is working fine now.  Lucas and I will be visiting this well and hopefully four more tomorrow by foot (Juma is working fast and furiously to get our car repaired). Let’s hope I don’t turn into a red lobster by this time tomorrow.  Good night!

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