The Maasai are an asocial people where traditionally the woman is discriminated in social cultural, economic, religious and political aspects of life. The most gruesome of traditional practices in this community is female genital mutilation (FGM). This is a practice that has over the years has been attributed to bringing a lot of misery to the girl child as well as denying her a chance to an education since most of these girls are forcefully married off at a tender age. It is for this reason that in 1992 a group of bold women founded a group called Nasaru Ntoyie which is Maasai for let us save the girl child.
I had had a chance to talk to one of its founders Peninah Nasieku Tompo, adorned in the Maasai traditional wear she could easily pass for any Maasai woman. However there is nothing ordinary about Peninah also commonly known as mama Odu or mama Symo, is an extra ordinary woman. In Isinya and Kajiado at large she is a champion, a champion of the girl child’s rights.
At first glance she has a bubbly personality which hides her lifelong tale and burden she bears for her community. As I talk to her, this time not as casually as other days it strikes me that she is full of contagious passion.
Her story began nearly 40 years ago when a mzungu literally snatched from the hands of an ugly FGM and early marriage and this paved the way for an education. This experience opened many doors of opportunity for her something women in her community at the time could only dream of, it also enabled her to view the world around her from different lenses.
Peninah now a retired nurse and trained advocate is ironically a mother of 5 boys and one would then ask themselves then why the hustle to rescue other people’s children. She tells me that being a rescue case herself, it’s enough that she rescues other young girls as away to give back to society for changing her life for the better. She is also glad that the new constitution dispensation recognizes that FGM is a heinous crime.
Each member of the group is at task to make do some bead work which is later sold and a percentage of the money goes to educating girls who have been rescued by the group.
The road has not been without any bumps, Peninah has been threatened, criticized and even sometimes ostracized by her fellow women folk for the work she does, despite all this, vivacious Peninah cannot help but smile at the successes the group has had over the years, she tells me that a good number of girls that the group has rescued have now completed their university or college others working. The girls have also followed in her footsteps by rescuing girls in the villages they come from.
|Peninah attends to a customer during an open day in Kitengela|
Anyone who has seen a Maasai woman doing her bead work knows that it takes a lot of time effort and commitment, each bead goes in alone, but all beads together form an intricate design to be held at awe by all those who see it. In this same spirit Nassaru Ntoyie’s efforts will continue until each child is safe from FGM and forced early marriage and one bead at a time the group shall finally get there.
Article written by Njeri Kenyaggia