Reclaiming the dignity of Maasai girls
By Lilian Kaivilu
Her father rejected a number of offers from men who wanted to marry her, even before she was 18. Thirty-two year-old Grace Turanta, the founder of Serian Foundation and a 2015 Akili Dada Fellow says how she is speaking for fellow girls who are victims of retrogressive cultures. She spoke to Lilian Kaivilu.
You were born in a family that was deeply rooted in Maasai culture…
I was born and brought up in a polygamous family of 21 siblings. Education for girls was a privilege except for a few families. Contrary to the popular norm, my father rejected all goodies from many who considered themselves fit to marry me at a young age.
Is that why you chose a course in Gender studies?
While growing up in the rural area of Ewuaso in Kajiado, I witnessed my close friends being married off as young as 12 years. I, in some occasions tried to advise them to run off from home but this was beyond my strength as a young girl. Throughout my childhood to adulthood, I used to be mostly disturbed by thoughts on how to loudly and effectively cry foul of it. And now I am a fourth year student of Egerton University, pursuing a degree in Gender, Women and Development Studies.
Tell us about Serian Foundation and what it does
The Foundation is a Community Based Organization that I started in 2012 and registered with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Services in the year 2014. It operates in various areas within Kajiado County and alongside partnership networks of more than 10 organisations. Serian is a Maasai word that means “Oasis of Peace”. Our work involves mentoring young girls from the community especially school going children with an aim of enabling them realise their full potential.
You have also been vocal on matters Female Genital Mutilation
I have been sensitising girls in Kajiado on the impacts of retrogressive cultural practices such as early marriages, FGM and illiteracy. We also empower the community to embrace education and bring to an end these harmful cultural practices. Having been born, brought up in the Maasai community and having experienced some of these retrogressive cultural practices, I understand the challenges the community faces.
How many girls are you working with at the moment?
We work with more than 2000 girls from different schools in Kajiado County, Kajiado West constituency. Some of them also learn at primary and secondary schools outside the county and are ever considered to benefit from the programme.
How do you involve men in the anti-FGM fight?
We encourage men and boys to champion against FGM and even have them as facilitators in fora about the adverse outcomes of the retrogressive practices. Through consistent involvement, they are crowned Change Agents and Anti FGM Ambassadors, a movement that plays speedy progressive change of the Maasai cultural doctrines that have paralysed the girls’ hopes for many decades.
Any specific milestones so far?
We have organised and held many anti-FGM campaigns and sensitisation fora in many areas within Kajiado County. We have also lobbied for scholarship and sponsorship linkages for several girls from Kajiado County who currently study in different schools. Through Serian Foundation, we have at times organised fora where the community’s opinion leaders convene to share ideologies pursuant to the county’s development agenda with more focus on ending the retrogressive cultural practices.
What is your source of funding and who are some of your partners?
We mainly depend on the Foundation members for the funding and well-wishers. I have also partnered with the County Government of Kajiado, Compassion International-Narok and Kajiado, AMREF Kenya, ORCHID Foundation, Egerton University through the Gender League, Red Cross Kenya, Victors Assembly Church-Kikuyu led by my mentor Bishop Theuri and Rev. Ruth Wamuyu, KCB Bank, local political leaders starting with the area Member of County Assembly in Ewuaso among others.
You want to join politics in 2017. Tell us more.
My community has for a long time urged me to go for this post. And it’s now too tempting. They say it is in this sphere where I can best lobby for more resources in order to exercise more good-will towards Anti FGM campaigns and other inclusive and gender sensitive programmes in the community. I am therefore in serious consultations whether to be contesting the position of “Women Representative For Kajiado County” come 2017 general elections.
Grace is a mother of two and married to Peter Wangige Roimen
She is currently pursuing a degree in Gender, Women and Development Studies at Egerton University
At the university, she is actively involved in Gender League programmes led by Sigar Agumba-Co- Patron with immense participation of inter-faculty students
She has linked up with the Anti FGM Board Kenya and participated in anti FGM campaigns in different regions in the Country under the leadership of Hon Jebii Kilimo
She has also been working together with Compassion International in various programmes and activities cutting across both Kajiado and Narok counties