By: Paula Peters
She began by saying, “My mother brought me here to protect me from the others who wanted to harm me. My village - Namanga is 190 km away and so we stole away by car late in the night. The car was driven by a man I did not know. Although I have 5 brothers and 4 younger sisters, I was the only one who needed protecting. I was lost and for a long time did not know why I had to be ripped away from those I knew and who knew me best.” This is one of many similar stories.
The girls of Kajaido differ from those of the other two students groups with whom Necessary Arts interacted. Their struggles are personal, revolving around traditional beliefs. While working with a group of three young Maasai girls, I discovered they all had very similar stories that were rooted in outdated and misguided reasonings of what it means to protect children. Since many Maasai families cannot afford to give their children formal schooling, they ‘protect’ their daughters from lives of poverty by choosing to marry them off at a young age. Because Maasai girls are traditionally considered children until they are circumcised, it is seen as imperative for a Maasai girl to undergo the circumcision rite before she is married. This strongly ingrained cultural belief propels families to go to great lengths to complete the circumcision. Thankfully in all three girls’ cases, someone in the village, be it a mother, an elder or neighbor decided to break tradition, at great personal risk, to give these girls another choice; an education.
Today, the Necessary Arts team helped these girls find a voice to share a single story. I got the feeling that although they have lived together for sometime, share a dormitory, slept in beds side by side, eaten meals with each other and learned to read and write in English together, they did not know each others story. Working in small groups, being guided through a series of exercises geared to tap deep inside one’s self and explore ‘who you are and what you want the world to see’, provided these girls with the opportunity to truly connect with each other and to discover the comfort of a single shared story.
Today’s experience allowed them to ‘reach’ deep within themselves in ways that were unreachable before. Sharing monologues allowed for the development of empathy and give these girls a vehicle to legitimize their fears, communicate their histories, tribal cultures and identities.