A Seed Today Is A Forrest Tomorrow!

Great things may come from small beginnings, for mighty oaks from little acorns grow!

On the 21st of December 2016 with some ‘seed’ development money raised from our crowd funding and given to Nancy when she visited London –  Nancy gathered together a small group of committed change-makers from various outposts off the main artery road that cuts through Central Pokot. The meeting was to make plans for when the film is ready to be screened so that it can be used to have a real impact on her tribe.

Empower Women and Stay Whole or Perfect!

That is the English name chosen for Nancy’s group.

We hope this small group can have a widespread impact over time. The seed is planted on the fertile soil of real purpose, as led by Nancy. If this grassroot movement, coming from within the heart of the men and women of the region can be nurtured and nourished to grow it could be the start of an amazing journey.  I hope this will grow organic as we co-create something extraordinary together.  Nancy will face many challenges but I know she will stay true to her original inspired pledge.

I (Sara, the film maker) have asked that Nancy choose each member of her trusty team for their honesty and real commitment. The core team needs to set the example. Nancy agrees that the criteria for being part of the group must be that each member is motivated by that. For me it is that wonderfully enlightened African notion of Ubuntu, the collective good which Nancy somehow inhabits so naturally!

My part is to ensure they are sufficiently supported to do their work,  and guided by international standards of good practice. Getting this support is the next step in our  process. This small group is the bud of a beautiful flower, or the seed of a giant tree which could make a forrest one day. We hope it will blossom to it’s full potential.

Nancy held the meeting with the aim to create a future strategy for using her story on film as a tool in the areas where cutting and child marriage are high with the ultimate aim to help end FGM in the Pokot Tribe. This of course is not Nancy’s task alone, it rely’s upon a united effort and collective action, supported politically and by other opinion leaders in the community. However Nancy can play a significant part as a leader of her generation to promote change particularly in the remote places few others will go.

She declared at the UN  “I am representing those that are demanding change, for each girl needs to be a source of further change, and I am an ambassador for them.” Yet her role is just the start of creating many more ambassadors for change,  for each girl saved becomes a new source for change, and it can grow exponentially.

The name of the group is Empower Women and Stay Perfect (or whole!)  Keto  yotin kichichimat ngo  mongot nyo tenat.

Nancy’s  group of trusty fellows includes men and women, chiefs and youngsters,  churchmen and school teachers. They are all needed to  reach communities in the remotest of regions in order to influence the community and inspire change through storytelling, dialogue and education.

Nancy and I talked about setting up this group when she was in London. We drew up a meeting agenda and worked out costs. The funding was supplied by your kind donations and was used to hire a school room for the day. Attendee’s were offered a small fee to cover loss of work, travel expenses, lunch, sodas and water as is the custom in the Pokot.

Kevin, Nancy’s son had fun playing with one of the bottles whilst the adults discussed subjects which were over his head…here is hoping by the time Kevin is old enough to comprehend the true impacts of FGM, it will be a thing of the past at least for his mother’s tribe.

The attendees were Nancy’s husband, an old friend and activist from Lomut who she’d marched with in 2015 and her brother. Also there was Pamela, the good samaritan who rescued Nancy when she ran away from home to avoid cutting, as well as her husband a school teacher and a forward thinking local Chief. Nancy had invited 12, I believe 8 or more attended but the numbers will grow ……

According to Joel, Nancy’s brother “It was the most successful meetings that I’ve ever seen.” Everyone brought ideas and they went on enthusiastically to create a plan and group name.

The Cutting Season December 2016

Whilst in London Nancy told me that whilst she welcomed the progress with the film and the group, it hurt her that she could not do more during the coming cutting season. The cutting season is an overwhelming experience for Nancy who knows how afraid the girls will be feeling. Some will be cut, either as a result of their own naiveté or due to social pressure and conformity and many against their real choice. Their lives are changed forever and the damage is irreparable.

Few NGO’s are working in Central Pokot and their reach is limited. Nancy has no means to give long term support to girls who wish to say no, so this is hard to deal with.

She said –  “if these girls come to me I cannot ignore their desperation. I made a promise and I have to do whatever it takes!  If they need to stay with me, even if I haven’t got anything myself, I will have to share what I have and at least try to keep them safe.  I can only offer encouragement and advice about who to go to for protection. I wish I could offer them more, even a safe place for them to stay for longer.”

We talked about the harsh reality that neither of us could wave a magic wand and change things in an instant.  A frustration we both share when we know how desperate the situation is and feel every girl cut that wanted to resist is a personal failure of ours, as it is an avoidable loss.  This is why we have reached out to other’s for help, as there is simply not enough support from the international community in the really remote places. Nancy can help fill that gap but she needs support to do so.

Nancy knows that rescue centre’s are only ever an  short term emergency solution. A sticking plaster which does not solve the long term problem in which girls are considered chattels to be sold for bride price.  Sticking plasters perhaps , but also much needed during  the transition period – but the root of sustainable change must come from a shift in attitudes and behaviours leading to new social norms.  That is the goal of our film.

Women are property owned by men and sold for a bride price.

Even with successful role models standing up and changing opinions, and becoming educated, the challenge of replacing ‘ bride price’ and the ingrained idea that a women are property and exchanged for cows as a bride price,  is hard to change. A girl is first owned by her Father,  then her husband, and to a large extent the Pokot way of life is organised around either owning enough cows to buy a wife or help one’s son buy a wife to produce children,  or selling one’s daughter to gain these cows to buy the son’s wife! Or these cows will act as family security in hard times.  Replacing this is a major challenge. Especially as education for a girl can be a slow way to provide economic returns.

When a girl say’s No to FGM, unless more men declare they prefer an uncut woman and are prepared to marry her and pay a dowry – or the parents  can afford for her to attend school and be educated – the pressures will be on for the tradition of cutting and bride price to continue.

The wealth a girl traditionally brings to a family through the marriage ‘sale’ is a core motivation for parents to cut their girls and marry them off, very often at a very young age to a old man.  Whilst Girls are increasingly choosing education over being cut and early marriage,  few families can afford secondary education and it certainly does not produce the instant benefits that the payment of a bride price does.  Even if fathers know cows can die in a drought and there is no security,  they often want the ‘bird in the hand, rather than the one in the bush’

Education takes time to produce benefits for the rest of the family and parents can rarely afford to wait patiently for years before their daughter gets a job and their investment reaps rewards.  Where does love come into this? That is hard to answer for each family is different and it is complex and individual but very often girls are owned and whilst love may not be absent the tradition of bride price often trumps a parents concern.

The solution may be a multi-pronged approach where parents are educated to the risks of cutting for their daughters during the Circumcision ceremony itself and afterwards during childbirth. They also need educating to the many advantages of education as well as the multiple negative impacts  FGM and child marriage have on the wellbeing and economic development of the WHOLE community, as well as relations between men and women both sexual and psychological.  Women’s inequality has a profound economic costs too. These impacts and the solutions are all outlined in Nancy’s story, but in the narrative form of a story with a fairytale quality.

My longer film will share the solutions to all of these issues, and make quite clear the perils of FGM and child marriage and together with Nancy’s herself, it will enlighten many.

FGM impacts the wellbeing of the whole family.  Very often the children suffer as their mothers is too ill to provide for them or look after her children or she may even die in childbirth.

Ensuring parents are open to listen is often difficult, which is why storytelling and drama  is a powerful tool.  The oral traditional has always used stories and songs to foster change and bring new ideas, so this works as a tool coming from within the tradition.

Nancy married for love and her husband was not wealthy enough to pay the expected bride price.

Nancy still faces parental pressure. Education is no instant supplier of wealth to the family. To compound this Nancy took her choices one step further by pioneering a re-defination of gender relations too. She chose to marry her childhood sweetheart for love, rather than for his ability to pay the highest bride price, which would have been the normal criteria for a choice of husband for her.

Her parents, are very poor and her father is ill, so the situation is desperate. Since Nancy refused to be cut in 2010 she has been going to school so they have not received the cows they would have received for her bride price from an arranged marriage.  Nor have they directly benefitted from her education.

The expectation that women bring cows to the family is so ingrained that even when a girl is not cut the expectation is there.

If the Pokot Government were willing to educate children in school about the perils of FGM and fund more education for girls. If men publicly declared their willingness to marry uncut girls, as some pioneers have done, then it would be a great leap forward. We believe our film can help achieve this by influencing change even at Government level.

NANCY’s sticks and stones challenges.

Yet until that happens, when poverty is grinding and desperate,  pressures mount to find ways to get money. Some of Nancy’s family have as a consequence thrown stones at Nancy and her son recently, over this issue and relations have become strained. It is enormously stressful for Nancy to endure all this, particularly as Sila her husband cannot support her and Kevin as much as she’d hope.

When Nancy is invited to international events,  the family’s expectation rises that she will return well paid and rich, by virtue of these powerful connections.  Yet Nancy is not paid for being filmed, nor for attending events.  The film documents her life as it unfolds and she is not a paid actor, she is a volunteer activist and it is this that makes her special, as she is self empowered and self motivated from the start.  Her passion came from her.

As an empowered young leader she makes her own choices. The film tells her story as it unfolds and observes her work as a passionate volunteer and student leader doing what her heart leads her to do. She makes those choices. Doors have opened as a result of the film, but it has always been her choice to walk through them.

The sponsorship of her schooling and college have been funded in recognition of her vital role and the need to support her but she is still  a volunteer.  This will not be sustainable for much long.

Supporting these powerful opinion formers so that they can endure the challenges and realise their potential is critical. Their stories as successful role models are very visible and it is essential to ensure others see the benefits of following. Supporting role models is an important key to unlock sustainable change within the community. We need to support these role models work financially too. This is beyond the film makers ability to do and so we are continuing our crowd funding appeal.

In December 2016 Nancy knew of around 20 potential girls at risk of being cut …all these girls makes our plans all the more urgent. Please consider doing what you can to help.