For many years, Maria Longropuo, 66, was a girl's circumciser of great repute but she no longer believes in that practice.
I was born in Kong’elai village, West Pokot County where female genital mutilation (FGM) was mandatory.
At the age of 14, I too went through the process —it was a painful experience which I still remember to date. I bled profusely but fortunately, I survived the ordeal.
Soon after this, I got married and became pregnant. My pregnancy had no complications but when it was time to give birth, I could not do so due to complications caused by FGM.
Since hospitals were miles away from our village, traditional midwives helped me during the birthing process and I not only lost my baby, I also got obstetric fistula.
My situation went from bad to worse and I had to be taken to Amudat Health Hospital in Uganda, a journey which took three days by foot, and where I was admitted for three months. After I was discharged, I went back to my husband and although we tried to have other children, I was unable to conceive.
My husband blamed me for this turn of events and became violent. He eventually chased me out of the homestead and remarried. I faced similar rejection from my parents and relatives when I returned home. I was treated as an outcast because I was not able to give birth.
It was then I decided to move out and fend for myself using the skills I had at hand — being a traditional midwife and a circumciser.
I learned this skill from my late grandmother, who was a circumciser in the region, by accompanying and assisting her in her trade. Circumcisers were highly respected in the community and they would receive traditional brew and a few coins as “payment” for their work.
I did this for many years and continued to live alone in a grass thatched house, a lonely woman, who most locals believed had been bewitched.
However, my life took a positive turn when a non-governmental organization visited the region while conducting anti-FGM campaigns and taught me the negative effects of the practice. This is when I realised that my own tribulations had been as a result of the retrogressive practice.
I started sharing my testimony to enlighten girls and women in my community on why they should shun the practice. I tell them all the harmful effects FGM has and monitor them so they do not fall prey to the circumcision.
My life also changed after the NGO gave me some funds to start a business selling utensils in Kong’elai.
I am also now living with my late brother’s six children who I “adopted” after he and his wife died, almost a decade ago, leaving them behind. Earnings from my business are able to support me and the children and I have also been able to buy a cow and several goats.
All those years I worked as a circumciser, barely making enough to survive on yet inflicting pain to others just as was once inflicted on me. That was my past, my mission now is to keep as many girls and women as possible from facing the cut.