She was pregnant while a teenager, dropped out of school and later battled fistula for 12 years.
Today, 32-year-old Koriata Nampayo looks back at the path she has walked and is thankful, having risen above the odds to become a fistula and anti-female cut crusader.
From first interaction, it is not easy to tell what she has been through. Her mien and confidence seem to conceal the torturous years that resulted in her dropping out of high school to start a foundation that speaks for hundreds of women suffering in silence.
“I have gone through the roughest times. I know what FGM is, I understand how it feels to get pregnant in primary school, how it pains to get married while still a teenager and worse off, that you cannot control your bowels and cannot confide in anyone. This has been a painful package, the roughest ride,” Ms Nampaiyo said.
Nampaiyo, a mother of five, lived for 12 years with rectovaginal fistula, a condition she acquired after giving birth at 15. She underwent the cut at the age of 12.
Giving birth, she said, was not any easier, as she was assisted by traditional midwives at home. She underwent prolonged labour and had to stay home for another one year to nurse her baby.
“Girls who undergo FGM are told they are already grown up women and one cannot think of anything else except to engage in sexual activities. That is when I got pregnant, but since I was to join Form One, I had to live with the father of my child as I schooled. I joined Form One when the baby was a year old,” she said.
Nampaiyo could no longer control her bowels, a situation she was told was normal for new mothers.
“My mother told me it was normal and that there was a history of women who are not able to control their flow. Things, however, did not change and I kept away from people,” she said.
Nampaiyo joined Ndaraweta Girls' School in Bomet County in 2004, a slot she had secured the previous year but could not report as she was nursing her baby. Things, she said, did not get any better. For every meal she took, she was sure her bowel movement would come unannounced.
In 2006 when she was in Form Three, Nampaiyo dropped out of school and fell pregnant again.
“I knew I was dying and wanted to just have children fast before I could die. It seemed people were happy with life but all I wanted was to leave the legacy of my children,” she adds.
The first time she heard the word fistula was when she was delivering her last born. It sounded strange and dreadful, and she kept off the hospital after she was discharged.
“It was not until in 2015 when I soiled myself at a party and a friend who is a nurse noticed it. I told him it was normal and that is when he linked me to a hospital for corrective surgery,” she said.
After the operation, Nampaiyo said she realised the ‘normal’ was not normal and that many of the women in pastoral communities were suffering in silence.
“I came out and started speaking about it in public and surprisingly, many women would come to look for me,” she said.
Sylvia Naneupariken is one of the fistula survivors Nampaiyo bailed out.
Currently a mother of three, Naneupariken said the condition is tormenting women in silence.
Monika Pariken, a resident of Narok, said the condition was traditionally linked to curses, forcing many women to live secluded lives and some even getting divorced upon discovery of their condition.
Nampaiyo said her foundation, Koriata Nampaiyo Fistula Trust, still faces challenges of funding to facilitate women get corrective surgery.
Charges for fistula operation, she says, are high, estimated at Sh75,000 locally, which many women cannot afford.
She has linked more than 200 fistula survivors from Narok, Bomet, Kisii, Kuria and Migori for corrective surgeries in partnerships with Fistula Foundation, Kenyatta National Hospital, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Clinic 66 and others that offer free surgeries.