A woman and her children fleeing violence in Longewan village, Samburu County, in March 2023. [Michael Saitoti, Standard]

In the heart of Samburu County, amidst the breathtaking landscapes that stretch from Rumuriti to Suguta in Maralal, in the heart of Samburu County, a fierce battle is underway.

The rich culture of the Maa-speaking Samburu people, to whom livestock-keeping acts as a canvas of colour and creed, the retrogressive blot of female genital mutilation (FGM) is under siege.

It is a fight that epitomises the broader struggle against entrenched cultural norms that define the Samburu and Pokot pastoralist communities, where FGM and early marriages cast a long, dark shadow over the lives of young girls.

Leading this valiant charge is the Pillars of Light Center Suguta, helmed by the visionary Leah Kesire. With steely determination, Kesire and her dedicated team have committed to rescuing innocent children from the clutches of these harmful traditions by going against the grain. While their primary focus is on saving girls, they staunchly advocate for the equal protection of boys, recognising the urgency of their plight.

Kesire says, "We are facing a lot of difficulties, especially due to the war, and even the children are at home. I also ask that we consider that the problem is not only for girls but also for boys because a girl's problem is also a boy's problem. It's just that if a girl gets pregnant, the boy can continue with his life, but the girl misses out on school."

Kesire, acutely aware of the deep scars left by their traumatic experiences, ensures that these children receive not only physical sanctuary but also the vital emotional support needed to heal and rebuild their shattered lives.


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Furthermore, Kesire actively engages with the parents of these children, collaborating closely with local chiefs to foster community dialogue and raise awareness.

As her impassioned plea echoes across the land, rallying diverse organizations and government bodies to unite in this noble cause, she emphasizes the urgent need to extend protection to boys, who are equally vulnerable to the insidious effects of these harmful practices.

 Saluli Kipaika is a parent to one of the daughters in this institution.

"Personally, it has been a great help to me.” She adds, “My child is here, and this mother figure is like God sent her to help us. If it wasn't for her, I don't know how things would be. I say it's God because many people are afraid, and as a result, their children don't go to school; they just stay at home because of fear."

Benjamin Lenkapiani is the chief of Longewan, he says cases of FGM are rampant and that they need more people like Chesire to come up with institutions that can help the girl child. But he is also quick to say that the government needs to beef up security in the area.

In Kenya, FGM is most prevalent among certain ethnic communities, including the Somali, Maasai, Samburu, Kuria, and Kisii.

According to data from the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) conducted in 2014, approximately 21% of women and girls aged 15-49 have undergone FGM. However, prevalence varies widely across different regions and ethnic groups, with rates as high as 98% in some communities.

Efforts to combat FGM in Kenya have intensified over the years, with legislation such as the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2011 that criminalises the practice by imposing penalties on offenders.

 Additionally, the government, alongside various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs), has been implementing awareness campaigns, education programmes, and community dialogues aimed at changing attitudes and behaviour towards FGM.

Despite these efforts, challenges remain in eradicating FGM completely. Deep-seated cultural beliefs, societal pressure, and lack of alternative rites of passage continue to perpetuate the practice in some communities.

Moreover, enforcement of anti-FGM laws can be difficult in remote areas where the practice is most prevalent, and there is often resistance from community members who view FGM as an integral part of their cultural identity.