Alice Escaped Female Genital Mutilation. Then She Rescued Her Sister.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) harms an estimated 3 million girls each year. The cultural practice, documented in over 30 countries worldwide, involves partial or complete removal of external female genitalia. Traditionally, this is performed on girls between infancy and the age of 15. Medically, there are no benefits: FGM is a leading cause of death in some of the countries where it’s practiced.
In the rural community of Kajiado County in southern Kenya, a study conducted in 2014 found that 78% of girls in the area had been circumcised. But not Alice.
A 9-year-old girl growing up in a traditional Maasai community, Alice knew what her future would look like. Like all girls in her village, she would not go to school. She would get circumcised, then married. She would have children. All before the age of 15.
But that is not how the story goes.
Thanks to the intervention of her mother, Alice escaped her village to avoid her scheduled circumcision ceremony. Far from her family, friends, and everything she had ever known, she found a program that would ultimately change her life.
Now 18, Alice is sharing how GLOW Club helped give her the courage to do what she never thought possible: return home. This is the story of Alice, and the unbelievable journey she took to rescue her sister from the same fate she herself escaped.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
My name is Alice, and I am ready to share my life story.
I was brought up in a village in a Maasai community with five brothers and two sisters. I waited to be taken to school, but it never happened.
When I was around nine, I was to be circumcised. According to our community, after FGM, you are ready to get married. It’s the norm of the community that at nine years you get married. There were no girls in our community in school.
I already knew the man I would marry. In Maasai communities, the man is always older. They give you to a man who has five or six wives. I was to be the youngest wife. The man was even older than my father.
I wanted to go to school. My mom wanted me to go to school. But at the end of the day, we didn’t have money as a family. And I was the older sister. So I needed to get married so that my brothers could go to school. In Maasai communities, that’s what they do: a girl is married so a young man can go to school. It’s a dowry system.
So I waited. I thought I would just let it happen.
“This Is Your Home Now.”
One morning, a woman who was doing business in town told my mother, “Why do you get your girl married when there is a rescue center [for girls who escape early marriage and other issues] in town? Why can’t you take her there?”
In Maasai communities, the men are the head. Whatever they say, you must do. My mom went and talked to my father. He beat my mom. I heard them fighting. My mom was crying. He told her, “You don’t have any say in our family.”
“In Maasai communities, a girl is married so a young man can go to school.”
I thought, “Ok, let it happen.” Because I don’t know anywhere, any town. I don’t even know who to run to. I told my mom, instead of being beaten because of me, let me get married.
My mom told me, “Let me fight for you until the end. Let us go.”
We woke up very early, at 4 a.m. She told my father that we are going to fetch water. So we went. We would have to walk five towns away and sleep in the forest at night.
We got to the African Inland Church (AIC) Rescue Center two days later. I was crying because I was scared that they wouldn’t welcome me, that they would rebuke my mom. But they were welcoming. I registered, and it was time for my mom to go home.
When we said goodbye, my mom told me, “I am going home, and I don’t know what will happen to me. But you have the chance to be here. Stay here. This is your home now. You are in school. Don’t even think about coming back to the village because you know what will happen if you do.”
A Place of Safe Expression
I stayed in school for four years without reaching my mom. She doesn’t have a phone. I had no way to reach her. I didn’t know what happened to her when she returned.
The center provided me with everything: shoes, clothes, and an education. But still, I remembered where I come from. I always thought about my sister and my mom.
I started school, but I didn’t know how to speak Swahili. I only knew the local language of my village. So it took time, more than a year. And that’s when I met Grace. That’s when the GLOW Club started.
When it started, I feared joining because I was not confident enough. But the teacher encouraged me to join. I went to the group, and I realized that these are good people. I need to share with them. I need to be open with them.
One day I was talking to my GLOW Club mentor Grace and she told me, “Whenever something hurts you, speak it out.” That day, I did not. But I thought about what she said. The next day I went to Grace and said, “Grace, I have something that is eating me up.” And I opened up. I told her my story.
At the time, nobody knew. I did not tell anybody. I was shy, and I would cry. I was not open with the teachers the way I was open in GLOW Club. We would meet outdoors, sitting under a tree, and share our painful stories with each other. It was a place of safe expression. It gave me confidence, a voice. It made me bold.
The Journey Home
It kept eating me up to remember that I have a sister and that she was around nine years old. My teachers warned me that if I went back home, I might have to get married. I said, “Let anything happen to me. But I will rescue my sister.”
One night, I snuck out and boarded the train back to my village.
When I arrived, I approached the first authority figure I could find and told her where I was trying to go. She said, “I know that place. There is a girl there that is to get married.” I thought there was no way it was my sister because she was too young: only seven or eight at the time.
The woman arranged for me to return to the village with a car and two policemen. I knew there would be crowds. I was worried that they would force me to be circumcised, rebuked, or killed.
When we reached the village, I found that the celebration was for my sister: she was to be circumcised.
People saw the car with policemen and started running helter-skelter. At that time, our village was practicing FGM illegally. But our village is deep in the forest, remote. Nobody expected a police car to pass by the village. Some people were running, some were crying.
Hiding in the backseat, I started shouting for my sister, Tabitha. She was in the house, showering so she could prepare for her circumcision in the morning. The policeman went in the house to get her, and she was brought to the car.
People were shouting, taking stones and throwing them at the car. I could hear my dad’s drunken voice. We left them, shouting. I was crying. But I had my sister.
We Will Rescue Them
My sister was safe. She started school. She joined GLOW Club and started to share her story like I did.
I worked hard and reached high school, a boarding school away from the rescue center. I found other girls with the same problems I had. I would see them crying and I would go and talk to them and tell them my story. I would tell them, “Don’t lose hope.”
At my new school, I am building the GLOW Club environment. Three of us from GLOW Club who started with Grace started talking with other girls. We sacrifice our Saturdays and Sundays to meet and talk. We call it Mentorship Club.
We started as a group of five, and now there are 32 of us. I tell them my story, tell them about GLOW Club and how it has helped me. Tell them how opening up will help you in this life. GLOW Club has helped me, and it is allowing me to help other girls.
If I did not join GLOW Club, I would not be the person I am today. I would not know what I know about myself now. I never could have imagined the life I live today. I never imagined that I would have someone to talk to. I never imagined that I would one day talk to girls and form my own group.
“GLOW Club has helped me, and it is allowing me to help other girls.”
When I was younger, I didn’t know what I wanted for my future because I didn’t even know what a career was. After GLOW Club, I know that I will be like Grace, who is working with girls to save lives. If not for Grace and my GLOW Club mentors, I couldn’t be here.
One day, I want to be a mentor like Grace. I want to rescue other girls. In my village, there are no girls in school, even now. When you are born, you will undergo circumcision. You will get married and start your own family. That is the cultural practice of the village.
I will go back there and rescue more girls, me and Grace. We will rescue them, help them learn. Even if we can’t rescue them, I know that some lessons from the GLOW Club will help them, give them the skills of how to protect themselves. Every day I tell Grace, “We will go.”
Global G.L.O.W. mentors girls around the world to become powerful advocates and confident leaders. Since inception, our GLOW Clubs have ignited the power of over 91,000 girls to do 3 transformative things: increase their confidence, strengthen their voice, and build their power. In honor of the International Day of Zero Tolerance Against FGM, support incredible advocates like Alice at globalgirlsglow.org/donate.
This transformation story has been made possible through our collaboration with Ng’aa Maskani, who coordinate GLOW Clubs for girls in Kenya. We would like to extend a special thanks to GLOW Club Coordinator and Mentor Grace Wanjiru for her tireless efforts that allow girls to dream again, and to Hellen Naitore, a fellow GLOW Club mentor who played an incomparable role in helping Alice develop her confidence, strength, and courage.