September 20, 2018

I ruined many lives, reformed female circumciser says

A Pokot girl donned in animal skin during her circumcision. [Reuters]

Having worked for two decades as a government nurse, 74-year old Helen Napono switched her career to become one of the most dreaded ‘surgeons’ in Narok where she circumcised girls.

It all started after her three daughters attained the ages of 11, 13 and 15 and could not find anyone to perform the critical rite of passage. This is when she decided to do it herself banking on her knowledge as a nurse.

“Someone referred us to Mau, which is very far from here. Then I thought to myself: ‘Wait a minute. Aren’t I a nurse? Isn’t it a normal operation? Let me cut my daughters’,” narrates Napono according to the Star.

“I told the senior doctor that the exercise with my daughters was a test and that he should assist me. He agreed. I mutilated them but everything was okay. They got healed.”

The mother of six-three boys and three girls from Ololunga village, Narok County started off what was to be another career that she now regrets.

People had a lot of confidence in her having performed the cut on her daughters and they got healed. The fact that she was a nurse, was an added advantage.

She retired from the service in 1996 and ventured into female circumcision on a full-time basis.

“I continued to cut girls at my home. Many people knew me as a doctor so they brought their daughters to me. At that time I wasn’t a believer,” she adds.

Over the December holidays when schools are closed, she would receive more clients; this was her peak season.

“I got paid only Sh500 per girl. That kind of work was not good. The money we got was in the name of washing stains of blood from our hands. When I was at the hospital, I used one sterilised blade and scissors, but when I went home, I bought my own tools,” she says.

She circumcised so many girls that she can barely give an estimate number. At the time Female Genital Mutilation was not prohibited by the law.

“They were so many,” she notes. “You know with that title of a nurse, many believed in me. They didn’t want to deal with traditional circumcisers.”

Te fact that in the Maasai community FGM was considered a rite of passage, this vice continued at her behest and she only realized about five ago that FGM was outlawed but people still pursued her for the cut.

“I realized that the government didn’t want us to continue cutting girls. I also didn’t see any benefits that came with the practice so I stopped the business and decided to go to church where I became a believer.

I told them that what I had done was enough and that ‘I am in church so I no longer want to engage in that business,” she opines.

She says that she did not have religious knowledge to know what she was doing in the name of tradition was wrong.

“By the time I stopped engaging in the practice, the number of girls I cut had really gone down. Had we understood the religion, we wouldn’t have subjected our girls to the cut. I really ruined part of their bodies, but without knowing,” Napono regrets.

Over the years, FGM has gone down in communities where it is practiced, predominantly the Maasai.

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