S.H.E. Student Spotlight: Mercy and Agnes

Mercy and Agnes.jpeg

Mercy and Agnes are sisters who will be entering college in 2019 through the S.H.E. Fund program. This is their story, as told by Mercy, about how they arrived at the V-Day Safe House.

I came to Tasaru when I was 12 years old. I had been living with my parents and my six sisters in a manyatta with one entry and two beds. I and my younger sisters were looking after the young ones of the cows, carrying water and firewood, and helping with the children.

One Sunday our parents came and informed me and my younger sister Agnes that Wednesday would be our circumcision (FGM) day, and we should get prepared! We said, “We are still young! We don’t want to go through this!” But they told us we were grown up now, and we had to go through “the Cut”.

Our parents bought food for a big ceremony, like a party.  Family were arriving from all over. On Tuesday, the Pastor told our parents that we should not be cut. But they would not listen. So he called the Chief of the village, who was against FGM. He told us to go to the Chief’s house that night.

When it was dark, we left, one after the other, and went different ways so they would not find us. But back at home they realized we’d gone and everyone began looking.  Finally they found us in the Chief’s home. They threatened his life, and he gave us back.

Since I was the eldest, they thought it was my fault. They really beat me with anything they could find. It was terrible!

I told my sister, “Since you are the one they trust, you must convince them that we will not try to run away again.”

They woke us at six the next morning, so we could be cut before the sun rose. They sent us outside with few clothes so the cold would get into our bodies, so that we would be stiff for the cut and it would not bleed so much.

There is a belief that if you are cut before the cows are milked, you will bleed to death. At that time, we only had three cows. We knew we would be cut as soon as the third cow was milked.

We watched them milk two cows and start on the third.

Half way through the milking, a police car arrived. I was outside, still accumulating the cold. I ran for the car. But the police had to go for my sister, because the family would not let her go.

They took us to a police lady’s house. We were so scared. We didn’t know her. We didn’t trust her. But she took care of us. We remained inside her house for three days, hiding, so our family would not find us.

Finally the police took us to the Safe House where we were welcomed by all the girls. They were so kind! They gave us clothes and showers. We really felt so safe and happy!

Mercy and her sister Agnes lived at the Safe House for seven years, until they graduated high school in December, 2018. That month, Kim traveled to their family home to meet their parents and to ask for their blessing on their daughters’ college education. Gratitude flowed in all directions through the tears they shared.

The mother of Mercy and Agnes presenting Kim with traditional Maasai gifts

The mother of Mercy and Agnes presenting Kim with traditional Maasai gifts

Kim visits the home of the mother of Mercy and Agnes

Kim visits the home of the mother of Mercy and Agnes

S.H.E. Student Spotlight: Nelly

Nelly student-teaching with her prize-winning class

Nelly student-teaching with her prize-winning class

Nelly Sopiato is a miracle. Currently in college to become a teacher, she has been funded by the S.H.E. College Fund since 2015. This is a photo of her as a student-teacher with her class just after they won first place in Mathematics in a competition against teams from all over Kenya. Can’t you feel her joy and love for the students?

Nelly’s journey to that moment was a duet of misery and miracle. Born to a very poor family, her parents both died when she was five. Although a friend of the family promised to support her as his daughter, soon he took her to an orphanage in Nairobi where she was forced, with the other children, to carry heavy stones at a construction site. She writes, “I grew thinner and thinner. I suffered there for almost a year.” One day, miraculously, a friend of her parents happened to recognize her. He brought her home to her village, where eventually she found a sponsor to pay her school fees.

Nelly, just after graduating secondary school

Nelly, just after graduating secondary school

In Nelly’s village the Maasai still practice Female Genital Mutilation. Usually the ceremony takes place when a girl is between 8 and 16. When Nelly graduated 8th grade, she knew she had to run away, or she would be “cut” and married off. It was then she fled to the Tasaru Center (which means “Rescue Center” in Maasai), also known as the V-Day Safe House. Tasaru sends all the rescued girls who live there to school until they graduate from High School (Form Four).

At the end of Secondary School all Kenyan students are given a standardized test. Their grade on that test determines their future. Although Nelly was a diligent student and worked hard in all her classes, she did not do well on the exam. No longer protected by the law, Nelly couldn’t stay at the Safe House. And when she went back to the village where her remaining relatives lived, she was excommunicated from the family because she refused to be sold off into marriage. She writes, “That was where I faced the hardest life and I almost committed suicide. I lost hope completely. Only God knows what I passed through. I had only the clothes on my back and I wore them for a week without washing. Often I would go for days without

There are many unsung saints that make our work at S.H.E. possible. One of them is Emily Ketter, the secretary at the Safe House. Emily knows every girl at the Safe House intimately. She knows her grades. She knows her attitudes. But she also knows each girl’s heart, and her strengths as a person. Emily wrote to us on behalf of Nelly and some of the other girls who were graduating High School. Because of Emily’s recommendation, we were able to find Nelly funding to go to college in spite of her poor test results.

Nelly and students after winning Math competition

Nelly and students after winning Math competition

Now Nelly is thriving in her Diploma program at the University of Eldoret in Nakuru, Kenya. She is majoring in Early Childhood Development and Education. She went from a D+ GPA in Secondary School to receiving B’s in her college courses. Some of her classes are: Child Growth and Development, Children with Special Needs, Child Psychology and Health and Nutrition. Her first internship as a student teacher was so successful  (see photos!) that the head teacher of the school promised her a job when she graduates.

Nelly speaks and writes English well now. She also knows Swahili and her native Maasai tongue. When she’s not studying, Nelly enjoys playing soccer, learning how to use her new computer, creating beadwork, going to church, dancing and singing. She has made a recording of Gospel songs.

Nelly wrote in a recent e-mail, “I really appreciate you people for the love and care you have for me. I am thankful and happy to know that Judy [one of her funders] has been behind my success all the way through her support. Judy, all my days have been full of joy and laughter since you and your friends started supporting me.”

Nelly has a unique resilience and drive for life. Through the donations of her group of funders, S.H.E. has been able to give Nelly the opportunity to transform her life and become a model for other girls in her culture. Now she is becoming a proud teacher and making us proud, too. We all can learn from Nelly.

~ By Donna LaPerle and Kim Rosen