Monday, June 27, 2016

Men against FGM

Tony Kiambi Mwebia
Tony Kiambi Mwebia fights the practice of FGM not only through his advocacy online, but through active offline workshops with different communities. Here is his story in his own words. 

I am Tony Kiambi Mwebia, born and brought up in Meru County at the slopes of Mount Kenya. I come from a middle class family in Kenya. I was brought up by my mum, a primary school teacher, and my dad, a professional chef, with one of the international chain hotels in Kenya. Both of them are retired now.

My childhood was a normal one, but being brought up in the rural setting and with my mum being a teacher, it was a very big challenge to me. Everyone in society was looking up to us as role models and we were expected to be always perfect and right. My family environment was very conducive and my parents were always there to provide me with everything I wanted. I have a sister and three brothers and I am the second last born in the family. I schooled in a local public school with my mum being my teacher from classes one to three. At class five, I was transferred to a boarding school where my sister was also schooling. Later, in Class 7, I was transferred to another boarding school because I was always number one. From the boarding school, I proceeded to a boarding secondary school where I attained a mean grade of A- in my KCSE. Thereafter, I joined the University of Nairobi, where I studied for a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts, specializing in social work. That was from 2007 to 2011, when I graduated. While on campus, I also studied accounts part time and qualified as a public accountant.

I am a professional social worker now, with a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Nairobi. I will say that social work is quite a new career path in Kenya. I hardly knew about it until I was admitted into university. Once there, I got interested as we were oriented on the field, and I can now say that it’s such a fulfilling profession! At the end of the day, you can take stock of the lives that you have changed or have touched in one way or another.

Immediately after school, I was able to get a job in an NGO working with youth, called Youth Alive! Kenya. This was on a fixed contract basis from 2011 to 2012. When my contracted ended, I thought that other than staying at home, I could volunteer with an NGO and build on my experience. That’s the way I found myself at the HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya as a volunteer. After two months of volunteer work dealing with urban refugees, there was a vacancy for being a temporary project assistant in the FGM division. This was a pilot project funded by the UNHCR and it was supposed to go for two months. I must admit that until this time, I had heard very little about FGM.

Now, the position required me to know at least the basics of FGM and especially Kenyan laws on the subject. This acted as a motivation and in no time, I found myself reading extensively on FGM and gaining a lot of knowledge on it. We held several dialogues and sensitization meetings in Nairobi. I was able to meet refugees from Congo, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Somali who shared their different stories and experiences with FGM during the community dialogues. Some of the stories were really touching and they made me want to learn more and more about FGM. I heard things that I could not even imagine. We had doctors and midwives sharing their experiences in the labor ward especially with women that had undergone infibulations.

Men openly spoke about how they lost their loved ones as a result of complications during birth and during the cutting process. Women shared the pain they had to encounter every time they had sex. This completely changed my heart and I swore to try the best I could to try and end this menace. When my contract ended, I immediately open a twitter account where I carry out an online campaign against FGM, I also created a blog where I also write about my experiences with FGM. I believe that information is power and through these two social media sites most of my friends now know what FGM is. By my good luck after the expiry of my contract in 2013, I got another job with a government Parastatal and I was posted to Kuria in Migori County. Over here, rates of FGM are very high. This has enabled me to continue my work towards ending FGM to date.

The biggest challenge has been ignorance from community members who attend the trainings and seminars and not follow whatever they are taught. You also find out some of the communities where I work, that there is some spiritual attachment to the ceremony and community members believe that if you don’t carry out the rite of passage your family could have a bad omen. The girls also face a lot of discrimination and negative peer pressure from the community members. All these factors have a negative effect on the fight against FGM and they slow down the achievements

From experience I have come to appreciate that community dialogues and sensitization aimed at changing people’s perception is the greatest weapon that anyone who is fighting any Negative culture can use to conquer the society. Technically speaking every community is unique in its own way and an intervention applied in one community or country will not work sufficiently or will fail if applied in another community. Community dialogue allow the community member to come up with own solutions for own problems and hence reduce resistance to change.

As a social worker I feel fulfilled every time I put a smile on the face of a young girl who could have faced difficulties in future as a result of undergoing FGM.  I also do believe that Girls are our sisters, friends, wives to be, cousins and mothers and hence it’s our responsibility to protect them as men. Men should also appreciate that they were carried by a woman for nine months and that woman who is a vessel should be respected at all cost.

I have been able to facilitate the rescue of more than 100 girls in one way or another for the     time I have been working in the fight against FGM. I can also say that through effective use of my social media campaign especially my twitter handle I have lobbied for the inclusion of Men in the fight against FGM .