Schools in Kenya are only partially reopening now after a seven-month closure. While many children have been home with their parents, in a small village in Kenya, a 71-year-old retired teacher and Girl Child Rights activist had to shelter at least 24 children, among them 22 girls who feared if they returned home, they would either be circumcised or married off.
When the Kenyan government ordered all schools closed in March this year to control the spread of COVID-19, Nangurai, founder of the Nanana Rescue Centre, quickly realised she could not completely shut her doors as 24 pupils had nowhere to go to.
“We only remained with the girls who refused to go home, you know, we don’t allow girls to go back home unless they say yes. Even after reconciliation, they are those who ran from FGM and they said this time they are going to take advantage of this time and so they refused to go. The girls are 22 and then two boys, so 24.”
Her institution, which started off as a school soon after she retired, has since turned into a shelter for girls running away from traditional harmful practices in their communities including Female Circumcision also known as FGM, and forced marriages.
“We have had girls who have gone back home and the day you arrive home, if you ran from FGM, they do it the day you arrive. Those who have succeeded are those who stayed on…they can say no strongly, keeping them here is a challenge, but for us, we know there is success in the end,” Nangurai says.
Even as she happily chats with those who remained behind, her mind is on those that the prolonged closure as a result of COVID-19 has claimed.
“Unfortunately, one is circumcised, but she is not rescued and I have word that from one area three of them are pregnant and I am afraid. I am waiting to see how many are coming.”
For more than 40 years, Nangurai has advocated for the education of the girl child. In 2019, Kenya announced a 2022 target to end Female Circumcision but Nangurai says she has her doubts.
“I have my doubts; FGM is too deep. Sometimes, you feel you are fighting a losing battle but it’s not good to give up, but pray and hope what you are doing will benefit thousands of girls.”
As she watches those she rescued this time, it is clear the battle is not lost.