This Hero Has Rescued 150 Girls From FGM

Florence Lomariwo’s lifelong crusade against female genital mutilation, or FGM, started with her own narrow escape.

A woman who is a crusader against FGM leans out of a window with blue shutters.

Her father had nine wives and a total of 77 children. Florence’s mother, his ninth wife, had six children to raise. She was often unable to provide for their basic needs of food and clothing, let alone their education.

In fact, out of a total of 38 girls in her father’s family, Florence was the only one to complete her education.

“My father did not believe that education was necessary for girls,” says Florence. “I had to sneak to school and return unnoticed. One day, I forgot to change out of my school uniform and my father saw me. He was angry and beat me up for bringing disgrace to the family.”

It was only after her father’s death that Florence began to openly attend school, to the disgust of her elder brothers and the community at large. Only her mother supported her educational pursuits.

When she turned 9, Florence’s caregivers planned the FGM ceremony for her. This brutal ritual involves the partial or complete cutting away of a girl’s external genitalia. It became illegal in Kenya in 2011. According to the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of 2014, the rate of FGM is declining (from 27% in 2008 to 21% in 2014). But that is still far too many.

FGM goes hand-in-hand with another common issue in Kenya — early marriage.

FGM, the cultural rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood, has traditionally signaled a girl’s readiness for marriage. Countrywide, approximately 26% of girls are married before age 18, and 6% are married by age 15. Florence learned that after she underwent FGM, she would be married.

“An old man from a neighboring village had approached my family to arrange a marriage with me,” says Florence. “He wanted me to be his fourth wife.”

At the time, Florence was in the third grade. Her oldest brother, now head of the family, had already accepted half of the customary “bride price” from the man, which included camels, cows and goats. According to tradition, after the ritual cutting, she would become the old man’s property.

So Florence took a desperate step. She ran away from home.

“I did not want to be married early because it would shatter all my dreams,” Florence says. “I ran away from home, living with well-wishers and teachers who supported my desire to complete my education and make something of myself.”

Her determination paid off. After finishing secondary school, Florence enrolled in a teacher’s college and later graduated with a degree in education. She then married the man of her own choice — a privilege few women her age knew. Now, Florence had the credentials and platform she needed to effect change.

Florence now runs a school and rescue center for girls who escaped FGM and early marriage.

Children sit in a school for girls who have escaped FGM, listening to a woman standing in front of the class.

The primary school in the town of Chemolingot, Kenya, is no ordinary school. In addition to educating local children, Chemolingot Primary School is a rescue center for girls saved from FGM and early marriage. Girls who are scheduled for FGM will flee to the school for safety. Other young girls who have already undergone the procedure will sometimes run away from their “husbands” to the school for safety. Boys who are victims of child labor and violence also seek refuge at the center.

Florence has been instrumental in transforming the center into a boarding school, securing funding from various sources so that these vulnerable children have somewhere to stay.

Today, through Florence’s dedication and hard work, Chemolingot Primary School is home to more than 150 young girls who have been rescued from FGM and early marriage. Among the girls who have found refuge at the primary school in the past, 11 are currently attending public universities and colleges and 49 are attending various high schools around the country.

But Florence’s activism is not without risk.

A picture from behind of a woman standing with her arm around a girl.

Some men from the community  don’t want the status quo to change.

Recently, an angry group of men wielding canes confronted Florence. They had come to claim the wife promised by her family to a member of the group. She was a 14-year-old girl who had sought protection at the school. The mob accused Florence of undermining their culture and threatened to teach her a lesson. Thankfully, the other teachers protected her, and the police arrived in time to prevent any violence.

Still, despite the danger, Florence remains committed to her mission.

Now Florence is helping expand protection to even more children.

A group of five children hold hands and run towards the camera.

In 2016, Florence’s church, African Inland Church Chemolingot, partnered with Compassion to launch a child development center. As an outstanding champion of children, Florence became the chair of the committee overseeing the center. Now there are 252 local children in the program.

Through the center, Florence is helping ensure that the children in her community receive ongoing education about their rights. She is also making sure parents are provided with training about the dangers of FGM.

“We take a zero-tolerance stance on child abuse, and we have made it clear to all our children’s caregivers that action will be taken against anyone who undermines the rights of a child,” says Florence.

What’s more, caregivers of children signed commitments saying their children can attend school and will not undergo harmful cultural practices. In the future, as the registered children grow older, the center plans to provide a Bible-based alternate rite of passage program.

A young girl stands in front of a grass thatched hut with her family sitting behind her.

Damaris is one of the girls in the Compassion program whose caregivers have committed to protect her from early marriage and FGM.

“We understand that the key to dealing with this problem is continuous education,” says Florence. “We envision a future in which there will be a significant drop in the number of children that suffer FGM and early marriage.”

A woman stands next to four little girls.
Now, the little girls in her care are benefiting from Florence’s passion and dedication. There is an undeniable wave of change sweeping Chimolingot. In some cases, the school enrollment of girls is doubling and tripling previous enrollment numbers. Still, there is much more that needs to be done, and Florence will keep fighting. She knows that the next generation of women need her voice and courage to continue paving the way.

Thank you for standing with advocates like Florence to fight for the rights of children!

It takes all of us together to create a world with opportunity for all. Sponsor a child today to ensure she receives her rights!


 

11 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Avatar
    Brenda Ann October 10, 2019

    She truly is a Hero we can all look up to. She is the hands and feet of Jesus. We will add her to our prayers.

    1. Mackenzie
      Mackenzie October 10, 2019

      Hi Brenda! Thank you so much for your prayers! We are so blessed to partner with such an amazing woman! Blessings!

  2. Avatar
    Loise Mwaniki September 30, 2019

    A very moving story,God bless mum Florence and her courage to advocate for the needy children for becoming their voice,I wish all of us would stand firm to the prevellence of our ability and do the needful to the needy children around our areas,I like this Florence you are my HERO .

  3. Avatar
    Kipyegon Yator September 30, 2019

    I really thank God for such a tremendous work of transformation. God bless Flourence and God bless compassion supporters for standing with this church.Many more children are being transformed through holistic development.

  4. Avatar
    Mary Martin September 28, 2019

    I have sent this to about 15 of my friends to seek help for Florence. She is a Saint

  5. Avatar
    MUKAKIMENYI Jacqueline September 27, 2019

    Oooooh friends, I am shading tears because of this moving story, may our good God be praise for saving lives through His daughter Florence. Yes, indeed with God any single & simple good initiative intending to save life will turn to a huge success. Immeasurable blessing to sister Christine.

  6. Avatar
    stephen kalibbala September 26, 2019

    Thank you for sharing the story of Florence the Great.I think each one of us should stand in their space and release children from the scourge of poverty just like Florence is doing in Kenya.
    Stephen Kalibbala
    UGANDA

  7. Avatar
    Janet C September 26, 2019

    Amazing story of extreme courage on Florence’s part and these children that flee to her school. May God richly bless her and the students and the locals that take a stand against FMG and Early marriage!!

  8. Avatar
    Kelly Johnson September 26, 2019

    Is there some way we can support this woman and her center?

    1. Christina
      Christina September 27, 2019

      Hi Kelly! Thank you so much for your desire to help Florence and the children of Chemolingot, Kenya! If you would like to sponsor a child from her center, I encourage you to visit http://www.compassion.com and select “Sponsor a Child”. From there, you’ll be able to search for children at her center on the left side of the screen. The center ID is KE0476. You are also welcome to give donations to the center as a Project Gift through your online My Account. Please let us know if you have any additional questions. Have a blessed day!

  9. Avatar
    Sharon September 26, 2019

    Thank you for sharing this great story of Florence that is championing the protection of girls in KE! Thank you Isaac for sharing her story and the story of so many girls like her. Through knowledge and God’s grace this can be changed. Sharon L.

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