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By Anna Smith


A SOUTH Lakes midwife on a mission to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya is fundraising for a rescue centre for young girls.

Cath Holland, from Grange-over-Sands, whose work has saved around 1,000 young Kenyan women from the brutal procedure, says the centre will provide a safe haven for those who do not want to be ‘cut’ but have nowhere else to turn.

“Not only is it cruel and painful but it’s recognised as a form of torture,” Cath told the Gazette, from Kenya, where she has travelled with her charity, Beyond FGM.

“It’s against the human rights of the girls. They need somewhere to turn where this won’t happen to them.”

She explained that the practice is illegal in Kenya but the law is not enforced in many rural areas.

Earlier this year Cath visited a family whose daughter was cut twice – the second time held down by her brothers – which caused the pregnant 17-year-old to bleed to death.

Now she hopes to build the centre in Pokot, in the Karamoja region of Kenya, so other young women will not have to endure the same fate.

It is estimated it will cost around £20,000 to build the centre and run it for a year, and around £10,000 each year after that.

The money will pay for 50 young women to be fed, clothed, accommodated and educated.

“It’s not just a cruel procedure,” continued Cath. “Girls die from it and it has to be stopped. The girls need somewhere else they can go.”

It is estimated that between 100million and 140million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM.

The process involves them having their genitalia removed, usually in their teens, and then what is left is sewn together.

When they get married the stitches are then pulled apart with an animal horn.

The effects of FGM can include haemorrhage, shock, sepsis, psychological trauma and even death.

Cath, who works at Helme Chase maternity unit, Kendal, began campaigning against the custom after witnessing a cutting ceremony 20 years ago in Kenya.

Since then she has carried out several ‘alternative rite of passage’ ceremonies in the country, which have saved around 1,000 girls from having to undergo FGM.

And earlier this month her work took her to Nairobi with national newspaper, the Guardian, where she met secretary-general of the UN, Ban-Ki Moon

“It was quite amazing to meet him,” she said.

“Hopefully him speaking out about it will encourage individuals to take notice and follow it up with action and enforcement of the law.”

To help fund the rescue centre visit

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Privileged to meet Ban Ki Moon yesterday at UNHQ at launch of Guardian and UNFPA global media campaign to end FGM within a generation. The UN Secretary General is passionate and committed to ending this torture. The conference was unanimous in declaring FGM a gross violation of the human rights of the girl child.

Grateful thanks to Maggie O’Kane, Executive director (I think) at Guardian media for inviting Domtila Chesang and I to attend this important event.

It feels that our small but highly effective group in Pokot is finally getting recognition for our work.

Hopefully this will soon translate into much needed funds to build a rescue centre for girls to escape to and given shelter in case they are at risk of forced genital mutilation and subsequent early marriage.

To date we have empowered around 1000 girls to refuse FGM during our 5 Alternative Rite of Passage ceremonies in central Pokot county.

As we reach out to people in more remote areas where virtually no FGM sentisation has ever taken place we are finding more girls at high risk of FGM which makes our rescue centre needed more urgently.

This website is due for a “facelift”! Bear with us in the meantime.

May I suggest if you haven’t already seen the Guardian film “Abandon the Knife”, then please Google and watch on you tube. It’s a great film which demonstrates the model of Alternative Rite of Passage ceremonies that we have created and is proving very successful.

Please visit Beyond FGM Just Giving if you would like to contribute and help this vital and urgent work. Thanks a million.


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Greetings all and huge apologies for lateness of update, multifarious excuses!

We are trying to build a new website which seems to keep crashing hence back to the old site for now to let everyone know our progress to date and future plans.

I will post pictures on Face book page whilst awaiting access to new website.

Last December we held our 4th Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP) ceremony in Ortum where we have been working these past 5 or so years with around 200 girls saying NO to FGM. I am delighted to report our 1st ARP in a new more remote village, Lomut,  where there is high prevalence of FGM. This brings the total number of girls saved from FGM to 1000!

We were welcomed with open arms in Lomut. People were so grateful that we came to their village and said they have been waiting for someone to come help stop this awful practice.

I am planning to return to Pokot in September to try to extend our successful programme to another area. I will then go again in December to help with the ARP ceremonies. We are going from strength to strength and are confident of continued success.

Please visit Face book page for details of future activities and how to get involved and please bear with us as we continue to build a new permanent website.

We shall be starting fund raising in earnest any time soon. We have a sponsored Coast to Coast cycle ride planned in June with 12 midwives and friends taking part. Anyone is most welcome to join us but would have to book their own accommodation on the way. Please refer to Facebook for more details and anyone feel free to organise a fund raiser however big or small. Every little helps and this is a team effort.

Thanks for reading this, your interest, concern and support in helping to save more girls in Africa from this torture, as Amnesty have declared FGM to be.  This is a global issue that needs to be abolished ASAP!


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I returned from Pokot just before last Xmas following our 3rd.hugely successful “Alternative Rite of Passage” (ARP) ceremony.

Over 200 girls participated in a week long camp of seminars, workshops and education on the ill effects of female genital mutilation (FGM) and the importance of remaining at school.

This brings the total no. of girls to have participated in our programme of ARP ceremonies to over 600!

Follow up with the self-help group/C.B.O., Kepsteno Rotwo (abandon the knife), last June, revealed that of these only 6 girls were subsequently subjected to FGM. I should add that was follow up from 2010 and 2011. We are confident of similar success from last years’ girls.

Our programme is going from strength to strength with research and training of tribal midwives/circumcisers ongoing.

Wtach this space for pictures and video clips from last December’s ARP ceremony………

Thank you so much to all new members and supporters. I am a firm believer in team work. We could never have achieved what we have, saving over 600 girls from FGM, without each other!

Thanks to all the new offers of help, desperately needed!

Latest news from UK side, a meeting was held between myself, student midwife Ruth Davies and Lancaster M.P. Eric Ollerenshaw who is on the anti FGM all party committee yesterday.

Eric is going to arrange for us to meet Lynne Featherstone, UK international development secretary who is spear-heading efforts to abandon FGM.

We hope for funding to sustain our programme and to intensify throughout Pokot and beyond.

Thanks everyone, Cath

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My most recent visit to Pokot, Kenya was in June earlier this year. I and midwifery student Ruth (university of Cumbria) spent a day with members of “Kepsteno Rotwo” (abandon the knife in Pokot language), the self help group who are mobilising their community to abandon this awful practice. Group members comprise largely Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) some of whom were also circumcisers in the past but because of our awareness raising campaign have now abandoned the practice.

We had requested follow-up of the girls for monitoring and evaluation of our efforts thus far. We were informed by the group that altogether over the last 2 years 414 girls participated in our “Alternative Rite of Passage” (ARP) ceremonies. Of these only 4 girls were subsequently subjected to FGM. The majority of the girls are still at school and some even attending secondary school. One girl in particular, Nancy who attended the first ARP and features in the Guardian film is now in secondary school and is a good role model for the younger girls.

Miriam, Matron of Ortum Mission hospital in Pokot, reported that there had been no acute admissions at the hospital this year related to FGM.

All the group members agree that FGM is definitely on the wane.

Mary, the Chairlady, reported on the support of the District Commissioner. He has recognised and supported the group and requested that they represent the county on the issue of FGM. He sees FGM as relevant to many other issues dropout, early/forced marriage, early childbearing and overall lack of development. He has asked the group to work with the Children’s Rights Officer.

We are now fund raising again in earnest for this year’s ARP in December. This is traditionally the danger time for FGM.

A sponsored walk is planned, a triathlon and a comedy night in November (fingers crossed the comedian comes up trumps! No it’s not Mr. Methane!)

If anyone fancies doing some fun d raising that would be greatly appreciated. We can all play a part in making the world a better place without the horror of FGM! It’s great to be involved in something so worthwhile that is having such a positive effect. This is very much a team effort and thanks to everyone who is supporting that effort.

Lastly if you have not already watched the Guardian film, “Abandon the Knife” (also entitled “I will never be cut”), then may I recommend doing so. It is an inspirational, award winning documentary following the journey of 2 young Pokot girls who are refusing FGM. The film gives one much insight into the difficulties faced by communities who are locked into ancient customs and traditions when they have not been reached with education and enlightenment; a symptom of poverty and marginilisation!


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Report of our 2nd. ARP, held in December 2011 in Ortum, Central Pokot.

I am happy to report another hugely successful week of seminars and a brilliant ceremony on December 10th. I have posted a couple of video clips and will shortly post photos.

!82 girls participated with around 60 of 2010’s girls joining towards the end of the week bringing the total number to 250!

We mostly followed our first ARP programme with some changes brought in after evaluation in 2010. This was mainly by including men in the programme. We invited 8 young Pokot men who spent a day taking the platform and discussing quite frankly with the girls issues surrounding FGM. The young men were all aware of the negative health consequences of FGM, also that FGM is illegal in Kenya. Some of the young men joined in the final celebrations. This consitutes great progress!

More evidence of progress and really good news is the new District Commissioner (D.C.) who spent a day with the girls counselling them, explaining about the law etc. He gave out his personal phone no. and encouraged the girls to call him any time day or night if they were in any danger, particularly being forced into having FGM performed. The D.C. invited us to hold our ceremony at the Chief’s compound in the centre of the village rather than at the girls’ school. He said we must take this message out to the general public. D.C. was the last person to speak on the day even speaking as night fell. In his words, “We have declared war on FGM”. The new D.C., Hon.Arap Kurui, is truly a great and enlightened leader!

If you have not already seen the Guardian film “Abandon the Knife”, can I recommend doing so. It provides great insight into this out-moded, dangerous and cruel practice and how difficult it can be for commun ities to abandon without extra help. You can also see in the film how desperate and eager the young women and girls are for change.

We are about to become a registered charity any day now which should make our fund raising easier. With more resources we would be able to spread the campaign message further afield throughout Pokot.


Teenage Pokot girl at “Alternative” ceremony

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I travel to Kenya on Nov.24th with one of my UK midwifery colleagues, Sue Knowles.

We are planning a second “Alternative Rite of Passage” ceremony in early December following last year’s success. Follow-up by “Kepsteno Rotwo” (abandon the knife) group members, found that of 175 girls who attended last year’s ceremony, only 3 girls subsequently went to be circumcised. Obviously this is 3 too many but overall a huge success.

We had lots of fun at a recent fund raiser in my home town of Grange-over-Sands with top radio 4 comedian, Jeremy Hardy. This along with other fund raising events helps enormously to assist our Kenyan project to abandon FGM. Thanks for continuing support. This is a team effort!

More later……

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Latest news from “Beyond FGM”;

Please watch out for Guardian film made last December about “Alternative Rite of Passage” ceremony in Pokot, Kenya where our project is currently based. This film has been “adopted” by Christian Aid as part of a series of 6 films looking at root causes and symptoms of poverty. It comes out on April 18th. We will however post it on our website and facebook page.

The “Alternative” ceremony was hugely successful as shows in the film. 175 girls participated in a week of seminars culminating in day of celebration with songs, dances, drama, poems, speeches! Truly wonderful! Thanks again to everyone who helped in any way big osr small to make it such a success.

Another major success followed on from December’s “Alternative” ceremony. 2000 people turned out in the village of Ortum, Central Pokot to celebrate “International Zero Tolerance to FGM” day on Feb.6th this year.! People are so ready to change and just need support to spread the word around their communities.

The “Self Help” group in the film has now become a community based organisation, (CBO). The membership has grown rapidly and is forming into smaller groups to reach further afield in Pokot. The prevalence of FGM remains very high in the remoter, more rural areas where education has not yet reached. A problem of marginalisation and poverty!