Guest at Shelter City Zwolle in 2018
Rose Orguba is the chairwoman and founder of Feiyah Action Network (FAN). FAN works with different communities in Northern Kenya, with the mission to change their mentalities on Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C), child marriage, and child beading. While these practices are prohibited by law, they are usually not actively persecuted.
Rose belongs to one of these communities herself. Her work started in 2004 when a young girl who was about to be married approached her for help. Rose prevented this by reporting her case to the police.
From then on, more girls approached and Rose’s dedication to the topic grew. But while the impact of her hard work increased, the dangers she faced did so too.
Rose was our guest in 2018 and left a lasting impression on our community.
Almost three years later, we meet her again to reflect on her experience with Shelter City and hear about how she is doing.
Rose, why did you decide to join the Shelter City programme?
I was introduced to the Shelter City programme by the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders. It usually consists of Defenders who underwent some kind of trauma, and I was one of them because I had some issues at home. I had reported a child, and the community wanted to beat me. So I ran to Nairobi and the coalition gave me a place to hide. Then they chose me for joining Shelter City, to come, rest and forget these problems.
How did you experience your time in Zwolle?
The whole place was good. And most of all, the people were so good. I felt like it was a different world. The best thing was the first day because at the airport, two people waited to take me, and they were very welcoming. When I arrived at my house in Zwolle, some students were there. This made me feel at home.
This is important because back at home, when you go rescue children, you fight against the community. The people you are working for reject you because you are fighting their norms and beliefs. So when you go somewhere where people accept what you are doing, it gives you some peace of mind. It gives you some feeling that is really strange, but good. This is what felt: there are people who are waiting for me. And they are preparing a house for me, and they are accepting me.
After you came back from Zwolle, did your work change? If so, how?
My work did change very quickly. When I came back, my friends, who I had been working with, pushed me aside because I had gone alone. We had been a group of women working together, but the coalition had taken just me. Thus they felt like I was the only one being recognised. But at the end of the day, we came back together. I told them that I was chosen because I was the one leading the group and that next time, we would send somebody else. We reached the consensus that this choice had been random. I was just the lucky one.
How did your time in Zwolle affect you and your work otherwise?
My stay in Zwolle improved my work. Especially the security training that Justice and Peace gave us was very helpful because there were lots of things we did not know before. We were just working. When there is that child that you need to go to and rescue, you don’t think about yourself. You just go rescuing without any measures. So the training sessions really taught me a lot.
Did you face any challenges while being in Zwolle?
Staying in close contact with my home was very difficult. In my village, we do not have stable internet; we have to buy data bundles. So most of the time, the communication was hard. These were the only times I felt down because I could not talk to my friends, and especially my children.
It has been three years since you came back from Zwolle. What were the biggest developments in your work during this period?
When I came back to Kenya, we looked for new ways to serve the girls. The best thing we did was to create a football league for the girls from all the villages. This way we could engage their minds so that they did not have to think of the marriages and the circumcisions. And by calling them to play, we could reach many more of them. There were still a few setbacks though, for example, that we do not have football uniforms for them. We were in the process of organising some, but then the pandemic came.
What did the COVID-19 pandemic change?
Covid deteriorated everything. During the pandemic, the number of cases rose. There have been a lot of early marriages. A lot, and most of them are unreported. This is because when you go to the police station and report a child, it cannot be rescued. The rescue centers do not accept it; because of the Covid protocol, they do not take new cases. This means that we cannot do our work. You can try to help, but you don’t reach anything. At the end of the day, the child is married. At the end of the day, the girl is circumcised.
The police do not even allow us to play football. Forbidding us to gather the girls made our job more hectic because it meant we had to go to their houses one by one. The problem is that this way, you cannot reach everyone. But if you do more, you are getting into trouble with the police. And you do not want to be on the wrong side of them. Because then, next time you report a case, they will tell you that you are a lawbreaker and they won’t help you.
During the whole last year and this year, we only saved two girls. And we brought these two to our own homes, which was a risk. All the others are married and some are circumcised. Last Wednesday, when you and I planned to meet originally, I didn’t come because I had to rescue a 9-year-old girl. We rushed to her village with motorcycles but were not successful. When we arrived, she was already married. It’s hard.
What drives you to continue?
What drives you is when these children come to your place to tell you what is happening. You cannot resist, and suddenly meet yourself rushing to your friend’s house to see what you can do for this child. It happens all the time; you want to stop, but you can’t. These children come to you crying. Some of them have hidden in the forest for two or three days, without food but just a bit of water. In this situation, you don’t know what to do. You want to punish everyone who is associated with this child. But you can’t, so you just look for the best way of rescuing the child.
I have tried to stop because my work sometimes brings problems to my children. But at the end of the day, I’m doing it, even if I don’t want to.
I think it is something deeper inside which makes you want to do it again. Your head tells you not to do it, but your heart tells you something different. It tells you: maybe I am the last hope, the last option she has. This is just what I feel. I don’t know what makes me do it.
Where do you think you and FAN will be in ten years?
Currently, FAN is waning because some members are really fretted away. They are occupied with their own lives, which the pandemic made more difficult. Food prices are short, so everyone is running to look for food for their family. These members do not have time, so there are only eight active women now.
But I am going into politics. In 2022, there will be elections and I am vying for a seat as a member of the County Assembly. I want to go there to change our policies, to rescue the girls not from outside the government, but from inside. If I win, I can change the lives of children from my place. More than that, the lives of women in my community will change.
So I am hopeful that I will win and that FAN will revive again. But even if I don’t win, FAN will continue because we will keep rescuing the children. We will keep trying to make their parents understand that girls and boys are the same and can be given equal opportunities; and that a woman is also a human being, and should not be treated as less.
As you know, Windesheim Honours College aims to educate and inspire students to make positive changes. You had a big impact on many of us while you stayed in Zwolle. Is there anything you would like to say to our students or anyone else who wants to fight for Human Rights?
Human Rights is something that is in the heart. It is something that you feel, something instinct. And I think it is kind of a calling because as I told you, sometimes you do it without wanting to. The students need to get the feeling because when you have it, it drives your fear away completely. So this is what they should do. They should look for the feeling of being a Human Rights Defender.
Interview via Zoom on 21st May 2021, led by Leona Klein
FAN is still in strong need of support. Currently, they are looking for football uniforms for the girls. You can help by making a financial donation or gifting (used) uniforms.
To learn more about their work, visit Feiyah Action Network | Marsabit County | Girls' Rights
If you want to support Rose, please reach out to Shelter City Zwolle via firstname.lastname@example.org.