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VALENTINE NKOYO

Human Rights Activist, Public Speaker, Advocate for education, FGM activist, Director of Mojatu Foundation and Founder of Nottingham Community FGM Steering Group and FGM Survivors Club.

Valentine in her massai clothing
"Our past painful experiences could be the gateway to inspire millions of individuals globally who are at the brink of losing hope! We all have something unique to offer to the world no matter how small and we do not need to be famous to make a difference!"

ABOUT ME

I’VE CRAWLED, I’VE STOOD STILL, I’VE WALKED, I’VE RUN AND I AM STILL MOVING



My name is Valentine Resiato Nkoyo.



I was born and brought up in a small Maasai village called Eor-Enkitok in Narok County in Kenya in 1984. Growing up as a young Maasai girl in a big polygamous family wasn't easy especially because I was not given equal opportunities as the rest of my siblings (especially brothers). I was constantly sent home to collect school fees and because my mother could not afford to pay for my fees, I spent a lot of time at home helping her to run the farm and other chores like walking for miles to fetch water and firewood while other children were in school. Each time I was sent home, people pushed me to get married as most of my friends were married off to older men at the age of about 13. I never lost hope because I believed God would make a way for me as I kept praying that I will be the one to save my family from poverty. I got involved in a lot of charity work in our local church believing the rewards for serving God were greater than the challenges I was facing.  

I did my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education first in 2007, then repeated in 2008 due to lack of fees. I stayed at home the whole of 2009 trying to look for money where I went from office to office but got no help. My elder brother convinced me to go back to class eight in 2000 for the third time after staying at home for a whole year. My classmates used to call me grandma when I went back as I was older than them.



My elder brother (Ledama) promised that he will pay for me to take a tailoring course after my studies because he was not in a position to afford secondary school fees. Unfortunately he passed away a few months later and this was such a big blow for me and my family. The fear of not knowing how the future will look like affected me so badly that at some point I felt like it was not worth living. I continued praying and I still had a very strong feeling that I had a call to change my own life and help others escape poverty. I was lucky to get some relatives committing to support me through my secondary education but they abandoned me two years before finishing my education.



I had to fight so hard to remain in education and at some point the frustrations pushed me to write a poem to my father in my mother tongue pleading with him to consider my education as I was a child like others. As a teenage girl, I was not allowed to speak to my father directly about certain sensitive things as I could only do so through my mother. I requested him to listen to me. This is the English version of the poem: 



Take me to school father

Take me to school father

So I may be like Elizabeth

Who drives the red car 

And who is always happy 

For was she not a girl like me?



Take me to school father

So I may not be like Naserian

Who has now five children

Strands of wire covered by skin

Is what they have for bodies

Skinny, scronny, skimpy

With teary eyes they gaze

Despairingly at their mother 

Who has naught to offer.



Take me to school father

 For those children haunt me

Will I end up like Naserian?

Whose husband whips her daily?

For is she not his sixth sheep?

And by the way

A present from a grateful age mate

Why was I born a girl?

To become a symbol of gratitude?



Take me to school father

You tell me I will deviate

And shame you with bad manners

Is rejecting an old man bad manner?

Is declining initiation bad manners?

Is planning my family bad manners?

Is dressing smartly bad manners?

Is being a girl child bad manners?



Take me to school now

For the symbol of labour

I detest!

The symbol of pleasure 

I detest!

The symbol of gratitude 

I detest!

The girl child is mouse no more

She is a tiger ready to fight for rights



After reciting the poem, we both broke down. He vowed to do his best to ensure I got the best out of education! He sold one of his biggest bulls so I could go back to school.

Unfortunately I lost my dad several months after he vowed to see me have the best education. I was very lucky to get a scholarship to finish my secondary education. This was a great achievement and I did so well and got admission letters to three good universities in Kenya. This little poem changed my life and it has continued to have a positive impact on my life and the lives of others.


Joining the university in Kenya was just but a dream after I finished my secondary education in 2004. Through the networks of friends (which included an Irish gentleman who saw my poem while attending a film festival in Belfast) I managed to join the university in September 2007 after trying for two years to raise funds for my education. 

After two years of my business course in Kenya, I felt I needed a challenge and I decided I needed a 6 months break from my course to study Creative Writing and Film making. This was due to my passion for writing and the fact that I believe in the power of words and images in solving most of the social issues facing society. The poem had already worked for me and I wanted to nurture my writing talent to be able to address things I felt were unfair in my community. Efforts to go to America for 6 months never materialised. During a conference I was presenting at in Nairobi, I met with staff from York St John University (including the then Deputy Vice Chancellor). They later offered me a six month scholarship to study Creative Writing and Film Making. At the age of 25, I needed to convince a panel of 7 village elders why I needed to travel to the UK given I didn’t have friends here and that I was also taking a break to study something different from my business course. They were also worried I will never go back home. I told them there was no other home I knew by then rather than my place of birth.

I didn’t have to go to that meeting or justify to anyone why I wanted to leave. I was the only woman allowed in that meeting but I went along as I needed their blessings and never wanted to be outcast in my own community. I got the blessings from them and came to the UK in January 2009. 6 months later, I returned home and started a project to help children through the primary school I went to in Eor-Enkitok village. Things changed so fast as I started getting visits from the same village elders who were questioning my intentions for travelling and most of them were asking for advise on how we could help the village.



Each stage of my education was full of challenges. I faced the challenges with courage and confidence knowing that there was light at the end of the tunnel as all I wanted was a brighter future for myself, my family and my community. I also felt I needed to prove what boys could do girls could do as well and this has continued to inspire me to do good for other people back home and here in the UK.


During the six months I was studying in York, I got involved in a lot of volunteering helping with raising funds for other students, raising the aspirations of young people in schools, working with the local media among other things. The university was impressed with my contribution and performance and awarded me a full scholarship to come back and finish my business degree. I came back to England in September 2009.


Graduating with a first class honours degree, winning different awards and getting a job with an overseas Non Governmental Organisation in the UK before graduating is beyond what I imaged I could achieve only five years ago! All the adversities I overcame made me stronger to keep fighting for what I wanted and believed in. Among the awards I have won over the past four years include:


My faith in God has continued to help me rise above adversities and land on opportunities that allow me to continue serving him, serve others and get inspired as I continue to personally grow. 



I’ve crawled, I’ve stood still, I’ve walked, I’ve run and I am still moving!

What is Female Genital Mutilation?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. However, more than 18% of all FGM is performed by health care providers, and the trend towards medicalisation is increasing.


FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.


Key facts
Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated (1).
FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.
FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.



Procedures
Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types.
Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are "the lips" that surround the vagina).
Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.


No health benefits, only harm
FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies.
Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.
Long-term consequences can include:
recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections;
cysts;
infertility;
an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths;
the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3 above) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.


Who is at risk?
Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women. In Africa, more than three million girls have been estimated to be at risk for FGM annually.
More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated (1).
The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these areas.


To protect a girl from FGM you can take any of the following actions:


Ring your local Social Services Department - your Town Hall will have the number
Ring your local Police Child Protection Unit
Ring the NSPCC




Cultural, religious and social causes
The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.
Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice.
FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman's libido and therefore believed to help her resist "illicit" sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3 above), the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage "illicit" sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and "beautiful" after removal of body parts that are considered "male" or "unclean".
Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination.
Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice.
In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.
In some societies, FGM is practised by new groups when they move into areas where the local population practice FGM.


International response
In December 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the elimination of female genital mutilation.
In 2010 WHO published a "Global strategy to stop health care providers from performing female genital mutilation" in collaboration with other key UN agencies and international organizations.
In 2008 WHO together with 9 other United Nations partners, issued a new statement on the elimination of FGM to support increased advocacy for the abandonment of FGM. The 2008 statement provides evidence collected over the past decade about the practice. It highlights the increased recognition of the human rights and legal dimensions of the problem and provides data on the frequency and scope of FGM. It also summarizes research about on why FGM continues, how to stop it, and its damaging effects on the health of women, girls and newborn babies.
The new statement builds on the original from 1997 that WHO issued together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Since 1997, great efforts have been made to counteract FGM, through research, work within communities, and changes in public policy. Progress at both international and local levels includes:
wider international involvement to stop FGM;
international monitoring bodies and resolutions that condemn the practice;
revised legal frameworks and growing political support to end FGM (this includes a law against FGM in 24 African countries, and in several states in two other countries, as well as 12 industrialized countries with migrant populations from FGM practicing countries);
in most countries, the prevalence of FGM has decreased, and an increasing number of women and men in practising communities support ending its practice.
Research shows that, if practicing communities themselves decide to abandon FGM, the practice can be eliminated very rapidly.
WHO response
In 2008, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution (WHA61.16) on the elimination of FGM, emphasizing the need for concerted action in all sectors - health, education, finance, justice and women's affairs.
WHO efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation focus on:
strengthening the health sector response: guidelines, training and policy to ensure that health professionals can provide medical care and counselling to girls and women living with FGM;
building evidence: generating knowledge about the causes and consequences of the practice, how to eliminate it, and how to care for those who have experienced FGM;
increasing advocacy: developing publications and advocacy tools for international, regional and local efforts to end FGM within a generation.
WHO is particularly concerned about the increasing trend for medically trained personnel to perform FGM. WHO strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures.
1. UNICEF. Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: a statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change, 2013.



MY WORK

MEDIA/PUBLICATIONS

Media


  • 2009/09/06: http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/features/features/4427221.Valentine___s_message/
  • 2011/25/03: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/from-a-maasai-village-to-university-life-in-yorkshire-1-3211641
  • 2010/29/06: http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/8192498.Valentine_Nkoyo_wins_award_for_fighting_for_her_education/
  • 2011/01/06:       https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/media/content-assets/schools/staff/documents/Yorktalk-Summer-2011.pdf
  • 2011/16/11: http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/9366080.Special_award_for_York_St_John_University_student/
  • 2015/02/12:            http://www.nottinghampost.com/firm-foundation-valentine/story-28277549-detail/story.html






EVENTS

Keep an eye out for future events.

"The pain you feel today is the strength you feel tomorrow. For every challenge encountered there is opportunity for growth." - Unknown
Massai women singing and dancing.

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