Pamoja Tunakataa means ‘Together We Refuse’ in kiSwahili. I was awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship in 2013 to investigate whether using creative writing and dramatherapy could empower mothers to break the cycle of Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya. Paula Kingwill and I spent five weeks in Kenya (Paula’s participation was funded by the Wellcome Trust). We initially spent a few days with the applied theatre company S.A.F.E MAA, learning from the techniques that S.A.F.E MAA uses to open up discussion about abandoning FGM. After that we left for Narok in Central Kenya, to work with a group of women, all cut themselves, who have formed a collective to refuse to cut their daughters. Although they were almost all illiterate and with no English, by working in tandem with a translator, we were able to make a set of stories about the women’s lives, reflecting the experience of undergoing FGM but actively embracing refusal for one’s daughters.
Once the stories were ready, we worked with two young women actors, Sylviah Namusasi and Beryle Chebet, to make short plays from the testimony, finally travelling up to Maralal, a remote area of Northern Kenya where FGM is still universally practiced. We spent a week there working with mothers and daughters, running workshops which explored aspects of community life before showing the plays. Some of the plays were enacted in full but in the final play, the women were invited to make up alternative endings that the actors then improvised. The new endings were a firm rebuttal to FGM, and at the close of the project 22 mothers declared that they intended to refuse FGM for their daughters, standing together under a new motto ‘Heshima Kwa Wasichana Kutengeneza Wanawake Shujaa!’ (meaning in Swahili, Respect For Girls To Make Great Ladies!)