Eighty girls wearing orange shirts hold candles aloft at the St. Charles Lwanga Parish, the flames shining in their eyes. After a week of lectures and seminars, these 80 girls are announcing to their families, their church, and the world: We are the light that will shine across Kenya, we will not undergo female genital mutilation.
The girls, from villages northwest of Nairobi, are participating in a Christian Right of Passage, an alternative to female genital mutilation organized by Sr. Ephigenia Gachiri. The Loreto sister has been crisscrossing the country in her bright yellow car for the past 16 years, bringing her message to the most remote corners of Kenya: God made you beautiful, don't ruin his creation with female circumcision.
But she soon realized that while it's important to educate parents, teachers, and the girls themselves about the dangers of the cutting, education is only half the battle. In order to completely stop the practice, there must be an alternative ceremony to help girls gain the cultural maturity that the FGM ceremony provides without the dangers of the actual procedure.
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