Umoja Village, Samburu County, Kenya – Rosalina Learpoora has always been surrounded by women.
At age 18, he lives in a village village in northern Kenya, where he spends his homework at home, gets fuel wood or beading colorful jewelry.
Learpoora has called Umoja home since she was 3. There, a group of 48 women live with their children in huts protected with thorny brushes to prevent intruders. When a man crosses, he informs the local police, who issues a warning or arrest of the perpetrator – depending on the number of offenses.
Since then, it has become a haven for welcoming women who have escaped abusive marriages, female genital mutilation, rape and other forms of attack. Even some women whose husbands have died have found comfort and home there.
She went to a village at the age of 3 years
Learpoora never met her father – she was told she died when she was 3. Terrified that her extended family would force her to undergo female genital mutilation, her mother pressed her to her back, and fled to Umoja, where she lived as part of a sisterhood after for 15 years.
Women from Umoja are all cultures of Samburu, an extremely patriarchal society that practices female genital mutilation and believes in polygamy.
It has been giving birth to women for generations, with the oldest resident in the village at the age of 98 and the youngest six months. Women of all ages escape, some with newborn babies.
When the boys who live with their mothers reach eighteen, they have to leave the village, says Learpoora.
In the village, traditional Samburu chalets are known as manyattas to provide landscaping. The sound of crunchy chickens and the giggling of children fill the air.
Like other women in the village, Learpoora and his mother live in a small fringe of wood, twigs and cow dung. Inside is the only light that comes from the fiery hot fire sparks docked by three great rocks.
In the evening, there are tiny, modular structures full of life, with joking women sitting around the fire to talk about their day as beans and corn are boiled in large pots.
"I grew up surrounded by so many women," says Learpoora. "It's like having different mothers around you."
Dance and purl
Outside the chalets, women sit on the mats to watch the children play. Sometimes they sing and dance on the traditional Samburu songs, their colorful ornaments and wraps move with the rhythm. At other times, circular necklaces are quietly made, which are a trademark among Samburu women who sell to make money for the community.
"When they sell necklaces, they give money to the village's matriarch, who then allocates food to each family based on the number of children per farm," says Learpoora. "Some of that money is also earmarked for education, especially for young girls."
In addition to selling jewelery, women earn income by running a campsite for tourists who go safaris to the nearby Samburu National Reserve. They also receive donations from world-renowned people who read about the village.
She wants girls to have a lot of choice
In a culture that does not believe in the teachings of women, Learpoora is one of the models that are in the village. She is in the 11th grade at a nearby high school and hopes to become a teacher.
"If I did not come here, I do not know what my life will be," he says. "I would probably have undergone female genital mutilation and married a second or third female older man, these women lifted me up, allowed me to be educated and resisted all those traditions."
Within the Samburu culture, young women are forced to bind elderly men as second or third wives in exchange for a dowry paid to their parents.
As times change and some of these practices slowly dwindle, Samburu remains one of the most beautiful and beautiful Kenyan cultures, making the village more anomaly.
Learpoora says that when she grew up, she wants to be a teacher and helps women fight this thinking.
"I want to teach girls that education is important that you do not have to undergo FGM because it is a tradition does not mean it should be," he says.
Learpoora attends a mixed high school where she says she learns to communicate with young men. He wants to marry in the future, he says.
"But her future husband will have to meet with many mothers and promise them he will not abuse," says Jane Lengope, one of Umoja's women. Learpoor's mother was out of town visiting relatives and unavailable.
The village is not always popular
While the village has empowered some women in the community, it also has its critics. Some people in nearby communities describe women as too radical and capitalist.
Lawas Lemoro, 25, says she does not believe that women live in one sex society. "They slip in the middle of the night to meet people or bring them to the village," he says. "Either or they use the story as a way to make money."
When asked if the men would arrive in the village, Learpoor and women would say no. The only men who try to come in are husbands looking for their wives, she says, and they are kicked out immediately.
What happens when women leave?
Faith Mwangi-Powell, Global Director of the Generation of the Nairobi Girls, says that while celebrating women for becoming champions of change, their approach to this issue is not addressed in wider communities.
"I think women are very brave and we need more courageous women and that is the only way for FGM to end – so we have to congratulate the Umoja village," he says. "But we have to find out how this change can cascade the whole community so that the girls who grew up in the village will remain safe when they leave the village."
Mwangi-Powell says that without a complete change of the village it provides only temporary relief.
"What will happen to them when they return to these communities? Are they preparing the girls for the outside world? We have seen girls rescued from FGM at an early age and when they marry [in] communities that practice female genital mutilation are forced to undergo FGM, and then they act against rescue and protection, "he says.
"The change must be holistic when it comes to abandoning communities through social change so everyone is safe no matter where they are."