What you need to know:
- Sarah Sori Abdub expresses her thoughts, emotions and dark reality of abuse through her artwork.
- She advises survivors of gender-based violence to pursue their dreams, no matter the challenges.
Sarah Sori Abdub was in Class Eight when she noticed something strange on her body.
Then at a school in Laisamis, Marsabit County, while in the company of other girls, she discovered that she had undergone female genital mutilation (FGM).
“I was 13 years old and had just returned from a school in Embu where I was transferred to while in Class Four. Girls at the school kept bragging how they had undergone the cut. I was devastated on realising that I too was a victim,” she recalls.
World Health Organization describes FGM as the partial or total removal of female external genitalia or injury to the genitalia for non-medical reasons. The procedure can cause bleeding, infections, complications during childbirth and an increased risk of newborn death.
Communities that practice FGM consider it a way to prepare girls for adulthood and marriage, with those who have not undergone the cut facing rejection and being seen as outcasts.
Sarah was subjected to the outlawed practice while living with her grandmother, who raised her from as young as two months old when her mother took her there.
Frustrated for having undergone the harmful practice while in the hands of a close relative who should have nurtured and protected her from any harm, the 24-year-old started living in isolation out of denial.
“I demanded answers at one time on learning the risks I had been exposed to, but I was told that I should be grateful that I was getting the basic needs,” she says.
“My grandmother told me that for one to be accepted socially, the ‘foreign stuff’ had to be removed.”
Like other pastoralist women who have no authority to question anything or express their feelings about an issue, Sarah too chose to stay mum so as not to be seen as disrespecting her mother and grandmother.
She recalls how, while at Moi Forces Girls School in Nakuru County, she used to skip lessons and spend hours crying at the playfield to relieve herself of the emotional baggage.
“I believed then that when one cried uncontrollably, God would hear and answer their prayers,” Sarah told the Nation during a recent interview.
She got some relief after sharing the ordeal with one of the teachers.
While at the school, she was able to nurture her drawing skills which she discovered while in Class Six, by taking the Arts and Design subject.
Having been detached from her parents in childhood, Sarah had one time while in Class Six drawn a picture of a young girl with tears falling down her cheeks.
It is while pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Health Records and Information Management at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) as a government-sponsored student that psychological trauma had a toll on her.
She had developed an interest in reading novels to beat stigma but was forced to sell them to buy food after sleeping on an empty stomach for several days.
Sarah developed seizures during one of the holidays and was rushed to the hospital late in the night where doctors discovered that she was almost sinking into depression.
“I lost five kilogrammes at the time. I could not eat and survived on fluids for two weeks. I was advised to stop stressing myself up, but could that have been easy?” she posed.
“My aunt encouraged me to stay positive because I could not change the things that had made me become bitter with life”.
Unknown to her, art would save her from depression.
Also Read: Why West Pokot girls choose to undergo FGM
With increasing idleness due to few lectures at the university, Sarah had to quickly devise ways of staying engaged for proper mental health, with art offering her a lifeline.
Sarah finally got a way to express her thoughts, emotions and dark reality of abuse through her artwork, granting her some peace of mind.
“I was able to explore my creativity and express emotions where words would not suffice, which helped me beat the stigma,” she says.
The FGM survivor was also able to express how she felt towards her mother, something she would not have dared verbally, through a drawing.
“I did a picture of our family roses in a vase where one of them was dark to represent my mother and how bad I felt about the experience I had as a young innocent girl,” Sarah said, adding that the artwork communicated to her mother.
She felt she might not have been subjected to FGM if her mother had been available but has over time changed her perception towards her mother, whom she appreciates for working hard to provide for her and her two siblings and supporting their education.
In the beginning, her artworks were mere decorations in her rented house in campus but later went commercial.
“I started selling some of my unique works to students and lecturers while in my second year before later trying out the outside market”.
She was at some point contracted by an entrepreneur to draw unique surreal human figures for Sh1,000 per piece, a task she undertook for a month.
During the engagement, she was able to learn where to get high-quality drawing materials and immediately set off recording her artwork from beginning to end and showcasing the end product on social media platforms.
“After some time, I started getting jobs and random interviews, making me able to take care of my needs,” said Sarah, who currently lives with her mother in Kambi Garba, Isiolo County.
She even bagged a prize for an art competition held at the Isiolo youth innovation centre in September last year.
Also Read: End FGM to free girl child
The Girl Generation’s Survivor Leadership Training being implemented in Isiolo, Kajiado and Narok counties and funded by the UK government transformed Sarah’s life and mental health, offering her a platform to share her experiences.
Under the programme’s mother-daughter component, FGM survivors interact with each other through a series of therapeutic activities, all meant to make them stay positive about life.
“I pay Sh100 fare every Saturday to go for the sessions that also include Yoga classes at the youth innovation centre. Besides sharing our experiences, we cry out our pain to offload the mental baggage,” she said.
The survivors also have an opportunity to listen to the perspective of those they feel failed in their responsibility through neglect or deliberately exposed them to GBV and reconcile as part of the healing process.
Following the sessions, Sarah’s relationship with her mother has improved.
“My grandmother might have thought it was the best thing to do and I cannot blame them. I still believe the story would have been different if I was raised by my mother but she tried her best to make us comfortable,” she said.
“I have gotten my purpose and life is slowly gaining a meaning after realising that being angry with things I cannot change would only drain me emotionally. I now care about them even though they hurt me.”
More than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, with an estimated three million girls at risk of being subjected to FGM, annually according to WHO.
Gender roles requiring women to be submissive to their husbands, portraying men in control and with the right to discipline women are among the beliefs that perpetuate violence against girls and women.
Sarah seeks to use her art in the campaign against GBV by raising awareness about the human rights violations and being the voice for girls and women who cannot share their ugly stories.
“I want to encourage them not to burden themselves with thoughts but speak out because sharing is part of the healing process,” Sarah noted.
She advocates for women to be given space to make their own decisions. “We want to see women being respected like men and exposed to opportunities for economic empowerment. People must embrace change.”
Sarah earns up to Sh40, 000 during a good month and Sh15, 000 during a bad one, with her portraits selling at Sh4, 000 upwards depending on size.
“The artwork has granted me some recognition and helped me receive orders from across the country,” she said, adding that she showcases her work mostly on Tiktok.
A lover of fashion, she says culture should not limit women from taking jobs that have been a preserve of men.
Sarah is happy she is pursuing her passion and says nothing is worth ruining anyone’s peace of mind.
“You choose what you want and no matter how difficult that could be, keep trying. I managed and they too can,” she encourages GBV survivors.