marvi lacar

Healing the Deepest Scars: Rescue and Rehabilitation of Maasai Girls Escaping Circumcision and Early Marriage

By Marvi Lacar

The Backstory...

Originally this project started like any other—with the pull to cover a story of import and urgency. So when my husband (on video) and I arrived at the safehouse for girls in Kenya, I expected to be sympathetic to those fighting against Female Genital Mutilation and early marriage. I wasn’t quite ready to be utterly enamored by the girls who, despite undergoing physical and emotional torment, kept their grace and dignity intact.

The girls gave my husband and I K’Maasai names, to which we were supposed to answer in their native dialect. They were so tickled by our accents that they kept on with this exchange at all hours of the day for the month that we stayed with them. They would gather around my husband at night, asking him about America and the world outside Narok. It’s like “dating,” and dressing your dogs in the winter, and spaghetti and Central Park. We weren’t as successful in our attempt to describe our world. However, with their willpower, their dignity and perpetual smiles, they were able to give us an idea of how great their possibilities could be.


This project documents the progress of some Maasai people's battle against female circumcision and early marriage through rescue, rehabilitation and tribal outreach programs. This work is part of a larger photo documentary on "Women in Poverty." Poverty is grimly linked to social mores that perpetuate gender bias resulting in a high number of women (nearly 70%) comprising the world's poor. In many societies of the world, girls and women have been traditionally denied of education and consequential participation in socio-economic exchanges. Among these customs and traditions are female circumcision and early marriage, practiced in many parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The Maasai tribe of Kenya considers female circumcision a rite of passage and a prerequisite to marriage. Girls undergo this rite from 8 to 15 years of age. Marriage, which brings in a significant dowry to the girl's family, follows shortly thereafter. Once married, girls quit school and attend to their wifely duties of keeping house and raising children.

In 2001, the Kenyan government passed the Children's Act, which protects the right of a child to receive an education, and issued a ban on what is now referred to as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriage (below 18 years). However, implementation of the law progresses very slowly in the rural and remote areas of the Rift Valley.

This is a story about the women and girls who believe that education, not dowry, could assure them of a better future. Although ostracized by the very communities they aim to preserve, they continue to challenge the status quo. By showing that they can remain respectful of their heritage while at the same time be educated and financially independent, they aim to influence their families and neighbors. Their efforts have gradually influenced their brothers, uncles, and fathers – the men – who have been traditionally anointed as the determinants of their fate.

Day's Japan 2008: Special Prize by Jury CENTER Project Competition 2008: Juror's Choice

I came to learn the story of the girls at the safehouse during a birthday party for an attorney friend of mine. Next to me at the dinner table was Alicia, who had been a volunteer at the safehouse during her time with Eve Ensler's VDay, one of the safehouse benefactors. Alicia spoke of the girls' courage when they decided to defy their fathers' decision to either circumcise or marry them to a much older man, their resilience after they have been shamed and ostracized by their family and community, and their steadfast determination to finish their education. I was fascinated. A few weeks later, I found myself interacting with the girls who were previously just characters in a story. I fell in love.

- Marvi's Bio
- Marvi's Site