It all started when Helen Napono’s daughters reached the ages of 11, 13 and 15.
She felt it was time for them to be circumcised but there was no one to perform the rite so she decided to do it by herself.
Napono, 74, is a mother of three boys and three girls. She lives in Ololunga village, Narok County, and is a retired government nurse, having held the job for more than 20 years.
Her work as a circumciser started while she was still a nurse – when her daughters were due for the illegal rite of passage.
“Someone referred us to Mau, which is very far from here. Then I thought to myself: ‘Wait a minute. Aren’t I a nurse? Isn’t it a normal operation? Let me cut my daughters’,” she narrates.
“I told the senior doctor that the exercise with my daughters was a test and that he should assist me. He agreed. I mutilated them but everything was okay. They got healed.”
After successfully cutting her daughters, people started taking their children to Napono. The fact that she was a practising nurse at the time was a boost.
In 1996, the woman retired from her nursing job but this did not interfere with her other work – she had more time so circumcision became her full time job.
“I continued to cut girls at my home. Many people knew me as a doctor so they brought their daughters to me. At that time I wasn’t a believer,” she says.
Napono received more clients during December holidays when schools were closed.
To this mother, circumcision was not that well-paying but people appreciated her work with a few hundred shillings.
“I got paid only Sh500 per girl. That kind of work was not good. The money we got was in the name of washing stains of blood from our hands. When I was at the hospital, I used one sterilised blade and scissors, but when I went home, I bought my own tools,” she says.
Napono cannot remember the number of girls she circumcised.
“They were so many,” she ays. “You know with that title of a nurse, many believed in me. They didn’t want to deal with traditional circumcisers.”