Kate Cummings

Kate Cummings (Vital Voices in Kenya): Kate was born in the North Carolina mountains, and received her BFA in photography at Sewanee (The University of the South) in 2004. Kate co-founded a meditation group at the Hampshire County Jail in North Carolina where she led meditation sessions with inmates each week. Upon graduation, Kate was awarded the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. This allowed her to spend a year photographing in India, Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand, and France. During this year, she photographed Zen Master and international peacemaker Thich Nhat Hanh's first return to Vietnam since his exile 39 years before. Her images were published internationally. She returned to Vietnam in 2007 with Nhat Hanh and his International Peace Delegation to photograph healing ceremonies. Kate moved to western Massachusetts and began teaching photography to at-risk girls. At the time of her fellowship, Kate was studying for her master’s degree at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston. After her fellowship, Kate wrote: “Best experience? This is an impossible question! I think, that by spending so much time with Kenyans in their homes and families and in the community setting… I gained a deep understanding of their successes and their significant challenges...I look at myself now as having the potential to be as strong and caring as the amazing women I met in Kenya.”

Refusing Tradition

19 Jul

Umoja Uaso breaks the rules in many ways – they do not rely on men, they are the sole providers for their families, their priorities are on educating all of their children – girls, you’re in – and they are refusing to perform female genital mutilation (FGM) on their daughters.  This last act of revolution is even more impacting once you’ve heard Rebeeca,Umoja’s chief, describe the violence of FGM.  This coming-of-age ritual in African societies is a controversial topic- unquestionably a human rights violation! activists shout; you are trying to kill our culture! tribal leaders and many mothers bite back.

It is, certainly, life-changing; not just once, but over and over the effects of this ceremony will influence the course of a woman’s life.  All of the women living at Umoja have gone through FGM, and all of them are refusing to do it to their girls.  No one will marry your daughters, the local Samburu women warn them.  But Umoja mothers are unwavering.  Their daughters will live different lives, unfettered by traditions that have previously kept women on the edges of possibility.  The following interview with Rebecca demonstrates Umoja’s commitment to tradition that honors, without taking away from, a girl’s future.


Rebecca Lolosoli discusses FGM and her village’s refusal of the ritual

Posted By Kate Cummings

Posted Jul 19th, 2009


  • Brady Rhodes

    October 20, 2010


    Hello Kate – thank you for posting this. We are beginning a program, funded by the US State Dept, with a small group of male and female Samburu students that are going to school in Wamba – any chance Rebecca’s village is near there? We would also like to find a way to contact her or others who are working on women’s rights and FGM. The group we work with will be flying to the U.S. – to Colorado and D.C. – for a 4 week program focusing on leadership, civic engagement, social entrepreneurship, etc. Will be a wild deal for this group, clearly. I know the contact availability may be moot, but if you have other information or ideas for us to integrate some of this into our programming, please let me know –

    All the best and thank you again for posting – Brady

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