12 June 2013

A life changing year researching FGM in Kenya and Uganda.

Blog by 28 Too Many researcher Kelly Denise.

I have had the privilege of working full time with 28 Too Many for about a year and it has been amazing. The people, the vision and the work have been inspiring. Being a part of a young organisation from the beginning has been an incredible experience as we navigate through the vision in real life and learn from our mistakes as well as seek advice from those who have been working in this field before us. 

I served as a researcher for Uganda and Kenya and found it challenging, intense, wonderful and beautiful every day. I had opportunities to meet with nationals, large corporate organisations and small women’s groups all working to end the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Each held a strong passion to maintain the importance of their culture but recognised that this piece needed to be removed. I believe their dedication will be rewarded as men, women and children begin to see this as well. 

I’d like to share a few specific stories which have had a permanent impact on me personally as well as those whom I believe deserve to be heard. Names and locations have been modified to maintain anonymity.

Lokie is in his mid 30’s. He is a father and husband and a shepherd. He is also a very talented musician. Years ago Lokie participated in the ceremony which would result in his younger sister being married. It was an exciting time for their family. The ceremony involved female genital mutilation. Lokie’s tribe had participated in this practice for centuries. No one had ever thought of not doing it. This day’s typical excitement turned to tragedy as Lokie watched his sister’s bleeding increase as the mutilator desperately tried to stop it. Lokie became worried and tried to stop the bleeding himself with his own hands. He was not successful. His sister died on that celebratory day. Lokie’s life was forever changed. He spends his days using his musical talent to sing about the dangers of FGM. His motivation and passion is personal. It drives his work and his life. I pray his dedication is rewarded through many others also deciding to refuse this tragedy.

Amethyst is a young woman of 24 years old. She is college educated and works as an intern for an anti-FGM organisation. She is not cut. We stayed over together during an alternative rites of passage ceremony and became friends. During our time together we had plenty of time for girl talk; hair, clothes, love and our future dreams were all discussed. Amethyst desperately wanted me to marry a man from her tribe. She felt this was the best option for me to have a happy life. She was unmarried but waiting for the right man in her tribe to request permission from her father. Amethyst informed me however that in order to marry a man from her tribe, I would need to be cut. Without a moment’s hesitation she told me that it ‘would be worth it to marry a man from her tribe’. She also stated that it was her desire to undergo the practice in order also that she would be eligible for marriage. Amethyst worked every day to inform girls of the dangers of FGM. Yet without any other option for marriage, she would choose to undergo the practice due to societal pressures. 

These two stories are molded into my heart. They remind me of the reason I do what I do. Both stories deserve to be heard. Both are equally important and equally horrifying. For me, they represent both what we are up against and why. We are working to bring about a change of heart, culture and society. This change will not come easily, nor will it come from us. I am a young, white, single, American woman and my background and culture is very different from those of the people I met during my time in Uganda and Kenya. Whilst I can be part of the movement to end FGM, this change will not come from me. This lasting change that 28 Too Many is working to achieve will come from the local organizations that they are helping to empower. The work I have done this past year has changed my life. I pray that as you read these stories and follow the work of 28 Too Many your heart is stirred to find the change you wish to see in this world. 28 Too Many has seen that change is possible. They have started the work. Will you help it to continue?

If you would like to be involved in helping to end FGM please donate to help 28 Too Many continue its research and work to eradicate the practice across Africa.