19 June 2013

Spring update from 28 Too Many Executive Director, Ann-Marie Wilson

Dear Friends

28 Too Many celebrates being 1 year old!

It seems extraordinary that a year ago I had 1 volunteer intern, no funding and a dream!  A year on, we have raised £55k, over 20 volunteers and have celebrated the launch of our new website/portal, first pilot country profile for Kenya and our charity being established with a Board and growing infrastructure!  More to share in our next update!

Significant Spring dates

February and March are special months for our FGM work as we marked International Day of Zero Tolerance of FGM on 6th February with a week of activity – a radio broadcast on UCB Radio, a TV appearance on Ben TV, a great magazine article in Liberti magazine, blogs for Tearfund and the Huff Post and involvement in web events and the growing media interest around FGM. Only a week later we ‘danced’, met MPs Stella Creasy and Yvette Cooper to celebrate V Day – with a couple of blogs on One Billion Rising UK website.  All too soon it was time for our 40 Day Lent Campaign – covering International Women’s Day and my trip to the US.

Bags packed and off to the UN

Within another 2 weeks we pulled together as a 28 Too Many team for me to fly to the UN Commission on the Status of Women’ 2 week event in New York (UN Pic) to deliver two talks on FGM and Harmful Traditional Practice with support from Tearfund, my Inspired Individual scholarship and the We Will Speak Out consortium (that I’ve been part of since meeting in South Africa and Switzerland last year). (CSW Pic).

Apart from my two talks, I attended events from 8am to 10pm daily for 8 days – including the Opening Session with nearly 200 country representatives; three events hosted by Lynne Featherstone and the Gender Equality Office; Foreign & Commonwealth Office and NGO Sector daily briefings; and many specialist talks on Violence against Women & Girls (VAWG).  It was special to celebrate Intentional Women’s Day in New York with over 6000  women!

‘Unexpected’ events included speaking on behalf of the UK at a European FGM Event where the UK speaker was unable to attend (at 30  minutes’ notice!) and ‘representing’ the UK at a UN Aids Conference where the UK and France were unable to attend – so I was given the seat of Her Excellency Madam ….and met the Deputy Prime Minster of Zimbabwe over coffee!  Very surreal, and probably will never happen again in my life!

Twelve events – 1800 attendees!

This Spring we have had the chance to speak on FGM to many diverse audiences – from a mixed Girls High School Sixth Form (Camden Girls School Pic) to a themed Lent reflection in Sussex; to share in the launch of a Flight across Africa (where we are to be a beneficiary charity) to Church groups in Essex and Northampton.

We were also delighted to speak at a New Wine Youth Leaders Conference (where the leaders ranged from 12-70 years!) and to 1100 women at New Wine Women.  It was here, one year ago, that we were given £9000 which became the seed funding to start our charity.  Three of us raised our new banner, taking enquiries from over 100 people and speaking to hundreds more – from 8am – 5pm!  We also had a chance to say Thank You to the 600 women there last year who helped us birth 28 Too many!

Running 28 Too Many

We are often asked what we ‘do’ – and our roles are rich and diverse!  With four of us managing fundraising & volunteers; communications & governance; research, and donors/events….we are never bored!  We work remotely but meet as a management team monthly – and have also moved our Board meeting to CARE’s offices in Westminster – better than round my kitchen table!

We worked on our new website, collating photographs; writing copy; preparing our pilot Research Report and country summaries for the May launch.  We were also delighted to receive two significant donations – enough to run the charity for three months.  This helped us end our first year end accounts in the black!

We are also privileged to have been researching in Kenya, Uganda and Mali these last three months, and have commissioned research in Tanzania, whilst doing secondary research in Ethiopia.  This occupies a team of around 12 volunteers and we hope to show you the results of their work soon! Meanwhile, we have chosen the next six countries to research in 2013-14, being four in West Africa and two in East Africa.

We were pleased to see the BBC tackle FGM in the two episodes ‘Casualty’ special – and sat glued to the TV, trying to tweet at the same time!  This came just before we were asked by Baroness Cox to help her prepare for a challenging mini debate in the House of Lords – where seven questions were asked.  (Pic House of Lords) As it was the first day back from the Easter recess, I was excited to see the mace brought into the Chamber  where we had reserved seats!  250 of us heard the debate live – and it was covered for 1.6m in a page of the Evening Standard 

Partnering with others

We are very pleased to have such experienced charities such as Tearfund and CMS to help us on our way!  I am still closely linked with Restored and receive supervision from their Chair, who also sits on our Board.  As I ceased my last two days of professional leadership ‘teaching’ at Guy Chester Centre, we are pleased to have their CEO also as a Trustee.  The end of a 20 year era of the HR consultancy was marked with my Financial Controller retiring, to be succeeded with a Finance Officer for 28 Too many.  Our other Trustee is Missions Pastor at St Barnabas Church, where I spoke before and after going the UN and helped as usual on hospitality on Good Friday before heading for the Lake District for a few days R&R!

Stories of FGM in the UK and Kenya

The Casualty episodes showed FGM in the UK – where we know it happens to communities in Bristol, Birmingham, London, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Leicester.

Women often write to and disclose their story and we have recently had three women share their stories.  Here is one:  ‘I came to the UK to escape my mother cutting me in Gambia.  My father and brother converted to Catholicism and I was fine until they died.  I’ve never married as no one will accept me ‘open’.  Now the government wants to send me back. I know I will be cut.  Can you help me?’

A ‘taster’ story from Kenya from our research soon to be published follows: ‘I was always looking forward to being like my elder sister, to become a woman.  Then we ‘settled' and went to school.  I learnt in the health club that getting cut can cause infections, and may lead to problems in having a babe.  One woman said she leaked all the time, and another told us all her babies died.  When my time came, I ran away and wouldn’t go home until my parents agreed not to cut me.  Now I’m a teacher and tell other girls they can be a woman without the cut’.  

Special appeal

As I have committed to 2 sponsored runs for 28 Too Many  – in July in London, and Coventry in September – I am in training with the usual dog walking and pounding Barnet’s hills!  Please do sponsor us

Otherwise, thanks to all who have offered financial support to me personally.  I am only £156 short per month – so do think about a monthly donation to my support.  Alternatively, you can support 28 Too Many via CMS, Just Giving, Stewardship, Text Giving or PayPal!  

A taster of things to come!

Do remember us as we have a busy few months…

19th June: Talk at St Barnabas Church on our visit to the UN

24th June: Presentation on FGM to the Assoication of Asian Women Lawyers

July: Launch of our Uganda Country Profile