Feb 9, 2021

Together against FGM

Many girls in sub-Sahara Africa grow up knowing that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is their foreland. FGM has lifelong repercussions for the women and girls who underwent it. It is not only a breach of the law, but a violence of their rights. That is why Terre des Hommes Netherlands stands up for these girls, specifically for girls in the Kuria community in Northern Tanzania.

Girls who refuse to be mutilated, face hard consequences in their families and communities. Their brave decision means they will be insulted, abused, socially excluded, thrown out of the house and in extreme circumstances even renounced. 

Debi (14): "I am regularly called out in public for not having been cut. When I was 9 years old, my father sent me to the cutting ceremony of my sisters. What I remember mostly is the profuse bleeding. This made me vow never to be mutilated.” 

Eunice (15): “Because I refused to be cut, I am as good as dead in the eyes of my father. Daughters of him are mutilated, or do not exist.”

Stefani (17): “My father’s clan is insisting that I should be mutilated and then married off.”

Debora (16): “My brother never wanted me to go to school. He wanted me to stay at home so that he could marry me off.”

Rose (17): “When I refused to be mutilated, my mother and grandmother locked me in a room and  began beating me up.”

Nice (15): “My brother renounced me when I refused to be mutilated. He told me to leave our home and forget I have a family. He also said that all my belongings would be burned.”

December 2020 cutting period: 473 girls rescued
Traditionally, the Kuria community mutilates their girls in the month of December, every other year as their ancestors dictate. In December 2020, 11 of the 12 clans inhabiting Tarime district, held their so-called cutting season. During this period, 473 girls were rescued and protected from FGM by Terre des Hommes Netherlands and partner ATFGM. These girls found temporary shelter in the Masanga rescue centre, their safe haven during the mutilation period.

Together with our partner ATFGM, in the past three years Terre des Hommes Netherlands has achieved:
> 1,516 Kuria girls have been rescued and protectedfrom FGM. They were given temporary shelter in the Masanga rescue centre so that they can avoid the ceremony and undergo an alternative rite of passage to adulthood.
> 724 children were able to continue their education with our support.
> 144 child rights clubs were set up and supported.
>165 children were trained and supported as peer educators, to sensitise their fellow children on the effects of FGM.
> 48 traditional leaders (Kuria elders) and 66 traditional mutilators (ngaribas) renounced FGM.

Oct 14, 2020

Project Update - October 2020

Thanks to your donation, we are seeing many vulnerable Cambodian children being provided with the immediate psychosocial and medical care they need following cases of trauma related to sexual exploitation in the travel and tourism industry. 

Thida is a 17-year-old girl in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province. She has seven siblings and lives with her parents. The family lives on farming however, the father has an extra job as a private school gardener and the mother is also a Khmer noodle seller. Despite the efforts of Thida’s parents, the family still has debts. Four of Thida’s siblings dropped out of school and became farmers. 

She was pressured by her mother, older brother, and sister to drop out of school so that she can support her parents to earn more income by farming. She cried and felt upset because she did not want to quit her studies.  

Thida was quiet and did not have the confidence to talk to a big group but she was still a clever student in class. 

Thida never heard about Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism (SECTT) before joining Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ WATCH (Working Actively Together for Children) project as a student volunteer. She frequently helped her mother sell products in tourist areas. While she did not realise that foreigners may not harm her and other children, she did not know how to protect herself and others. Thida was not aware of the grooming techniques used by offenders and how children who want to make money are particularly at risk. 

“I felt shy and did not want to talk much to friends. I was concerned only about my family's livelihood and my parents wanted me to drop out of school”. Thida added “I thought the tourists who came to visit Cambodia for good reasons and there was no sexual exploitation of children”.

TDH selected Thida’s school to receive awareness raising events regarding sexual exploitation. Her school is located in a hotspot area where children are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The aim of the WATCH project is to spread awareness about this issue by using children and youth volunteers to inform their community on how to protect themselves. 

At the end of July 2019, Thida and three other students were selected by their teacher to join the project. The teacher proposed to them to join because they have been brave, have high commitment, and a good reputation in school.  

Thida started with the project orientation in the following month. During the training, and awareness events at school, Thida has been an outstanding student (amongst a total of 24 WATCH’s school volunteers students). 

Throughout the project, Thida was involved in many trainings and workshops organized by TDH such as Training of Trainers on SECTT, communications for development, facilitation skills, and basic financing which played a key role in co-facilitating awareness raising events in school.

Thida even represented TDH at the event celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Child Rights Convention organized by the Joining Forces Network in November 2019. 

Thida learned very quickly how to positively influence her friends, family members, and other children in her community. Thida was offered the opportunity to do an activity and budget plan, and also lead pre-meeting with the team before the event happened. After every session, she and other volunteers reflected with the TDH team about their strengths, weaknesses, and shared how they could improve future events. Throughout the programme, Thida also learned how to make a video, write a story related to child rights, and develop posters for social media. 

Thida has led her team to replicate awareness raising activities in her school with various groups of students. The girl is a fast learner and the most standout volunteer among the schools in the province. Before the event, she always organized a pre-meeting with peers to divide roles and calculated budget for the events. After each event, she did a minute report to TDH project staff. 

When TDH´s field staff visited Thida’s home, they had a conversation with her parents. Her mother was pleased about her new found role in the community, “I am really happy to see my daughter become more courageous. I saw her and other children go to the training centers in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and saw them help children in the village after being trained”. Her mother was proud that she became a volunteer for a community project and she seemed positive to see her daughter become stronger, confident, and courageous. 

Recently, Thida became a member of the child council in her school and will continue the work she is doing through the WATCH project. She leads other students to organize school gardening, and gathers resources for helping poor students.

Thida said, “I am braver than before and I have helped my classmates learn about sexual exploitation while building good relationships with them. I am now capable of writing stories, developing messages through posters and photos, and making videos for social media to promote self-protection among children and their friends”.

She added, “I am very pleased to join the WATCH project and I have learned a lot about SECTT.  The WATCH project is helpful for children in school and community members because they gain knowledge and information on how to report to parents, teachers, local authorities and police about sexual exploitation in the community. It also gives the opportunity to teenagers to involve, build confidence and be a model for other kids in school and community as a whole.”

Thida looks forward to her future. She said, “My personal goal is to be a doctor to support myself and my family. Moreover, I want to continue helping other children and people in my community.” She added, “I feel optimistic about the future to see my environment safe where children have a better understanding of issues in their communities and how to protect themselves from it. I hope that the WATCH project will continue. I am committed to replicate the knowledge and experiences that I have gained in other schools and communities”.

Oct 12, 2020

Resisting the constant FGM pressure

It takes guts for a girl to refuse genital mutilation, as it is going against the wishes, traditions and norms of her parents as well as her community. The family of Rhobi (12) from Masanga, Tanzania has been trying to have her cut three times already - every time she was rescued just in time. What saved her, was the ability to recognise the signs of an upcoming FGM ceremony.

Domestic chores and farming

Rhobi grew up in a family where education for girls was not regarded as important. Like with many girls of the Kuria community, her parents considered her destination to be early marriage, right after she had undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Rhobi was always discouraged from attending classes. She never managed to go to school the full five days per week - at best she would make it two or three times a week. As the oldest girl in a family of eight, most days she was told to stay home and do domestic chores or farming activities during school hours.

FGM preparations

Despite her irregular school attendance, Rhobi learned one important lesson: the signs of FGM preparations. In October 2019, when she came home from school, she noticed that a FGM ceremony was about to happen. Knowing that she was the oldest girl in the household, even though she was only 11 years old at that time, she sensed that it was meant for her. Rhobi started planning her escape, making sure her parents would not suspect anything - and realising she had to be quick since FGM happens early in the morning. 

Courage to resist

“When the cutting season began in October 2019, my parents and other tribe members insisted that I should be mutilated and married off. They all turned against me. I felt abandoned, nobody loved and cared about me.”  For a girl from the Kuria community in Tanzania, resisting to be genitally mutilated is not just rebelling against her parents’ wishes. It is going against the prevailing cultural and social norms of her community, opposing traditions and everything she has been socialised on from an early age. It often leads to repudiation.

Kidnap and fake reconciliation

That same evening Rhobi escaped, she literally ran all the way to the safety of the ATFGM shelter. The shelter was to become her semi-permanent home, as her parents tried to force her into mutilation two more times. First they conspired with staff of Rhobi’s school to kidnap her in break time. Then, after accepting the girl back home in what seemed a successful reconciliation when the cutting season had ended, the man whom she had been promised to, lured her relatives with a higher bride price if Rhobi was mutilated.

Personal safety

In all instances Rhobi was rescued in time. Staying at home was no longer an option with a view to her personal safety. The girl moved back to the ATFGM rescue centre, where she still was during the Covid-19 outbreak in Tanzania. When the country re-opened schools in June 2020, Rhobi was transferred to the school sharing the compound with the ATFGM shelter, for extra safety. 

Peer educator & future social worker

“Now I am happy because there are people who care about my wellbeing.” Rhobi is using her personal experience to save other girls from similar threats. She has become a member of the child rights club in her school. As a peer educator she raises awareness on FGM among her school mates. In the future she wants to become a social worker. “When I grow up, I will utilise my education to support victims of child abuse and to provide services to the community especially those who are in need.”

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