Dear Global Givers
I am sorry to be contacting you so soon.
First of all you'll be both glad to know that the Safe House is receiving a lot more girls, but sorry that it is necessary.
By the time you receive this, 54 new girls will have arrived, mostly Maasai from districts quite a long way from Mugumu where the Safe House situated. A group of 22 who arrived last Sunday travelled in a single Land-Rover pick-up for 5 hours to reach safety. Not surprisingly, they were shattered and distressed, thirsty and in great need. Many had only a single garment without underwear and some had no shoes. It's the school holidays in Tanzania now, so parents feel it's safe to have their girls cut without any authorities knowing. Rhobi is rallying the local churches and mosques to provide additional food.
These girls are expected to stay for a month or so. It will be hard for the Safe House staff to monitor them when they go home. In Serengeti District, Rhobi and Sophia the Social Worker have a good system. Parents wanting to take their daughters home go with Rhobi or Sophia to the Police Station and sign an undertaking (which if breached can lead to imprisonment) not to carry out FGM or to subject their daughter to any physical violence. In Serengeti Rhobi and Sophia have volunteers in all the villages and they report back to the Safe House. None of last year's orders has been breached. But the new arrivals come from much further away where these networks don't exist. It's not going to be easy. You'll not be surprised to know that the resident girls at the Safe House gave the newcomers a very warm and kind welcome.
Demolition of he foundations of the new kitchen, dining room and the completed guest toilets
Now a correction: In the last report, I said that this impending demolition was due to a road being built for a new airport to serve the Grumeti Reserve. The manager of the luxury hotel in the Reserve says this is not true. In fact it is now a bit of a mystery, and there are quite conflicting accounts about why the road is being built where it is proposed. So we may have got this wrong, and if so I apologise. It doesn't alter the fact that the foundations of the Dining Room and Kitchen and the new guest toilets are to be demolished. This road will also adversely affect the nearby Parish Church and a hotel. So a great deal of extra expense will have to be incurred. It's such a pity that we could not have got a proper kitchen before we had all these extra mouths to feed.
Thank you once again for all your support.
“We live as a family and everyone is treated equally”, “I have gained a lot of self-confidence.”
What is it like at the Safe House? Here are Susan and Happiness to tell you:
Susan, is a smiling and cheerful girl. She showed great courage in escaping to the Safe House.
"I arrived at the Safe House in December 2014. I was the fourth girl to arrive. My parents wanted me to undergo FGM and get married young. My father is a fierce man so I couldn't say no to him. Instead I tried to escape but I was caught and he beat me. My mother told me the only thing to do was to escape again. I was helped by a friend of Sophia, our Social Worker here
A lot of things have changed since coming here. I have gained a lot of self-confidence. Now I can talk in front of more than one person in a group! I love life at the Safe House. I have learnt to live with people who have different backgrounds and habits.
I have learnt how to sew and embroider and also how to do batik and to make greeting cards and do fabric printing. In computers, I now know how to type, save files, make the print bold, change the font type and size. I am trying to concentrate on tailoring though. I like sports especially football."
Happiness is now a tall, self-confident young woman. But not when she arrived:
"When I arrived at the Safe House last year I knew nothing. Now I have learnt tailoring skills - how to make clothes and other items with our teachers. Like Susan, I have also learnt a lot about computers and I’m beginning to be quite confident. I’m learning cooking - I now know how to make cakes, roast fish and pilau rice thanks to our teachers. I have also been taught a lot about health and also about female hygiene, and the bad effects on women who undergo FGM which include Fistula, severe bleeding and very low self-esteem. We have also learned how to escape from other Gender Based Violence - physical and mental and sexual abuse, and economic deprivation.
Here at the Safe House we live as a family and everyone is treated equally. I share a bedroom with one other girl. Sometimes I miss my family. My dream is to become a clothes designer here in Mugumu and to teach other girls and members of the community how to sew.
There are a few challenges though: we need a fence around the compound because there has been an incident when people from my village came and mocked me for not undergoing FGM. I didn't like that. Also we need a new kitchen because at the moment when it rains everything gets wet."
American billionaire’s airport will destroy the foundations of the new kitchen, dining room and the completed guest toilets
By November 2014, the Safe House Construction was complete, the guest toilets built and the substantial foundations of the new Dining Room and kitchen had been constructed. Then, late last year, an American billionaire, founder of Tudor Investment Corporation and owner of the Grumeti Reserve in nearby Serengeti, concluded an agreement with the Tanzanian Government to build an airport in Mugumu to serve tourists going to his Lodge in the Reserve and other high-value destinations.You can find out more about this and follow the links at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serengeti_International_Airport#Proponents For reasons we don’t understand this is requiring a road to go across the front of the Safe House compound and destroy the foundations of the dining room and kitchen and knock down the new guest toilets. Now these will have to be built on the other side of the safe House. We have written to the entrepreneur hoping that his organisation will provide some compensation, but at the time of writing we have heard nothing.
And now our latest arrival- here comes Salama!
The Safe House you have supported so generously is called in Swahili ‘Nyumba ya Salama’ – the Home of Peace (or Security). So it wasn’t surprising that when local people discovered an abandoned little girl living with some dogs that they brought her to the Safe House. Who was she? Did she have a name? Who had fed her? Whoever it was, the little girl was thrilled to be given a fresh mango and you can see her tucking in with gusto in the picture. The big girls love looking after her. And what to call her? Salama of course!
There’s more good news too-
Hot off the press! Funding for food growing project
Our project officer Helen who is at the Safe House says: Great news re funding from Global Giving! The Safe House has just received a grant of £15,000 from Global Giving in order to set up an organic horticultural project. The primary aim is to grow more food for the house itself and secondly to provide training for the girls and the wider community. Later we hope that excess produce will be sold to local guesthouses in order to generate some income. The girls are already enjoying eating food they planted themselves and harvested including onions, tomatoes, aubergine, greens, spinach, kale and okra.
Very exciting! We are currently looking for a suitable plot of land nearby of between one and two acres so we can get started.
Thank you to all supporters who have contributed so generously to this project. Future donations will help to build the dining room and kitchen on the far side of the Safe House and construct a perimeter wall- all the more necessary to protect the girls from traffic and the kind of verbal abuse Happiness experienced. (But she is still happy!).
Thanks to you and other generous donors, we have reached our next big milestone and placed the order for the new vehicle for the Safe House. This is a huge achievement which would not have been possible without our donors from Global Giving and supporters from churches and Trusts and others who have raised money through sponsored events. As Mama Rhobi, our Project Director would say, with a huge smile Asanteni Sana. Thank you all very much indeed.
Just a reminder of why the vehicle is so important: Serengeti District where Rhobi and her team work, and where sadly FGM is still a threat to over half the teenage girls, is a very large area with scattered communities living in remote villages, far from tarred roads and social services. For many communities the nearest Primary School may be 15 kilometres away and the nearest clinic even further. Rhobi and her team need to take them the message that FGM is very harmful to women’s health, with many damaging side effects and destructive of a happy married life and that it is quite unnecessary- and, on the contrary, that girls have a right to education and should not be forced into early marriage. Every year in Serengeti, 7-10 girls die after forced FGM. Rhobi takes to these villages a team of singers, actors, dancers and musicians and they perform role plays which are very amusing but are persuasive with their anti-FGM message and catchy songs and dances which soon get the audience joining in. So the new off-road vehicle to transport the team will be hugely important in the campaign to eliminate FGM. You'll be glad to know that buying through a German not for profit agency you bought the vehicle at less than half the retail price!
But, of course in the ‘cutting season’, the car will be a rescue vehicle. Rhobi has built up a team of volunteers who alert the Safe House when there are girls escaping FGM and wanting to get to the Safe House. You’ll no doubt remember the sad occasion last time when the old car broke down and five girls were snatched by their relatives and forced to undergo FGM. Let’s hope that will never happen again. At the Safe House opening ceremony in February, my wife and I were in tears as we heard one of the girl ‘survivors’ tell of the trauma of that occasion and her grief for her friends.
And there’s more good news! We have done a great deal to improve the staffing. Two Trusts are paying the salary of the Social Worker, Sophia for the next three years. Sophia is a friend and counsellor to all the girls, and she monitors the binding agreements made at the Police Station when parents took their daughters home. So far all agreements have held and no returning girl has been harmed. Next, a generous British couple are funding the post of a Teacher in Charge to run the Vocational Training Centre and also a part-time legal assistant. The Safe House is not just against FGM, but it is for women’s rights, and women who have suffered from mental or physical abuse, loss of home or farmland are being referred there also. The legal assistant will fight their cases.
Have we finished? No! The Dining Hall and kitchen are still not built. In fact because an American billionaire is building an airport in Mugumu for rich tourists to get to the Serengeti National Park, the existing foundations will be destroyed by an access road. So now the kitchen and Dining Room have to be relocated on the other side of the Safe House.This makes the perimeter fence for the Safe House and Training Centre even more important, not just to deter intruders and to protect the vegetable garden, but also to protect the girls from traffic. So from now your contributions will go to the kitchen, dining room and fence. To all our regular donors and to new supporters, once again, a very big thank you.
Janet Chapman, Campaigns Manager of the Tanzania Development Trust writes:
I was last at the Safe House in early January, just after the “cutting season” had finished. Most of the girls who had sought refuge then were slowly being reunited with their families. Sophia, the social worker and Rhobi Samwelly, the project leader, were painstakingly negotiating affidavits with the parents, guaranteeing that they would not force FGM on their daughters or marry them off against their will. However for thirty-four girls the parents refused to cooperate and so they remained at the Safe House. At that time these girls were very shy, and many visibly traumatised by their experience.
So it is heart-warming to be back in Mugumu to see what a difference 5 months has made. There are now computer lessons in a room of 30 computers donated by a London school, and girls on the tailoring course are now selling items they have made in a shop on the premises. Girls who have never had the chance to go to school can now read and write. Their growth in confidence is astounding. On Tuesday the girls performed a song they had composed about FGM to over 500 people at an event for International Day of the African Child.
Ten of the girls passed their primary education and so attend the local secondary school. Their headmaster and teachers told me although they have missed a lot of education they are trying so hard they are sure they will catch up. I set up a projector and raspberry pi computer with content from World Possible in both the Safe House and the school so they can access Wikipedia and Khan Academy offline, giving them a huge range of educational content. I also installed 200 Swahili and English e-books from African Storybook. These were a great hit for girls who have never had access to books, as were the Swahili audiobooks and maths cartoons from Ubongo.
Word games donated by a relative like scrabble and Headbanz where players have to ask yes or no questions to guess the card on their head caused great hilarity and enabled girls to practice their English in a fun way...
I also met Christina, a circumciser*, who has previously cut girls in the local village of Kebanchabancha. She witnessed the anti FGM road show Rhobi organised in her village and decided to stop cutting and publicly destroyed her tools. This cost her dearly, she lost her source of income, her husband divorced her, and she has had to move away from the village due to the pressure of people trying to persuade her to change her mind. However she told me she did not regret her decision and now plans to become a peer educator helping persuade other circumcisers follow her lead.
So, the tide is turning……
But the Safe House still faces huge challenges. Now it is known as a place of refuge, the local police bring people here who have nowhere else to go. Lucy, an albino rape victim, Sophia and Veronica, two abandoned children and Msambo with her baby, beaten so badly by her husband that she lost 3 teeth.
The Safe House still needs a perimeter fence, to stop people wandering in, a dining hall and kitchen, and a car, so that girls in the villages can be reached, and there is not a repeat of the incident in December when the car broke down and 5 escaping girls were captured by their parents and forced to undergo FGM.
So, if you are able to help, everyone at the Safe House, and the girls at risk of FGM in Serengeti would be extremely grateful.
*Circumcision and circumciser are terms used by Tanzanians both for the illegal and highly damaging procedure carried out secretly on girls and for the entirely legal, hygienic operation on boys, which the Tanzanian Government is encouraging nationally because it reduces the chance of HIV infection by 60%.
Did you ever imagine that by contributing to Global Giving you could help save 134 girls from Female Genital Mutilation? Well that’s what you did. You helped build the Safe House and Vocational Training Centre in Mugumu Tanzania and at the height of the gruesomely named “Cutting Season” in January 2015 we were housing 134 girls there, happy to be safe, in a place of laughter and happiness. But we didn’t save them alI. I was there in February representing you at the Ceremonial Opening and most of us were crying with 14 year old Nehma as she told us how the old car coming to collect her and 6 friends broke down on its way to the Safe House. Angry parents dragged five of the girls off to be cut, but Nehma and another girl hid in the dark and escaped and made their way to the Safe House helped by one of our volunteers.
At the peak girls were sleeping 3 to a bunk and the Bishop also provided extra mattresses and the sewing room in the Vocational Training Centre (VTC) was pressed into service as a dormitory. The local community responded magnificently. Churches and mosques gave food and volunteers came to offer their services, and many remain to date as helpers in a variety of tasks. The Matron, Mrs Leonard and the Social Worker, Mrs Mchomvu were a constant source of strength and assistance to Mama Rhobi, our Project Leader.
Now in April 2015, 100 girls have gone home, after their parents have signed binding agreements at the Police Station not to harm their daughters. These cases are being followed up by our Social Worker, Sophia, and all is well. 34 girls remain, going to school from the Safe House or to the Vocational Training Centre you have also helped to build.
Donors can be very pleased and proud of the construction and use of the Safe House and VTC. The one storey building has been very well built with good quality doors and excellent windows which incorporate mosquito nets and bars for protection. The project created a good deal of employment locally. The bunk beds are well constructed and all mattresses and bedding new and of good quality. Indoor flush toilets and showers are now working well when there is water and are better than anything the girls will have experienced before. The water company frequently cuts supply and a substantial holding tank has therefore been constructed.
The Vocational Training Centre has the largest rooms for tailoring, sewing etc. that we have seen spacious, light and of high quality.The Computer Training Room, is the largest we have seen in Tanzania and houses more than 30 computers, including desk tops and lap tops. The major problem that the VTC faces, especially the Computer Room, is the complete unreliability of the TANESCO mains power supply, which is sometimes out for two full days at a time.
The opening of the Safe House and VTC on February 27th was a triumph for Rhobi. Large open-sided gazebos had been brought in from somewhere and were arranged along 3 sides of the paved area at the front of the building. This gave a splendid central area for the many performances of dancers and choirs. The Safe House girls also sang and danced, of course. There were also local Kurya dancers in tribal dress and many of the words of the songs had been changed so that they both challenged FGM and thanked us for raising the money needed. I was invited to unveil the foundation stone and snip the ribbon across the front door, but Insisted that Rhobi’s hand was also on the scissors. I was very much aware that I was representing you and many other kind donors.
You can find extracts of the ceremony at: http://1drv.ms/1EJhrIJ and you can listen to a half hour BBC programme about the Safe House and the problem of FGM at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05nxh9x#auto and you can see lots of pictures in the BBC magazine http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-31604025
WHAT NEEDS DOING STILL :
Thank you for your commitment to this wonderful project. Plaese spread the word about it, Together we can complete all aspects and improve the lives of suucessive groups of girls.
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