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%.
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