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Escaping FGM and reconciling families in Tanzania

Posted on: August 17, 2015 10:54 AM
Mugumu Safe House Coordinator Rhobi Samwelly with her daughter.
Photo Credit: Mugumu Project
Related Categories: Africa, FGM, gender violence, iafn, iawn, Mara, Tanzania, women

In this International Anglican Family Network feature story, Rhobi Samwelly writes of her experience overcoming the trauma of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), her reconciliation with her parents, and her work helping young girls in the Mara region of Tanzania to escape the cutting and – where possible – go back to their families.

By Rhobi Samwelly

I was born at Kinyariri village, Mara region, which borders Kenya. My mother was a Maasai and my father is Kurya I am the oldest of 12 children. In 1987, I completed primary school and passed to Maswa girls’ secondary school. I then joined a Teachers’ training college for two years and in 2009 I joined the Open University of Tanzania studying Business Administration with Education, graduating in 2012.

After completing my primary school, my parents asked me to undergo FGM. I remembered a number of girls from the village going to have FGM and one of them died. Traditions dictate that if a girl dies during the procedures she cannot be buried, but instead her body is thrown in the bushes to be eaten by wild animals. I was very upset by this.

Seriously, I considered running away but had nowhere to go because all my relatives supported my parents and I had no option but to go ahead. My grandfather paid for a special circumciser for me from the next village, but she worked slowly and badly and I lost so much blood that I lost consciousness. My family and neighbours were all crying and thought I had died. They were too scared of being arrested to take me to a hospital. Miraculously, I pulled through. Although I was angry with my family, I agreed to forgive them if they promised not to cut my six young sisters. This my parents promised.

Despite this trauma, I did very well at school and was awarded a place at a prestigious secondary school. But this didn’t stop my grandfather saying, “Why do you insist on going to school; you should marry and get your father cows.” Ironically, this pressure ceased the following year, when, returning from market, he was gored to death by cows.

My husband and I have a daughter whom we promise will not have to undergo FGM.

The Anglican Church of Tanzania, Diocese of Mara, is working to educate communities about the effects of FGM and gender based violence through involving church leaders, community leaders and the community at large. As a result of this community education, we have received some girls who run to escape FGM and go to our pastors asking for protection. This situation led to the establishment of the safe house at Mugumu, Serengeti District. In 2014, 143 girls fled from FGM and were protected in the safe house. Thirty-four girls remained there learning tailoring skills, handmade crafts, cooking and computer skills. Also, young women who experienced violence from their families received a short-time place to stay while demanding their rights.

A hundred girls were taken back home after negotiations and relationship-building with the girls and their parents. Then they signed the memorandum of understanding with the police gender desk, village chairman, parents, and the safe house staff, for the safety of the girl back home. Safe house staff – in collaboration with the police gender-desk staff – make follow up visits every month to see their progress.

This work of development and discipleship is challenging most Christians who are still practising the tradition and customs of FGM and violence to women and girls. This situation provides opportunities for church leaders and Christians to challenge this bad tradition and to fight against such violence. A further challenge is to promote girl children going to school and to stop early marriages which can contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS and cause delivery difficulties and complications when they give birth to their children.

The International Anglican Family Network is a forum for the exchange of information about the challenges facing families in different countries and cultures, and the practical work undertaken by churches and individual Christians. To learn more, like the IAFN Facebook pagesubscribe to IAFN News and find useful resources on the IAFN website.