Tuesday, July 28, 2015

From Sceptic to Believer

At first I was sceptical about sponsorship. The Desert Flower Foundation scheme of sponsoring a little girl by having a supporter pay a monthly donation to the girl’s family to keep her safe from FGM, seemed like a BRIBE, especially if the parents still BELIEVED in the cruel practice.

I have a strong opinion that it is essential to transform the mind-set of African families and communities to achieve real change. To stop this widespread crime requires a dynamic, grassroots movement of educating women, men and children in every village across Africa and every country where FGM is an entrenched custom. We need to dig it out by its poisonous roots.

Leading anti-FGM campaigner, Waris Dirie herself had similar doubts about sponsorship, expressed in her latest thought-provoking book Saving Safa.  

Safa is the adorable little girl from Djibouti who played the role of Waris as a child in the movie of her life, Desert Flower, which was released to cinemas in 2009, bringing to world attention the horrific crime of Female Genital Mutilation.

The Desert Flower Foundation formed a contract with Safa’s parents to provide on-going food supplies and necessities in exchange for a legal agreement that they would not subject their daughter to FGM.

Four years later, when Safa was seven, Waris received a letter from the courageous little girl expressing fear that she was at risk. Shocked and alarmed, Waris immediately jumped on a plane to visit the family living in Balbala, an impoverished refugee slum on the outskirts of Djibouti city.

Safa’s mother, Fozia revealed her true feelings in an outburst of rage: “We are shunned because we have an unclean, uncircumcised daughter….You know what happens to women who don’t submit to the traditions….we have to live with this shame that you have laid upon us! Safa is an outsider. In our village – everywhere. We are all outsiders.”

Waris sadly realised that the family cared more about being accepted and respected in the village than for the health and happiness of their daughter.

And in a confrontation with Safa’s obstinate father, Waris realised: “Idriss had shown his true colours when he said that his family needed the money and food the foundation provided every month. Safa’s parents still weren’t convinced of the cruelty and senselessness of female genital mutilation. They were sparing their daughter for purely economic reasons.”

And this is the core of the issue. It is not effective to bribe poor families to spare their daughters if they are doing it for the wrong reasons: for money.
Such a cynical arrangement leads to resentment and the risk they will cave in to community pressure.

YES, WE well-off folks must assist disadvantaged families by extricating them from the soul-destroying trap of poverty. Horrendous poverty is at the bitter heart of this entrenched abuse. Families mutilate their daughters to make them “clean and pure” and marriageable so they fetch a good “bride price”.

Ignorance is also the heavy rock holding the custom in place from generation to generation. WE, in the developed world, must partner with our African sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, to spread information about the dangers of FGM to eradicate distorted beliefs. We must also appeal to parents’ love for their children; their natural instincts to nurture and protect their daughters from harm, pain and suffering.

In the end Waris won over Safa’s father, pulling him back from the brink of despair to realise there is hope for widespread change in his homeland – through financial support of families along with dynamic education. Idriss is now taking a stand against FGM in his community.    

I am a convert. I now believe sponsorship has a vital role to play, so long as the support goes hand in hand with grassroots education about the horrors of FGM. And “hand-outs” should be a starting point for empowering families and villages to become self-sustaining. 

Here’s why I believe the Desert Flower Foundation sponsorship scheme is worth supporting:

1. Sponsorship is an expedient, efficient, quick and easy way people in well-off countries can instantly help stop the atrocity of FGM. Not everyone can go to Africa to volunteer to spread the word. Not every individual can give a massive donation, but we can all make affordable, monthly payments.

2. The Multiplier Effect. If every woman in well-off countries sponsored just one little girl and her family, well...imagine...the result would be millions of girls saved from mutilation and a lifetime of suffering.

3. Sponsoring one little girl and one family is very personal. You bond and connect and get to know and love your Sponsor Child and her family. Instead of being generic charity, taking responsibility for just one little person makes your contribution very real. 

4. I’ve had first-hand experience of sponsoring a child through Compassion for over 10 years. I started supporting Eyael, who lives in Ethiopia, when she was just eight and now she is a beautiful young woman of 18. I haven’t missed the £20 per month and yet this small amount has transformed her life and eased her family’s hardship. A lasting commitment to sponsorship really works.
I just signed on to sponsor a little Desert Flower. I look forward to getting to know her and her family and village. I feel this commitment is a great honour and the beginning of a journey together.

You too can sponsor a little Desert Flower - and save her from trauma and transform her future - through the Desert Flower Foundation.

Post Script August 4, 2016 
Since doing the Tostan training in Community-led Development in Senegal in July this year, I now believe there is a more effective method to stop Female Genital Cutting of precious young girls. 
Tostan's grassroots movement to educate women, men and youth in remote villages through a life-changing three-year Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in their own language has led to  the abandonment of the harmful practice of FGC in over 700 communities throughout West Africa. 
The Community Empowerment Program is set to spread throughout the continent of Africa to achieve widespread social change. This is the breakthrough needed to save little girls and women from a lifetime of suffering.


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