Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Meeting Rhobi at the Safe House in Mugumu

Finally meeting this inspirational FGM campaigner...

I had heard so much about Rhobi, and been communicating with her for so long it was fantastic to finally meet her in person.

We went to the Anglican Church of Tanzania, ACT. office on the site of St Joseph's church in Mugumu where the safe house and vocational training centre is being built.  I was pleased to see builders on site putting in the door lintels.  I was told that the windows and doors were ready to go in tomorrow and that the safe house should be finished by the end of September.  This is fantastic news, particularly as Rhobi is expecting girls refusing
Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, to start coming in October and is confident they will be ready.

ACT has 7 different projects around Musoma, mostly in agricultural development and supporting physically disabled children, and the one against Gender Based Violence, GBV, in Serengeti region, of which the Safe House is part. 

Rhobi started working in 12 villages in Serengeti April 2012, in what was supposed to be a one year project.  This involved setting up a community meeting with the
village leaders explaining the effects of GBV, early marriage, HIV and FGM.  This was followed by a meeting with the whole community. However there were sometimes issues with women being kept from attending these meetings by their husbands, so instead Rhobi organises traditional dance competitions in the villages, which had a much better female attendance rate, and then finished the event with a community forum with a motion such as "FGM helps to discipline girls in our community" which led to heated debate.  Rhobi also trained community workers in each village to support women and girls, and created a radio announcement about the dangers of FGM which was aired on local radio every day in the cutting month of December 2012.  

This led to 16 girls deciding to stand up to their parents and refuse to go through with FGM, with its horrific, long term health effects. The girls, aged between 9 and 13 went to their local pastors, who took them in.  ACT then came with a police officer from the gender desk in Mugumu, the regional capital, and a lawyer and had meetings with the village leaders.  Eventually the parents agreed to sign an affidavit promising not to mutilate their daughters and they were able to go home.  Rhobi keeps in regular contact with these girls, and they are still fine, except one who failed her Standard 7 exam and so as this means she could not go on to secondary school, had to get married, at 14. Fifty per cent of the girls who marry below the age of 18 in these villages will be HIV positive within six months. 

Accommodating the girls before they become reconciled with their parents puts huge pressure on the pastors, who live in very humble homes in the villages, and for girls finishing their education there are currently no alternatives to early marriage.  Therefore we are building a Safe House and Vocational Training Centre in Mugumu, so girls who fail their Standard 7 exam can instead learn a trade such as tailoring or carpentry, to support themselves.

While we had dinner with Pastor Moses Homboi and his wife, Rhobi's phone kept ringing.  She explained about a woman in Magotini village, who was continually being beaten up by her husband.  In desperation she had contacted Rhobi who had helped her to report him to the local police.  Unfortunately the husband bribed them to let him go and the violence started again.  Rhobi contacted the Chief of Police in Mugumu to complain, who transferred the corrupt officer to another station.  The next time the husband abused her the local police again arrested him.  They were reluctant to keep him in though and suggested to the abused woman that she should either take him back or pay them to transfer him to Mugumu.  Again Rhobi complained to the Chief.  He said the man should be transferred , but there was a problem of transport.  So Rhobi dispatched the project driver to go to the village to pick up the husband, under police escort, to deliver him to the main police office in town.

Rhobi deals with issues like this on a daily basis.  Unless she supports women who finally have the courage to try and fight for their rights they will simply go back to accepting their fate, as before. 

Tomorrow we will visit two of the villages to see community forums in action. 

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic news from Rhobi.. Your blog gives very interesting insights into the impact of FGM and HIV on the girls in the region. The Safe House buiilding looks very impressive.Jon