Saturday 27 June 2015

Christina, the circumciser turned anti FGM activist

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, were painstakingly negotiating affidavits with the parents, guaranteeing that they would not cut their daughters or marry them against their will. With 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 set 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 my sister in law donated like scrabble and Headbanz where players have to ask yes 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.You can hear her story here.

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.

It 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 so 5 escaping girls were captured by their parents..

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..

Sunday 21 June 2015

A library on an SD card – for less than a fiver…

I met Omar in Itongoitale, a small village an hour out of Shinyanga.  He teaches Geography and History in the primary school here.

Itongolitale has no electricity and the only water supply is from ponds shared with cattle.  There is no mobile signal and only very occasional minibuses into town.  Some people have radios but batteries are scarce, only five people have solar.  So many people are entirely cut off from the outside world.  They rarely have the means to leave the village, and were not even aware of the Tanzanian election happening in October.  If there is a death, or other newsworthy event, in the next village, someone will walk the 15km to come and tell people face to face..

Malaria and water borne diseases are rife.  People don’t boil or treat their water and there has never been a deworming programme here.  I was told that the water was safe for them because they are used to it but it would be dangerous for me.

There are no computers in the village, and Omar has never used one.  But they teach IT in the school – by drawing pictures of keyboards and hard drives on the blackboard…

Omar told me he liked reading, so I asked him to show me his books.  He had three:  a Swahili/English dictionary, a photocopy of a university text book on African History, and a Geography text book for 13 year olds.  Yet Omar is very affluent by the standards of the village.  He has a smart phone which he uses when he goes into town each month to pick up his salary.  

I gave him a 16Gb sd card for his phone, with hundreds of ebooks in Swahili and English, plus health videos from Thare Machi on avoiding malaria and the need to boil drinking water. He promised to share this content in the school, and as we left he was proudly demonstrating it to a colleague..

A library on an SD card in a village without computers – cost:  less than £5..