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Desert Flower Foundation increases global awareness about FGM, makes impact in West Africa

NEW YORK, USA- Founded by the global United Nations goodwill ambassador for the abolition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Waris Dirie, Desert Flower Foundation has been making a strong impact in advancing the eradication of and awareness about female genital mutilation (FGM) and early teen marriages around the world, especially in Africa.

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated the severe health risks associated with such practice (WHO | Health risks of female genital mutilation (FGM) https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/health_consequences_fgm/en/.)

According to several types of research, FGM poses and can cause major Obstetric complications. FGM is said to be associated with an increased risk of Caesarean section, postpartum hemorrhage, recourse to episiotomy, difficult labor, obstetric tears/lacerations, instrumental delivery, prolonged labor, and extended maternal hospital stay. These risks increase with the severity of FGM.

The procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.  In 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is famous, more than 200 million girls and women alive today experienced female circumcision.  

According to researchers and medical experts, female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) means piercing, cutting, removing, or sewing closed all or part of a girl’s or woman’s external genitals for no medical reason.

Researchers estimate that more than 513,000 girls and women in the U.S. have experienced or are at risk of FGM/C. Worldwide, as many as 140 million girls and women alive today are circumcised.

In countries where it is widely practiced, FGM/C is often a part of the culture. But FGM/C has no health benefits and can cause long-term health problems. FGM/C is against the law in the U.S. and many other countries, but it is said to be on the increase.

On April 1, 2019, researchers estimated that more than 513,000 girls and women in the U.S. alone have experienced or are at risk of FGM/C. Worldwide, millions of women and girls have experienced or risk FGM/C effects, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ report  Female genital mutilation or cutting | womenshealth.gov

Apart from its global advocacy, Desert Flower Foundation has established what is known as “SAVE A LITTLE DESERT FLOWER” SPONSORSHIP PROGRAMME SIERRA LEONE in 2014.  The program has saved 1,000 girls in Sierra Leone from FGM procedures in addition to offering them with educational opportunity.

The sponsorship program also supports girls and their families financially, with focus on education for girls and self-sufficiency for families as a way of discouraging poor families from being enticed by money to give their teen daughters out into early marriages.

Father Peter Konteh, right, seen here with Pope Francis at the Vatican

The President of Desert Flower Foundation Africa, Reverend Father Peter Alpha Konteh, a Catholic priest, FGM is a crime which existence was never, is not and should never be relevant and justifiable in any form and shape.  He said the practice used to thrive because back then there were not many schools and that girls converge for the practice because it was considered a training space into womanhood.

Adding, “That value we still acknowledge and accept, but the negative practice is what we are challenging,” he stressed.

According to Father Konteh, an old woman in Sierra Leone who has initiated several girls into the “Bondo Society” the local name for FGM in some parts of West Africa, said she was ready to give up the practice if there is an alternative source of livelihood.

Since its inception in 2014, Desert Flower Foundation –Sierra Leone’s operation has made the following achievements.

  1. Provided Sponsorship on Access to Education, Advocacy and Awareness for Sierra Leonean girls and women;
  2. Conducted home and school visitations to DFF beneficiaries;
  3. Facilitated preparation and collection of letters, report cards, poster/Christmas/greeting and thank-you cards from the beneficiaries to their sponsors,
  4. Undertaking an ongoing construction of a school in Allen Town;
  5. Supported regular community meetings, talks, videos, photos and interviews with beneficiaries/caregivers;
  6. Organized workshop/seminars for caregivers and beneficiaries;
  7. Organized quiz, debate, radio discussions, TV talk shows on SGBV/FGM/C and child right issues;
  8. Organized Desert Flower Mothers Association;
  9. Organized Desert Flower Clubs;
  10. Organized Desert Flower Champions in the fight against FGM/C;
  11. Organized 16 Days Activism Against Sexual and Gender Violence on the Right of Women;
  12. Provided general medical health check on DFF beneficiaries;
  13. Provided psycho-social counseling of children and their caregivers;
  14. Constructed a multi-purpose location comprising of a Safe Home for SGBV/FGM/C Survivors and Library/media center, River # 2, Peninsula Road, Western Rural District;
  15. Undertaking an ongoing construction of a school at River # 2 Community, Peninsula Road, Western Rural District;
  16. Collaborated with like-minded institutions in the fight against FGM/FGC, rural and urban poverty and women and child rights abuses;
  17. Facilitated rights promotion/protection and gender, and leadership transformation events & processes in rural communities and institutions.;
  18. Facilitated behavior change education interventions targeting FGM/FGC Malaria, HIV and AIDS prevention and impact mitigation and sanitation in rural and urban communities;
  19. Supported social and economic capacity building for rural women and youth;
  20. Trained and mentored rural women and young people in functional literacy, Livelihood advancement Skills, sanitation, and SGBV prevention and response;
  21. Made contribution to the Ebola, Mudslide and Flood emergency response efforts to meet partial needs of the affected communities in the DFF-SL areas of operation in (Bo, Lungi, Freetown, Newton, Leister, Dwerzark and Allen town); and
  22. Contributed to Relief and Rehabilitation programs in areas of need.

Future Plans for the Desert Flower Foundation operations in Sierra Leone include:

  1. Establishing animal Production Projects: Currently, most animal products consumed in Sierra Leone are from other countries. They are expensive and beyond the financial means of the vast majority of the people. This plan will not only provide the local people with enough animal protein, but it will also create jobs for Desert Mothers in their local settings.
  1. Establishing “Desert Flower Hub.”
  2. Establishing a vocational/technical training centers
  1. To establish a DFF-SL Educational/Recreational Centre for income generation for sustainability.
  2. To establish a DFF-SL clinic, hospitals, and schools.
  3. To establish a DFF-SL recreational Centers for children, youth, adults, and elders.
  4. To establish a large scale rice production project in its area of operation. The objective is to produce rice in large quantities to serve the needs of the local population and for export purposes. Establish agriculture Field Training Schools in identified locations of DFF-SL.
  5. To provide RELIEF Programs to those affected by natural and human-made disasters.
  6. To provide plowing services to farming communities. One of the contributing factors to the shortage of rice in Sierra Leone is the lack of capacity on the side of the farmers (the majority of the old and sick) to plow their fields. A subsidized mechanical plowing project will assist the farmers in producing adequate rice to serve their needs.
  7. Establishing women and youth programs; Rural women and youths are the forgotten majority in development efforts. Programs that are carried out based on their identified needs will go a long way to help them realize their dreams.

Currently, there is an ongoing construction of an academic institution that will host, and a Multi-Purpose structure that will comprise of a Desert Flower Media Center, Safe Home/Shelter for victims of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV)/Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The Shelter will serve as a temporary refuge for victims of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).

Desert Flower Foundation Africa headquarters is at River # 2, Peninsula Road, Western Rural District, Sierra Leone, West Africa while Desert Flower Foundation is headquarters in Vienna, Austria. The foundation also has regional offices in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Monaco, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Djibouti, Tanzania, and Poland. The foundation’s team is made ​​up of dedicated men and women who are committed to gender equality, human rights, women empowerment, women health, and education  Its volunteers and staff share Waris Dirie’s ideal: Ending Female Genital Mutilation wherever the practice exists.

Between 100 and 150 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) or cutting, and over 3 million girls under the age of 18 across the African continent are at risk of being cut.

Waris Dirie escaped from her native Galkavo area in Somalia and fled to the capital Mogadishu to escape an arranged marriage as a child.  After relocating to London, she worked for a while at a local McDonald’s. With the help of and discovery by fashion photographer Terrance Donavan, she began modeling and also wrote her autobiography. After that she became a leading UN ambassador for the abolition of FGM. Her courage, dedication, passion, empathy, and advocacy have showcase FGM as a global problem that demands global action so that no girl child or woman becomes a victim. She has and continues to inspire women and men, mothers and fathers, families and communities to become a part in eradicating the practices of FGM. Her influence and commitment are visible.

UN Ambassador for the abolition of FGM Warie Dairie campaigning against FGM practices in Africa. Here is she visiting and meeting with girls in the sub Sahara African nation of Sierra Leone
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Paul Stevens

Paul Stevens is a researcher, media issues analyst and senior contributor with Globe Afrique.

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