The orchid can be a symbol of many different things – love, luxury, beauty, fertility, and strength. In fact, “The ancient Greeks thought orchids were a symbol of virility. They were so convinced of the connection between orchids and fertility that they believed orchids with large tuberous roots symbolized a male child, while orchids with small tubers symbolized a female child.”
It seems almost poetic that the very flower that symbolizes fertility became the name of a nonprofit organization in the United Kingdom called the Orchid Project. This project is committed to putting an end to female genital cutting (FGC).
In June 2010, a woman named Julia Lalla-Maharajh founded the Orchid Project after witnessing the first-hand horrors of female genital mutilation (FGM). According to the website, “After volunteering with various charities and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) already working on the practice, in order to find out more about FGC, Julia threw herself into her new role as an ambassador for ending FGC. What followed were stints on the Trafalgar Square Plinth to raise awareness, a YouTube competition for a human rights campaigner to attend the World Economic Forum, and a trip to Davos after her three minute video won her a place in a global vote.”
The core of the Orchid Project’s mission is advocacy. This organization is starting the conversation and bringing their ideas to influential decision makers. They “use the most appropriate advocacy actions for whichever issue [they] may be working with, or for whichever level [they] are working at.”
In the UK this advocacy has developed into making a case to the Department for International Development (DFID), “to make an investment in the help to end FGC, thus playing a key role in the subsequent commitment of £35 million to end FGC. In July 2014, we also hosted the pre-summit reception for DFID’s Girl Summit, which was a highly significant event, being the first of its kind and entirely dedicated to promoting the rights of the girl.”
The Orchid Project also works with program partners who volunteer at the grassroots level to put an end to FGM. The project’s primary partner is Tostan, an NGO based in Dakar in Senegal and works to equip communities across West Africa with the “knowledge that the practice does not have to continue.” Tostan also provides a lot of the necessary training needed to facilitate discussion about abandoning the practice of FGM.
Through their social mobilization project, 72 countries have abandoned the practice of FGM. In their first two years, volunteers visited over 350 different communities and reached over 20,000 people.
The Orchid Project, its founder, and volunteers work together in order to raise awareness and put a stop to FGM. While the orchid might be a symbol for many different things, one thing stands out amongst the rest: strength. The Orchid Project will always symbolize strength.
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