On August 23rd, a group of 60 girls and boys attended a one-day retreat in Sharpsburg, Maryland, where they learned about Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) and the harm it causes. Today, at least 200 million living women worldwide have undergone FGM/C, and many women and girls are still at risk.
FGM, which is considered a rite of passage in many African and Middle Eastern cultures, is internationally deemed as a violation of human rights. FGM refers to “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia” for non-medical reasons. The practice causes serious medical issues that range from hemorrhages and infections to complications in childbirth and even death.
In parts of the African countries Guinea, Nigeria, and Somalia, the cutting “season” is from July to September. Typically, the procedure is done between the ages of seven and ten but is performed on girls as old as 15. Their break from school means that these girls will have time to undergo and recover from FGM.
Due to this, it only made sense for the camp, which is in its third year, to be called “Summer Without FGM.” Most of the camp leaders are from Guinea, and many of the volunteers at the camp have directly experienced FGM. Since a majority of the families that participate are of Guinean descent, this connection facilitates a stronger sense of trust between the campers and the counselors.
“You have a job to do,” said Mariama Conte, a volunteer at the camp who underwent FGM when she was nine. “You have to help stop this,” she told the campers.
Many women feel that FGM is an important cultural practice, and girls who have not been cut are usually considered unclean or unworthy of marriage. One of the main goals of the camp is to show how African culture can be celebrated without having to mutilate a girl’s genitals.
“We think girls can be initiated [into womanhood] without mutilation,” said Djessou Kouyate-Conteh, the camp leader and senior project officer at Inter-African Committee USA, the nonprofit organization that runs the camp.
Summer Without FGM invites many guests to speak to the campers, like Saloumba Cherif, the president of the Association of Guineans in DC, Maryland & Virginia (AGDMV). His intentions were to show the male campers that they play a huge role in preventing FGM. He asked the boys at the camp what they could do to help girls. One replied, “Give them confidence and protect them.”
The camp has a lighter side to it as well. Campers enjoyed a picnic lunch under the trees and experienced an African drum performance. They drew pictures and wrote messages about ending FGM, and also learned how to balance baskets on their heads.
Summer Without FGM is transforming the way that youth understands FGM by exposing them to it and showing them that it is wrong. The entire team running the camp hopes that kids will start talking about FGM more with their peers and become more aware of its dangers.
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