Last month, Orchid Project visited Senegal to meet Tostan staff and build upon their important existing partnership. Orchid Project’s vision—“a world free from female genital cutting,”—is supplemented by the work of partners such as Tostan, who deliver sustainable results in the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC). During their visit, the team had the privilege of accompanying German-based hip-hop artist Sister Fa on her Education sans Excision (“Education without FGC”) tour throughout Senegal. Sister Fa, native to the Casamance region of southern Senegal, was cut as a young girl and now uses her music to advocate for the abandonment of FGC.
The Orchid team started their journey in Dakar where they met Tostan staff and received various presentations on Tostan programs and fieldwork, including FGC prevalence and abandonment progress. After a week in Dakar and Thiès, the Orchid team traveled to Soudiane, a village which completed Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in 1998 and declared FGC abandonment two years later. The team engaged in stimulating conversation with Tostan social mobilization supervisors and CEP program participants and facilitators, and later they watched a community theater performance on the dangers of FGC. Skits such as these have become a crucial component of Tostan’s awareness raising activities.
After a week in northern Senegal, the Orchid team traveled far south to Ziguinchor to meet Tostan staff and learn about their work in the field, specifically the progress of the FGC abandonment movement in the area. They also visited local schools where Sister Fa spoke to youth passionately about FGC and the importance of abandoning the practice. The main focus of her message hinged upon the agency these young girls have when deciding whether or not to continue the practice when the time comes to cut their own daughters. Making your voice heard, she emphasized, is a crucial part of impacting positive and sustainable change in Senegal.
Sister Fa performed another concert in Ziguinchor, which was followed the next day by a homecoming event in Thionck Essyl, her native village. Here the Orchid team and Sister Fa received a warm welcome of singing and dancing by community members. Afterwards, Bakary Tamba, Tostan’s Regional Coordinator in Ziguinchor, accompanied Sister Fa and the Orchid team to a local café to speak to youth about FGC. One young girl spoke out bravely about her own experiences; most of the girls in her home village had been cut and her subsequent refusal to partake in the practice meant that she was completely ostracized by her own friends. Sister Fa and Bakary commended her bravery and encouraged her to continue speaking out about the dangers of the practice and the importance of abandoning it. After visiting local schools the following day, Sister Fa held a concert that was attended by nearly the entire village.
After visiting Sedhiou and Kolda, the Orchid team and Sister Fa traveled to Medina Yoro Foulah, a dynamic village that began the CEP in 2011. After an enthusiastic welcome by the community, the team met several staff members responsible for facilitating Tostan’s programs in the field and discussed the ways in which Tostan’s programs are creating positive and lasting change in Medina Yoro Foulah and its surrounding villages. Later they visited local high schools to discuss FGC with students. Sister Fa held a small performance at the school, and everyone was surprised and pleased when a young boy began rapping along side local musicians.
The evening in Medina Yoro Foulah was the Orchid team’s last in southern Senegal. The next day they made the long trek to Mbour to spend one final night in Senegal before flying out of Dakar. Three long but inspiring weeks in the field enabled the Orchid team, one of Tostan’s most dedicated partners, to see firsthand the communities with which Tostan works. Together, Orchid Project and Sister Fa made a powerful team. During their visit they connected with Tostan staff members, local authorities, and, most importantly, dynamic women of all ages – the voices of whom are crucial to the movement to end FGC in Senegal. Orchid Project’s visit serves as a powerful testament to Tostan and the country of Senegal’s goal of total FGC abandonment in Senegal by 2015 – a goal which is being actualized on the ground by dedicated and passionate staff, community members, and partners who all share the same vision: a world free from FGC.
* Photographs taken by Alicia Field, http://aliciafieldphotography.com/