Julia Lalla-Maharajh, “passionate advocate” for the abandonment of FGC and founder of the Orchid Project, recently visited several communities where Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program is in place. Her experience talking with community members and witnessing the excitement at Sare Ngai’s public declaration left her energized, ready to continue working towards positive social transformation. Here is the full article from The Huffington Post:

Dancing to End Female Genital Cutting

February 8, 2011
The Huffington Post
Julia Lalla-Maharajh

I’m here in Dakar, Senegal. It’s a long way from London, Davos and Ethiopia. I’m seeing different things, learning so much and marvelling constantly at the changes that are happening here on the ground and in communities.

As a “passionate advocate” to end female genital cutting, my story is a pedestrian one, mimicked (I’m sure) across the Western world. A lifetime of mortgage enslavement, corporate kowtowing and daily commuting on packed London Tube trains led me to rethink. My second life began about two years ago, when I headed out to Ethiopia to volunteer. It was in Addis Ababa that my eyes opened in wonder as I viewed the lives of women and girls around me. How had they been born into this life of hard work, of carrying loads far too heavy for their backs, of little schooling?

It got worse when I heard about female genital cutting, its scale and impacts. The shock I felt was tangible. On a trip to Lalibela, an ancient relic of a holy city in northern Ethiopia, I met two little girls who have stayed in my mind’s eye throughout this journey. I wanted to talk with their parents, their community, beg for them not to be cut. But I knew I had no agency, no right, no legitimacy to intervene in anyone’s culture in such a stumbling, righteous way.

Back in London, I volunteered with Forward learning about a better way to engage with communities. Rather incongruously, I appeared on the plinth in Trafalgar Square and exhorted crowds not to look away from this very complex, heart-rending issue.

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