Last Saturday the Inter-African Committee USA (IAC-USA) held their third annual Vacances Sans Excision (Vacation or Summer without Cutting). This was the third year that the organization, IAC-USA had held a summer camp of West African cultural activities. The camp signifies that children can have a summer full of fun and traditional activities without the presence of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C).
Although IAC-USA is located in Montgomery County, Maryland, this year the camp was held in a place called Shepherd’s Spring. Shepherd’s Spring is a camp site located in Sharpsburg, Maryland in Washington County, about an hour and thirty minutes, west from Washington, D.C.
At approximately 9:30 Saturday morning, a large tour bus pulled onto the camp grounds of Shepherd’s Spring, loaded with children and their parents or guardians. The drive from Germantown in Montgomery County was alone an adventure for the children. As the road turned from the multiple-lane highway of I-270 to the two-lane highway of I-70, the children were in for a surprise. The bus then turned off onto a narrow, hilly and winding single-lane road. The excitement grew in the bus as they waited for a long commercial train to clear the road; the children watched the train roll by as traffic built up behind them. There was applause when the train finally cleared the road for the bus and other vehicles to cross the train tracks. The countryside consisted of vast farmland with horses and cows grazing the land.
The children and their parents disembarked the bus in excitement. They were in the remote countryside of the state of Maryland. Once the bus was unloaded with both adults and children, the staff of Shepherd Spring Global Village took over. They briefed the children and adults on the housekeeping rules and information, just before the children were divided into four different groups by age range. Group A comprised of ages three to six, Group B were ages seven to nine, Group C were the children of ages ten through twelve, while Group D were the teenagers thirteen through fifteen. In the first hour, Group A went on the Global Village Tour, Group B did their nature hike; Group C began their day with Vermiculture and Group D engaged in games and teambuilding. The curriculum was designed so that at the end of the day, each group had completed the Global Village Tour, Nature Hike, Vermiculture as well as Games & Teambuilding. While the children spent their first hour away from their parents, the adults were in the auditorium where they prepared the room for an education session on female genital mutilation and cutting.
The children piled in the cool air conditioned auditorium with relief on their faces from the heat. The early speakers got the children excited and fired up before the two main speakers took the floor. Angela Peabody of Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation shared a story with the children about three little girls who escaped last year from their would-be circumciser in her native Liberia. She urged the children to be brave and never allow anyone to touch them inappropriately or persuade them to go off with them. Peabody told the boys in the room to protect their sisters, female cousins and friends so they will not be cut. The President of IAC-USA, Fatoumata Kande reiterated what Peabody had told the children. She also told them that their bodies were made without flaws, and nobody needs to alter or tamper with their female genitals. Mrs. Kande’s daughter, Djessou Kouyate who engineered the plans of the camp led the chant, “No more FGM”. She asked the children to cross their arms in the shape of an “X” as they chanted the words, “No more FGM”. The adults in the room joined in the chant. By the end of the session, every child in the room knew that whatever FGM was, it was something that is not supposed to happen to girls.
The real fun began when a professional drummer from Cameroon, West Africa performed and solicited some of the children to play tambourines and mini drums. The auditorium was transformed into a West African musical jamboree. The adults led the children in a traditional line dance around the room to the beat of the drums and other instruments. The music was so irresistible that the Shepherd’s Spring staff in the room joined in the line dance.
Next was time for lunch, and about fifty hungry children raced out of the auditorium to the tree-shaded picnic benches to satisfy their appetites. They found brown paper bags of turkey and cheese sandwiches, cookies, and chips and iced bottled water.
Shepherd’s Spring is designed to be a place to renew and grow oneself, and the Vacances Sans Excision Camp children did grow last Saturday. The children will always remember what they were taught at this year’s camp. They will also remember the activities they experienced at the Shepherd’ Spring Heifer Global Village.
The Heifer Global Village is a collection of authentic model houses from around the world. They have mud huts, a stilt house, thatch roofs, rain barrels, animal pens, beautiful tapestries, prayer flags, water jugs, hand-painted Mayan tiles, and much more. According to the global village, those homes represent impoverished areas around the world, where Heifer International works to eradicate hunger and poverty through gifts of livestock, education, and caring for the environment. Shepherd’s Spring works in partnership with Heifer to provide highly rewarding programs for children, teens, and adults who can use their new experiences and insights to go out and make a difference in other’s lives. The Heifer Global Village at Shepherd’s Spring is one of only four such villages in the country and the only one in the Mid-Atlantic region. The other three Heifer Global Villages are Heifer Farm in Rutland, Massachusetts; Howell Nature Center in Howell, Michigan; and Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas.
IAC-USA looks forward to a visible growth of the camp each year, and there is no doubt that the children attending this year’s camp will return in August of 2018.
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