Last Saturday the Inter-African Committee held their annual Vacances Sans Excision (Vacation or Summer without Cutting). This is the fourth year that the organization has held a special 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 (FGM). Vacances Sans Excision translated from French to English is Vacation or Summer without Excision or Cutting. The U.S. branch of the Inter African Committee, more commonly known as IAC-USA on traditional practices, affecting the health of women and children has been successful for four consecutive years in bringing children together. The summer camp teaches, not only children but parents alike of the alternatives to Vacation Cutting. The camp convened Saturday, August 18th at 10:00am at the Glen Echo Park, located in the State of Maryland in the U.S. and adjourned the same day at 4:00pm.
The purpose of Vacances Sans Excision is to demonstrate to both the parents and children that vacation can be spent full of fun and learning, without the lifetime trauma of excising girls. In most female genital mutilation (FGM) practicing countries of the world, summer breaks are considered high season for performing FGM on girls. In search of finding an alternative to parents taking the girls to their countries of origin during the summer, IAC-USA implemented the idea of a special summer camp.
The children attending the camp on Saturday enjoyed a full day of games, traditional lessons, including dance, art, home economics and meals. The curriculum was designed to demonstrate the importance of teaching children about their heritage; this includes necessary cultural traditions such as dance, dress, food, home chores, and the arts. The children learned the importance of West African traditions without the practice of FGM. The day began with a traditional march, led by a West African drummer from the entrance of the park to the camp site in the park. The children marched to the site they shouted a chant, “No FGM!”
They were in for a special treat when two important active advocate survivors graced the podium with their presence; Aissata Camara of the New York based organization, “There is No Limit Foundation” and F.A. Cole of the Maryland based organization, “Life After FGM”. In addressing the children, Aissata shared the story of a little girl from a region in Conakry, Guinea, West Africa. She told them how the little girl heard the drums that morning and was afraid and was tempted to hide in her closet. She said, as the girl lined up with other girls, she saw other girls come out of the room in tears. She told the children that when they see other girls coming out crying, they should not go to the room. At the end of the story, Aissata asked the children if they could guess who the little girl was in that story. Many hands went up, and they all agreed that the little girl was indeed Aissata herself.
Then F.A. Cole took the podium, and asked the children, “How many of you are 11 years old?” A few hands went up in response. She told them that it is how old she was when her step-mother took her to have FGM done to her. She reiterated what Aissata had told them about not going to the room when they see other girls coming out crying. She then surprised the children by reading a children’s story book to them, The Story of Fatu and Crissy, written by Angela Peabody of Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation. The story tells about two 7-year olds and vacation cutting.
The boys at the camp were inspired by the next speaker, Omar Dibba. A young man originally from the Gambia, West Africa, Omar shared a captivating story with the children. He said he took his toddler daughter to the Gambia to visit his mother. He bravely instructed his mother to care for his daughter, and that FGM was not to be done to her. His strategy was giving full responsibility to his mother for the care of his baby daughter. While he took a great risk, his mother adhered to his demand, and today his daughter is the first generation of females in his family without experiencing FGM. His daughter was one of the happy uncut little girls at the camp this year.
The real fun began with the breakout session; the youngest children gathered in a corner with Aissata Camara and Ghada Khan, while the oldest children gathered around F.A. Cole, while the middle children went with Omar. The children were asked to explain how they would utilize their talents to help end FGM. One of the boys said he plans to use his athletic and artistic talents to advocate against FGM. One of the girls said she will use her poetic talent to write poetry to educate the public on FGM, while another girl said she will use her dance talent as her platform. The children at the camp ranged from toddler to 15 years old.
A brown bag breakfast was served, and later a scrumptious plated lunch followed. After lunch the children returned to the classroom where they did a skit. One boy played a father of a girl, while someone played a police officer. “You will not touch my daughter,” said the make-believe father.
Established in 2006 as a 501c3 nonprofit organization, the mission of the IAC-USA is to promote the rights and well-being of women and children in at-risk immigrant communities, by bringing an end to harmful traditional practices through education, support, and encouragement of healthy traditional values. It is part of a network of international organizations in several countries, partnering with the United Nations and local entities. The organization endeavors to raise awareness of the continued predominance of century-old harmful practices that are carried out against women and children under the disguise of cultural traditions and religion.
According to their leadership, IAC-USA is dedicated to furthering the rights of immigrant women and girls to freedom from harmful traditional practices of their native countries and cultures. This includes early forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and other violent and injurious practices, while promoting the adoption of beneficial traditions and rites of passage.
In countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the girls enter the society bush to go through the rite of passage to womanhood. During their stay in the “bush”, they teach them to make baskets, cook meals, farming, how to be good wives and mothers, etc. However baskets, meals and farming are not the only things the girls experience in the so-called “bush”; they also undergo FGM as part of the passage to womanhood. Camp Vacances Sans Excision teaches girls all of the lessons learned in the Sande and Bondo Society Bushes, but without the ritualistic initiation cutting of their genitals.
“Vacation Cutting” is when girls are taken to their parents’ countries of origin from either the United States or a European country for the purpose of having FGM performed on them. In the year 2013, the U.S. amended the federal law to add Vacation Cutting; if anyone, including a parent, guardian or another adult takes a child from U.S. soil to another country for the purpose of having FGM performed on her will be subject to five-year imprisonment and a fine or greater. Several U.S. States, such as Georgia, Virginia, Florida, Kansas, Nevada, and Michigan have included the ‘Vacation Cutting’ clause in their state laws.
The Global Woman Newsletter has observed Camp Vacances Sans Excision grow for the past four years. The parents and children alike enjoy this camp. With four years under their belt, it is evident that Camp Vacances Sans Excision will be around for many future years.
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