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Feature: Dagenham FGM survivor working to end evil practice

PUBLISHED: 13:37 17 June 2015 | UPDATED: 13:42 17 June 2015

Jamilatu Sesay (second left) with her charity group members Amadu Barrie, Mariatu L.Kamara, Hawa Koroma Omoregie and Ibraheem Taqioer Contou

Jamilatu Sesay (second left) with her charity group members Amadu Barrie, Mariatu L.Kamara, Hawa Koroma Omoregie and Ibraheem Taqioer Contou

Archant

When my dad was murdered in the 10 year civil war I was forced to flee to Masingbi, a province in Sierra Leone where my grandmother, the only relative that I had left, lived.

Jamilatu Sesay with her son Mam-Laity Marc Bett, sevenJamilatu Sesay with her son Mam-Laity Marc Bett, seven

I couldn’t go back to my hometown as I had been captured by rebels so I would have been considered an accomplice.

When I arrived in Masingbi, I found out that my grandmother was the head of a secret society called Bondo.

Her role was known as digba, which meant that she was responsible for carrying out female circumcision. When she died a few months later, I was told that I would have to take her place.

I was only 13 years old and I didn’t know what female circumcision was and I hadn’t gone through it. But I was told that I would soon be “initiated” and would be crowned 40 days later.

Mariatu Kamara, Hawa Koroma Omorogie and Jamilatu Sesay during a Diasporan Hands performanceMariatu Kamara, Hawa Koroma Omorogie and Jamilatu Sesay during a Diasporan Hands performance

The day after my grandmother’s funeral I was abruptly woken up by a stranger. She told me that I was going to a party and told me to put on my best clothes.

When we went to leave, two strong women grabbed me from behind and forcefully pinned me down to the floor. My legs were spread wide open and all of a sudden I felt this pain and I could feel sharp metal pressed against me. After that, I was unconscious for few hours.

When I woke up I was told that if I hadn’t woke up then I would have been considered a witch. I was then told to stay in the Bondo bush for two to three weeks so that people wouldn’t find out what had happened to me.

As a young girl I had always admired this practice because of the fancy gifts and the royal treatment that comes with it. I was made to swear an oath and was told that my belly would swell up if I revealed the secret as there is witchcraft attached to it.

One day a girl explained everything to me and I was scared.

So I took the little money my grandmother left and took off for the capital city where I knew no-one.

Later on I moved to France and two years ago I came to live in Dagenham

I already knew Ibrahim Taqieu and Hawa Koroma Omorogie but through them I met some more people who had also gone through FGM. We would often discuss the pain and agony we went through during our circumcision process and the impact it still has on us.

So in 2013 we decided to come together as a group, Diasporan Hands, to show the world what really happened to us and help fight to eliminate this practice.

We decided to use drama because we thought that the story of a play stays with you.

Since then, Diasporan Hands has performed all over the country at NHS conferences.

Sometimes we cry during our performances because when we tell the story it brings back bad memories but that was not stopped us. Our audiences also sometimes cry as our acting reflects what has happened to them.

In the future, we look forward to working with schools because it is estimated that more than 20,000 girls are at risk of FGM in the UK.

We all recently received a Community Champion of the year award from All Works of Life for making a difference.

It’s a great achievement to win this award which signifies that our work has been recognised by our community.

FGM is being practised within our communities and this means the campaign has been heard by them.


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