Fighting one of the great taboo subjects – female genital mutilation – can be lonely. Ann-Marie Wilson is a CMS mission partner doing just that. Helen Harwood talked to her about her work and the difference it made plugging into the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course.
HH: How did you first hear about female genital mutilation (FGM) and what inspired you to get involved in trying to get FGM outlawed?
AMW: I had been volunteering for a Christian aid charity called Medair part-time since 2001, and went full time with them in 2004. In summer 2005 I was in West Darfur, Sudan supporting leadership, coaching and capacity building programmes for their international and local staff. There I met a girl called Fatima, who had been cut due to female genital mutilation (FGM) at five years old. At age 10 she was then raped by the Janjiweed armed militia as she fled her village. (She was also orphaned, as her parents died in the attack on her village). From this experience she became pregnant, and due to having had FGM, she was left with obstructed labour – the baby could not come out as she was stitched up and too young for her pelvis to be wide enough for a safe natural delivery.
When I left the field for home, I read extensively on FGM and through attending a Discipleship Training School (DTS) with YWAM and later attending All Nations Christian College I discerned with my church that this was a calling, and decided to make it my life’s work.
How did you get started in your quest?
The Cross Cultural Studies with DTS (from Colorado, USA to China, Thailand, Burma) gave us a taste of changing traditional practice and the Western filters we ‘see’ through! At All Nations I studied gender, Islamics, anthropology and development and had a one year placement teaching English to Muslim women in Luton and a summer working on the Kenyan-Somalia border at an Internally Displaced People’s Camp (IDP) with 250,000 Somalis in their gender based violence unit. I followed up this with a two-year internship with FORWARD, who deliver advocacy in anti-FGM work in UK and some African countries. I learnt basic midwifery in Pakistan; helped run a fistula (incontinence from FGM and/or early marriage) rehabilitation clinic in Northern Nigeria, and have observed deinfibulation (partial FGM connection) in West London!
Please can you tell us about the Inspire Awards 2011?
Inspire run articles in their monthly Christian magazine that circulates 60,000 copies. A journalist approached All Nations for a story of someone doing ‘something inspiring’ and my name was suggested. The next I knew I was interviewed and featured in their September edition, even ending up on the cover. Unbeknownst to me, the magazine readers ‘voted’ for their most Inspiring individual, project and church – and I ended up in the top three for the individual category. The judges made their decision and I attended an award ceremony at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster with the receptionist from All Nations and the Chair of Restored where I am seconded. I was delighted to be awarded Runner Up!
What have been the other highlights of your campaign?
Three highlights are that I helped a Muslim girl who was HIV positive to get her fistula correction surgery, when the surgeon would not initially operate for fear of infection – so I agreed to be his surgery ‘nurse’ and carried her to our car after her anaesthetic! She now has a new life. Another positive was a Christian women in Uganda who had defecated at church (due to rectal fistula) as she went up the church aisle to give her annual tithe. She was ostracised even by her family and husband. I helped arrange for her to have free surgery and she is also cured and beginning life again. Finally, I took a Somali girl’s history in the Somali IDP camp, and helped her write an essay to be able to live in Canada where she wanted to campaign to end FGM.
It must have been very tough at times, what has kept you going?
Partly my faith, partly the intercessions and encouragement by others! There is no other Christian agency doing what I am doing, so how can I give up?! It also helps to know it’s a calling, and God is with me! I break the task (ending FGM across 28 countries in Africa) into smaller units – so am working on just four countries this year – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia. That stops it feeling too overwhelming. I also believe I may not see FGM end in my lifetime, but I may have made some impact and left a better legacy for others to follow me!
How has the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Course supported you and helped you in your mission?
Initially, I felt I was literally ‘sinking’ as it’s a lonely life pioneering on your own, especially when the organisation to which I was interned was not Christian and didn’t understand my ‘heart’! I joined the aptly named ‘Sink or Swim’ module – and am now in an action learning set with two others that meets bi-monthly for support and accountability.
I also attended the Misisonal Entrepreneurship module in Devon, and decided to earn 20 per cent of my income by delivering one week a year of training for The Methodist Church and 30 hours of high paid Skype coaching to country directors in Africa for an aid agency. This means in these tough economic times I am contributing to my own support. I’m doing the Leadership module in the spring, too, as I now have eight remotely based volunteers!
Throughout the modules I have gained enormously from the experience and teachings of others. Without this course I’m not sure I’d have made it this far – yet now I feel part of a community of equally unusual and amazing people, and feel I have a ‘family’ where I fit in!