Working with the Warriors: interview with Ann-Marie Wilson

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Anti-FGM campaigner, CMS mission partner and sometime pioneer student, Ann-Marie Wilson (far left, with the Maasai Cricket Warriors) recently added a British Citizen Award to her achievements. Along with an extraordinary trip to Kenya using cricket to battle FGM. Helen Harwood caught up with her.

HH: Thank you, Ann-Marie, for agreeing to be interviewed again. For any readers who do not know about you and your amazing work can you give us an in a nut-shell recap of your work.

Friends-April-girlbat-350AMW: I was volunteering in West Darfur with Medair in 2005 and met a little girl who had experienced female genital mutilation (FGM) at age 5, and was then raped at age 10 as armed militia entered her village. She was the sole survivor of the attack that burned her village and left her pregnant. We found her at seven months pregnant and gave her a safe delivery; otherwise she and her child would have died of obstructed labour, due to FGM and her young age.

I felt called to help end FGM, and retrained in basic midwifery, fistula (incontinence) rehabilitation, studied Islamics and anthropology, and in 2010 we set up 28 Too Many, under CMS.

Ann-Marie, stories like this of a young girl treated so appallingly are heart-breaking. I am so sad at the horror of this but so encouraged that you are personally involved in this struggle, it must take great courage on your part. I am so pleased this work has been rightly recognised and you have been awarded the British Citizen Award. Please do tell us how you felt on receiving this award and how you think it will help you in your work?

I was surprised and honoured to be one of the first recipients of the new British Citizen Awards which were created to recognise individuals doing extraordinary things for their communities. I was one of 28 people to get an award from hundreds of nominations and it was very humbling to hear the incredible stories of the other winners. My award was for international achievement and I was very proud to accept the award on behalf of all the girls and women affected by FGM and those campaigning to end this harmful practice. At the award ceremony and celebration I was able to speak to the 200 invitees about FGM and how it affects one girl every 10 seconds. I hope that this award will make more people aware of FGM and bring more advocates for change to this cause. One day someone who heard my story, and call to action, may be one girl’s best hope for protection or support.

Indeed, I hope so too. Now, I know you have been on a trip to Kenya with the Maasai Cricket Warriors. Please can you tell us some more about this visit?

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Ann-Marie leading a workshop

My recent visit to Kenya was as part of a team of volunteers from 28 Too Many and UK sports development charity Cricket Without Boundaries (CWB) for a pioneering new project to use cricket to help end FGM in Kenya. Working alongside a local team of the Maasai Cricket Warriors, who campaign against harmful practices in the Maasai, the project used cricket as a vehicle to promote gender equality and help end FGM in the rural region of Laikipia. During a busy week, as well as delivering training at schools, a health clinic and a community centre, we met the local chief and elders, the district commissioner and the head of police and all of these gave public statements against FGM and supporting the project.

This new approach brought together all members of the community raising awareness on FGM and more than 1,750 schoolchildren were coached. In addition, the team trained 24 teachers, health workers and doctors as coaches who are now able to continue the work, help protect girls at risk of FGM and act as ambassadors for change. As well as delivering the cricket coaching and anti-FGM training, individual and group pledges were made by all participants in the programme confirming the local commitment to ending FGM. It was an honour to be invited to work with the Warriors and people of Laikipia and 28 Too Many will continue to support them in their efforts to end FGM. We are optimistic that we will see positive changes when we revisit the community over the coming months and years.

Amazing to see sport used in this way. Please can I ask what sustains you in your work, Ann-Marie? It must be very hard to keep going in such a difficult area of work, it would be good to know any ways you have developed to sustain yourself and to deal with any setbacks.

This work can be very challenging and we hear many heart-breaking stories, but each day I know that if our work can help save even one girl from FGM then it is all worthwhile. Over the last decade I have heard many survivor stories and if they could go back and freely choose, not one of them would want to be cut. FGM is a human rights violation and child abuse and it is important that we all speak out and protect those at risk. My faith is also important in sustaining me in this work and the support I get from so many people who also care passionately about helping others. Being part of a community working together gives me strength.

Can I ask about your links with CMS and how this has also helped you in your work? And could I ask what is on the horizon for you, please?

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Maasai children with their BAT postcards on how to end FGM. B: break the silence and talk about FGM. A: advocate and be a champion for change. T: together we are a strong team.

I have been with CMS for nearly five years, and gained greatly from the Pioneer Leadership training modules, the psychological and prayer support, contacts made and the warmth and love of people at CMS I now consider friends. I am looking forward to becoming a Pioneer Lay Minister in the summer.

Later this summer I go again to Uganda to speak to 5,000 people on FGM at a conference and also will spend a month in Mali, Senegal and The Gambia.

28 Too Many is also developing training on FGM for faith and youth leaders in the UK, which we will be delivering later this year.

Great news. Lastly, Ann-Marie, how can we pray for you?

First of all please pray for all the girls and women affected by FGM. With regards to 28 Too Many and me, please pray for our work to be effective, replicable and sustainable. We also need sufficient funds to do all we wish to do and everyone in the team needs energy and resilience to undertake this challenging work. Finally, please pray for the good health and safety of the team and our partners fighting against FGM, often in difficult situations.

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