If I were to ask you to make a connection between the gentleness of an elephant and the ghastliness of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), you would probably be hard-pressed to make one. Strangely enough however, there is one and it began just over a year ago in the living room of Sayydah Garrett in the little hamlet of Glen Ridge, New Jersey while watching a documentary about elephants with her husband and daughter. When Sayydah, who sponsors Kenia, an orphaned elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a haven for orphaned elephants in Nairobi, Kenya, mentioned to her husband her desire to visit elephants in their natural habitat in Kenya, his somewhat jokingly tepid response only served to strengthen her resolve to go, and go she did in August 2012. What transpired as a result of that resolve was a visit that is now a vision.
First a little background, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust finds and cares for elephants orphaned because their mothers have been slaughtered for their ivory (tusks) and so then it is no surprise that Sayydah who has enjoyed a love of elephants since childhood would be a passenger aboard this rescue ship. Traveling alone, Sayydah spent four days in the Samburu region of Kenya and on her second day visited the Masai village of Namayiana where because she was the only visitor that day had the run of the village and its beautiful Pastoralist peoples. Pastoralists are semi-nomadic people, meaning they herd goats, cattle (mostly) and sometimes camel and sustain themselves with only three things from the cow –the meat, the milk and the blood.
After spending what she describes as one of the most incredible days of her life singing, dancing, and taking pictures which was evident in the way she reminisced, she returned to the Samburu lodge where upon showing the restaurant captain, Samuel Siriria Leadismo, the pictures she had taken, discovered the village and its people were his home and his relatives. On the heels of their newfound connection, Mr. Leadismo went on to share a little of his background and his appreciation for how his life had turned out. In addition, and on a more serious note, Mr. Leadismo suddenly revealed to Sayydah his determination to eradicate FGM and forced marriages of girls before it was his youngest sister’s turn to be cut.
Upon hearing that startling revelation, Sayydah, asked Mr. Leadismo for more information about the consequences of FGM, which include
- Circumcised as early as five years-old
- Child birth complications
- New born deaths
- Higher risks of contracting HIV-Aids
Mr. Leadismo told Sayydah that he believed girls should be attending school and not married off to men old enough to be their grandfathers. Feeling the passion on display from Mr. Leadismo, Sayydah told him that she had non-profit and grant writing experience to which he said, “great, you will be our president” and thus was born “The Pastoralist Child Foundation”, whose primary goal is the eradication of FGM within the next three years. In addition, the foundation focuses on replacing the cultural mindset of rites of passage through early and continuing education, community cohesion and awareness.
For more information about FGM and the wonderful work of The Pastoralist Child Foundation and how you can help visit http://pastoralist-child-foundation.org/
Coming soon: Part Two: The Girls and the Numbers
Written By Jay Arrington
Staff Writer for the Maryland Daily Examiner
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