The third workshop of the Breaking the Silence series took place on Sunday, April 26th at The Springfield Institute. Another wonderful success. We had great attendance (30 people, 15 women and 15 men). It was wonderful to see the Institute filled with people, delicious traditional foods, and the walls decorated with cultural and social messages.
One special guest traveled from Boston to be with us: Abdikadir Yasin, founder and director of African Community Economic Development of New England (ACEDONE) in Boston. Abdikadir shared his experience building capacity within the Somali community in the 1980s and 1990s, and generally helped make the organizing process seem much more doable. (Many of the attendees have been in the US less than six months, and understandably, aren’t sure where to begin).
The women’s group opened up and talked about some very tough topics including sexuality and women’s health. This was great. I notice a trend, with every progressive workshop the women have been more and more comfortable talking about these topics. More trusting, and very honest.
Dr. Opeyemi also invited Shali Saunders, who works at Connecticut River Internists, in Turners Falls, and accepts MassHealth as medical insurance. This should make her financially accessible, although the issue of geographic distance remains. Shali talked about gynecology. She is interested in helping with the health consequences of FGM. She said that she would be willing to provide her services to the women and girls who suffer from FGM. Everyone was very happy to see her. She has a specific focus in homeopathic medicine. I think that this is something we need to explore in future sessions. She also talked a lot about the necessity of both physical and cultural sensitivity in the treatment of FGM complications, mentioning some specialized medical tools that she uses. Opeyemi brings an element of professionalism, patience, comfort and, most importantly, respect to the discussion group. This goes a long way.
One surprise was that some of the womenrevealed that their husbands/fathers have asked how they can be more supportive. I think we are helping to give women the confidence to take on this new status as an equal partner.
Aron Goldman spent some time with the men’s group. He had a chance to hear some of their stories, and get a first hand appreciation of their concerns and priorities for their community. Aron welcomed the group to the Institute, and offered the resources of the Institute to help the Somali community move forward.
Clara Sarr facilitated the men’s group. She did very well. She talked about religion and cultural sensitivity. She was also very impressed with the progress that the group made. She spent some time talking about topics which are very important to the men including the problems facing the community. Soon we will have some feedback that I can share with you directly from Clara (these are just some of my observations and what I have heard). Clara also talked about FGM, and more specifically, what role men should play in both helping to stop the practice and supporting survivors of FGM.
A “lay herbalist” named Bessie Crenshaw also came and shared her perspectives. Bessie is studying herbal medicine at UMass.
Many thanks to the Somali community for its trust, and to the gifted and compassionate organizers who have made this series a success. Our final workshop in the series will be on Sunday, May 10th, from 2PM until 5PM, at The Springfield Institute. We are also considering a larger event that helps to bring the compelling Somali experience to other kinds of people who are also committed to Springfield’s success (other immigrant groups, services providers, activists, researchers, policy makers, the media, etc.). Thoughts?