The fourth and final workshop in the series happened this past Sunday (Mothers Day). It was also a tremendous success (continuing our line of successes). There is still a lot of excitement. I remember when we started talking about how the workshops were going to run and how we were going to reach out to the community. I was very worried that I would not be able to get people to come to the workshops, especially when there had never before been a community workshop for Somali people in the area, never mind a community workshop dealing with FGM. However, for the final workshop, my fears were again put aside.
I will admit, there is still a lot of taboo surrounding FGM, these are walls that we must work to break down. In hindsight, one of the critical goals for the series of workshops has been to convince the Somali community that FGM is not just a women’s issue. It is a family issue (since women make up such an important and vital part of the family) and also that it is a community issue. The reason that we decided to include the men in the first place was give them a new perspective. In the Somali community, the role of men is to be the bread winner (to be responsible for leading the family, bringing home money, providing for the family, and protecting the family). Because they carry a certain weight of leadership in the family, we want men to be familiar with the issues that women and their daughters face in FGM. Our measure of success in striving for this goal has always been respect for the issues resulting from FGM that face the Somali community at the family level.
I have an an unspeakable amount of gratitude for Clara Sarr and Opeyemi Parham for sharing their gifts of wisdom, patience, and understanding. Since the beginning (even in the early planning stages when we were not sure what was going to happen), they have been there as guides for both me and the community. Even more important than my admiration for their work is the communities’ response to them. Clara and Opeyemi became models for cultural sensitivity surrounding some extremely difficult issues including women’s health, the problems facing Somali people in America, and religion. In exchange for the sincere respect that they showed the community during the workshops, the community welcomed them, enjoyed their company, respected their help, and could not thank them enough. I see these actions as the highest praise that can be bestowed on these two volunteers. Whether they see it or not, they made a huge difference.
Now if you will permit me… a brief note for the future. Somali food culture is very special. There is a sacred nature to making food for your guests. I worked for two days before to make Somali food by hand for the event. The act of making food for others is just as healing for those who make it as it is nourishing for the souls of the people that come. In addition to myself, many other Sisters have contributed food to the events. I have a deep respect for the power that food has for bringing people together and helping them to open up. In many ways, food, during the four workshops, was the greatest invitation that we had for reaching out to the community. And who doesn’t like good food, anyway? 🙂
Finally, again, thank you very much to Clara Sarr, Opeyemi Parham, Sarah Mackay, Luz Maurillo, Mike Urbanowski, Guhad Ahmed, Joanne Corbin, Donna Norway, Nema, Jamilah Alexander, Mahamud Yusuf, Jamila Ahmed, Said Ali, Bessie Crenshaw, Shali Sanders, and Aron Goldman. They have helped these workshops in ways that they could not possibly imagine. I could not have hoped for the success we have had without their incredible dedication and willingness to share their gifts.
Thank you very much. Assallamu Allaikum.