Hope runs two Safe Houses, both in rented buildings. One in Mugumu, and the other in Butiama. The number of girls increases dramatically during ‘cutting seasons’ as we never turn anyone away.
Rhobi often gets a phone call from activists in a village saying girls are about to be cut the next day. Previously these remote villages were very hard to find, (which is why we started mapping).
Rhobi then alerts the Police Gender Desk and Social Welfare and they attempt to rescue the girls, often this is very last minute and late at night. They are brought to the nearest Safe House. They frequently arrive with only the clothes they are wearing, sometimes not even that. Many have been abused or raped by family or neighbours and are in need of medical care and counselling.
During the cutting season there is an education programme covering health issues and girls’ rights, as well as general school subjects. Most have low self-esteem and confidence so Rhobi and her team work hard at addressing this, with the help of some amazing older girls who act as role models. There is a lot of singing and laughter and time to socialise with new friends.
Some of the girls have never been to school, or been forced to drop out very young. So there is also a vocational programme for them, where they can learn tailoring skills, and make beautiful bags and clothes.
After the cutting season is over there is a period of reconciliation with the girls’ families, who are educated about the dangers of FGM, their daughter’s right not to be cut and to continue with her education, as well as the legal consequences of breaking the law by cutting her. Most parents then sign an affidavit saying they will not cut her and the girl is returned home.
In some cases the families refuse to do this, or the Hope staff and social welfare don’t trust them not to cut the girl, so they stay, either going to school or learning a trade such as tailoring. Hope doesn’t ever give up on reconciliation. Twenty girls stayed at Mugumu for a year, and were then finally welcomed back to their villages and set up tailoring shops.