“It’s about getting authentic with the people.” — An interview with the two 'Listening Pilgrims', Isabel Freer and Christy Hawkins
A few weeks ago in April, London spoiled us with a weekend of sunny and warm weather, perfect for Isabel Freer and Christy Hawkins to be sent off by family and friends on the second — and far longer — leg of their Listening Pilgrimage, the Scottish island of Iona in their sights.
Monika Hubbard, Director of Communications at Projects For All and Scarlett Maguire, Managing Director at crowdCaster, asked the two pilgrims about their motivation and inspiration to walk almost 1,000 km across the country to listen and learn from refugees, their host communities, people who have welcomed and rejected refugees, as well as organisations who work tirelessly to tackle one of the biggest humanitarian crises of all times.
Isabel and Christy, a few weeks ago, you left Dover to walk to the Scottish Island of Iona, a well-known place of pilgrimage. What or who inspired you to go on a pilgrimage?
Christy: I have been on a couple of pilgrimages before. The first one was London to Canterbury which a friend organised for people who are interested in Chaucer’s tales. I didn't set out as a pilgrim, but as a teacher and somebody interested in literature. But, having walked five days to a holy place, learning about that holy place and about pilgrimage through Chaucer and experiencing the kind of change in your consciousness that happens when you walk for a protracted stretch of time, consciously and with a group of people, I found out that I was a pilgrim by the time I got there. That was a lovely feeling which is very hard to describe. So I wanted to do it again. Last year I walked to Santiago de Compostela, 600 km from Lisbon. It was a beautiful and much longer journey than I've done before, and the change that happened and unfolded was more profound than four years before. But that was just a personal journey and I didn't really feel I was engaged in anything to a greater good. And I didn't feel like I was really connecting with local people as I didn't have the language skills. I always wanted to walk in Britain. At the beginning of this year, I read about Iona and thought this would be a good place to walk to in Britain. And around the same time we were talking to our friend Katrin Macmillan at Projects For All about an engagement project she was looking to launch. And so the two things intertwined.
“I was a pilgrim by the time I got there.”
Where does your interest stem from to launch a project that explores migration, refugees and community integration in the UK?
Isabel: Katrin, who runs this fantastic charity, approached me about getting involved with a project that she was looking to set up called Refugee Voices. The aim was to engage in refugee communities and see what might come from engaging with them so that Projects For All could then move forward and set up a project that might help those communities. We thought about going to a refugee camp in Greece or Jordan but I thought that I didn't have the skill set or the experience to be particularly useful there. I then discussed it with Christy, and we thought how about we look at refugee communities that have been resettled within the UK, and those communities that have absorbed them within the UK, a country we are both from and that is close to our hearts. Both Christy and I have lived abroad for a number of years. I lived in the States for seven years and when I came back two years ago I felt that the UK was a very different place. I felt I didn't really know my country well. I don't know if I ever knew my country that well, but post-Brexit it feels very fractured. I thought it was a timely moment to be doing a project that looked at migration, and refugee communities and communities that are opposed to them, hand in hand with trying to get to know our country better and listen to the different voices within it.
“I don't know if I ever knew my country that well, but post-Brexit it feels very fractured.”
Talking about listening: Listening is at the core of your project. What’s the story behind that?
Isabel: I feel that at this moment in the world, in my life, in most people's lives, there is a barrage of noises, and a lot of different voices, from the media to entertainment to blogs to Twitter. Quite often we lock them all out; we don't necessarily listen to those voices or individual's voices. For me the listening, the taking the time to listen to different people who aren't on the news or the media, but the individual voices of real people and hearing what they have to say about very different things from migration, to refugees, to the UK being very fractured, seems the right thing to do. A lot of people feel that they don't have a voice and, by listening, you are allowing people to do just that, and to be heard. We are also not stepping out with a particular political agenda or any other agenda other than to listen to people and to learn from what we hear.
That is quite rare, too these days, to be pushing forward on a mission like this without an agenda, without a preconceived idea.
Isabel: Very true. London is such a bubble, the whole south is a bubble, and I know that there are a lot of different voices in the UK, but I am only hearing a tiny percentage of those. And I feel a responsibility to listen to other people's voices, to hear other people's views, not tampered with by the media, or exaggerated or edited. The same applies to refugees. Every story in the media is edited and is there for specific reasons. But to actually speak to refugees, as we have done already in the last week that we have been walking, is so different to just reading about somebody's plight in the newspaper or seeing them on youtube. So I suppose it's about getting authentic with people.
“It's about getting authentic with people.”
What do you hope to achieve with your Listening Pilgrimage?
Christy: The beauty of this project is that we don't know what we are going to achieve, and we are not putting ourselves under pressure to know. Katrin has made it explicit that this is an engagement project, it is about learning. So by the time we've walked to Iona, maybe we will have an idea of what we want to achieve having spoken to lots of different people and having deepened our understanding. Then we will have some idea of what can be done by a charity like Projects For All or by individuals, people like ourselves or people who have engaged with our blog and the story. We'd love to write a book some day, or a documentary, and collate the interviews that we record on the way. And one of the great things that has already happened is that we have made connections between people who wouldn't otherwise have found each other: people working in similar fields, working to understand the refugee crisis or directly with detainees, ex-detainees or asylum seekers. By making these connections we are allowing the knowledge and the ideas to flow back and forth. By continuing to walk hundreds of miles through the country, we will make lots more connections like that.
Isabel: During a pilgrimage you don't know what you are going to get out of it until you've completed it. You walk and trust and hope that you will be a better person at the end of it, and that the world will make a little bit more sense to you. But in our case, once we have, touch wood, hopefully reached Iona, that won't be the end of our journey. It will be the beginning in some way. In the end we are all on a pilgrimage until the day we die, we are all learning every day.
”You walk and trust and hope that you will be a better person at the end of it and that the world will make a little bit more sense to you.”
Your pilgrimage started in Dover and will finish in Iona. How did you decide on this route?
Christy: Iona came out of the blue when I read the book "The Pilgrim's Way" by John Adair, as a likely place of pilgrimage somewhere far enough away to give us a chance to explore the country. We also wanted to go into Scotland. I think it is important to cross a border and explore two different national histories and cultures.
Are there any particular points on the way that you are interested in?
Christy: As a southerner it is rare that I visit Northern England or Scotland for more than a day or two. So, anywhere with a slightly different accent to mine is going to be like an adventure. Both of us, Issy and I, have lived overseas and we've been migrants, emigrants, immigrants, and expats, whatever you want to call us. But there is as much variety of culture and history in these islands, so you don't have to fly to the other side of the world to find a group of people who talk differently, dress differently, eat different food, have different cultural practices. We chose Dover as a place to start our pilgrimage because, although we live in London, we wanted to have a pilot walk and test out our legs and our kit. There is a significance to Dover as well. The white cliffs are the first thing you see as you arrive by boat and the last you'd see if you are to emigrate. They are symbolic as a gateway to the British Isles.
How do you fund your project?
Isabel: Projects For All has given us a small grant as an engagement and research project. All of the connections we made we will hand to them. They've funded us enough for a little bit of food or some modest accommodation each day for the ten or eleven weeks, which is fantastic. It is possible to walk a pilgrimage with no money at all, and this is a traditional way of doing it, that you are prepared to sleep outdoors and sleep rough, but you are also prepared to exchange your skills or your work for a night’s shelter or some food or a bit of a handout. I have met people who have gone hundreds and hundreds of miles without money. That is the ultimate pilgrimage — completely throwing yourself in the mercy of strangers to find out what it is like to live with nothing. But, because we have taken on the added responsibility of researching and reporting, it makes sense to have a little bit of funding to do that.
“We'll never get to that place of understanding the people who have lost everything, who've fled their homes with their clothes on their back and their babes in arms.”
Christy: We are both privileged to have jobs to come back to at the end of this and that we have been able to take time out from work. But we are meeting people who are waiting for their refugee status who aren't allowed to work, who have maybe been given 30 pounds a week to survive on. We are not going to experience that level of poverty on our journey, and we'll never get to that place of understanding those who have lost everything, who've fled their homes with their clothes on their back and their babes in arms. It will be hard for us to shake that sense of guilt and privilege. There is a certain amount of vulnerability that comes with setting out and moving out of your house and committing to walk for 11 weeks. But it pales in comparison to somebody who is forced to flee and cross borders and risk everything.
If you would like to find out more about Isabel and Christy’s Listening Pilgrimage, then please visit their website. Their project would not be possible without the support of partners and all of those people who cross their way to talk to them, walk with them or offer them shelter. Isabel and Christy would be very grateful for donations to support their pilgrimage and the work of Projects for All. Thank you!
“We won’t stop until we have reached our goal, until Female Genital Mutilation is gone for good.”
Knowledgeable, courageous and incredibly determined, Projects For All "Hero", Gift Augustine, has taken her #EndFGM campaign in Nigeria to new heights. And, as she tells Monika Hubbard, she is only just getting started.
“I never felt more support than now. There is a constant flow of people contacting me because they want to join my campaign. They listen, they want change—and they want it now.” Trained nurse turned FGM activist Gift Augustine’s voice oozes confidence and determination. It is astounding how much this young woman has changed since Projects For All’s Katrin Macmillan and Roland Wells first met her, three years ago.
In 2014, Gift had just started her campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation in Cross River State, Nigeria. She knew it was her calling, but was aware of the financial cost of making the drastic move from salaried nurse in a local hospital to full-time activist. Inspired by her commitment, Katrin and Roland created “Project Our Heroes”, which pays a modest yearly salary to the best-positioned changemakers in communities, thereby providing some security and stability. The programme allows activists like Gift to work full-time and focus on their critical work without financial hardship or distraction. At that very moment, Gift’s journey to become a successful FGM activist had begun.
Gift went on to found Cesved, an organisation that supports and empowers women to fight any form of gender-based violence—and she has raised awareness on an international level. Gift is now being mentored by The Guardian Global Media Campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation and is being taught how to use the media to amplify her campaign. This role brought Gift to London last year to speak on a panel with three other global FGM activists, Jaha Dukureh, Domtila Chesang and Ifrah Ahmed, and connected her with the National FGM Centre in the UK. Gift also attended the first US summit on Female Genital Mutilation, hosted by Safe Hands for Girls, Equality now and the US Institute of Peace, an event sought to launch practical and policy steps to end the practise by 2030.
”Last year, I put a lot of emphasis on becoming more strategic in my approach,” Gift explains, “on receiving more training and expanding my knowledge around Female Genital Mutilation by working with other activists and organisations.” Previously, Gift was able to work in only one community at a time; now she can reach six or seven communities a day. “Using the media, like radio and television, has made a real difference to my work, and the impact I have,” she says.
“You can only get to the heart and soul of a person when you take time to listen.”
Being more media-competent, however, has not interrupted Gift’s practice of walking from community to community and speaking personally to the women and men, boys and girls, face-to-face, one-by-one. This unique approach is a crucial part of her campaign and has proven to be very successful. “You can only get to the heart and soul of a person when you take time to listen. Listening is much more powerful than talking or coming up with a solution that people are not ready for.”
Whenever possible, Gift tries to involve the communities in making the right decisions and finding the best way to end Female Genital Mutilation. She usually identifies five people in each community and trains them to become ambassadors for her campaign. A major aspect of this approach is to learn to ask the right questions. “We don’t tell people how to end FGM in their community; the people develop the process themselves,” explains Gift. “We start by asking what they think could be a solution to the problem. If you listen and wait and gently manage the conversation, then people will eventually give you the answer you are hoping to get. This is what makes our campaign different. People are much more willing to change if they have a sense of belonging in the process.”
“People are much more willing to change if they have a sense of belonging in the process.”
Gift stresses that her campaign is not about condemning anyone for their actions, but rather to reshape the mindset of people while acknowledging their culture and traditions. For her, this is the only route to the long-term results she is seeking. “Female Genital Mutilation is a violation of the human rights of women and girls. It is a serious danger to their mental and physical health; it is cruel and traumatic. There is not one single reason that justifies this practice, so we have to work towards eradicating it,” she says. “But we know that it takes an integrated approach to achieve this goal. It is not an easy undertaking.”
There were times in the past when Gift’s path was long and strewn with obstacles, times when fear for her own safety was a constant companion. She was threatened, ostracised and attacked. Those times are over. “I don’t get scared anymore,” says Gift. “I get stronger every day, and I know I will achieve what I want to achieve.”
To move her campaign forwards, Gift and her team have developed a Five-Step-Master-Plan. “We realised that working closely with the men in the community can have a real impact. Because they are well respected and listened to, they also have a strong say when it comes to FGM.” Persuading the men to support her campaign is one of the measures Gift will focus on this year. Her organisation, Cesved, also plans to turn sporting activities into anti-FGM events. “Football is big in Nigeria,” explains Gift. “It attracts huge crowds from all social backgrounds and professions; students, girls and boys, FGM survivors and cutters, pastors and activists. Football in our country has the power to harmonise people, religions and traditions. So we will make sport work in our interest.”
“They want me to continue what I am doing. So, I will.”
Gift’s plans for the years to come have never been more ambitious: “We want to build an FGM Training Center where women and girls, men and boys, survivors and cutters, can find a safe and non-judgemental space to receive counselling and to obtain information about Female Genital Mutilation.” Funding will remain one of her biggest challenges but she hopes that, with more awareness, increased funding will follow.
Gift is an inspiration and a role model, and she demonstrates the qualities of a powerful business woman. But success has not slowed her down—more the opposite: “What makes me happy is when people call me and ask me to come back to their community to talk about FGM. Or they encourage me to visit other communities where they know the practice is still being carried out. This growing level of trust, engagement and the desire to change keeps me going. More and more people want to be rescued from Female Genital Mutilation, and they want me to continue what I am doing. So, I will."
For more information on Gift's work, please visit the website of her organisation, Cesved.
6 February is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a UN-sponsored awareness day. The 2017 theme is "Building a solid and interactive bridge between Africa and the world to accelerate ending FGM in 2030."
Working together in New York, and in the field: Hello World and Avenues: The World School
End of last year, Project Hello World and Avenues: The World School, New York, began a partnership to make quality education accessible to all. Our collaboration is wide-ranging, and covers research, development, and programming. The partnership brings together the development expertise of Hello World and the educational innovation of Avenues.
The common goal of this collaboration is to understand how technology can benefit students academically and on a social level, and to document and research the challenges associated with technology-based learning in remote places. Together, we also aim to enhance the usability and reliability of our Internet kiosks, the Hello Hubs.
In November, the Project Hello World team travelled to New York to put their ideas into practice. With a focus on student-driven learning we aimed to find out exactly how and what students learn when using the Hello Hubs.
"Our collaboration is wide-ranging."
Our team became part of the Avenues community both in and out of the classroom. We taught alongside Avenues teachers in classes on Design and Engineering, Programming, and Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Together we built a Hello Hub in the Tech Incubation class—the first ever Hub in North America. Between classes we had speaking engagements with parents, staff and students that highlighted our work at Project Hello World.
During our two weeks at the school we were able to refine our development objectives and we added a new dimension to the Avenues community. Our partnership will enable students from Avenues and students at the Hello Hubs to connect via the Internet and to maintain this important and ground-breaking connection for years to come.
Drew Edwards, Manager Project Hello World
“We are really starting to see the true value of the Hello Hubs—and this is only the beginning."
As Project Manager of Hello World, Drew Edwards is at the heart of the organisation’s operations. He liaises with communities, government officials and suppliers, and he orchestrates logistics.
"Every organisation in our sector is working with fewer resources than they need and carrying heavier workloads than they ought in the pursuit of worthy missions. Recently, we got a glimpse into the output of our work, seeing impact beginning to blossom." The Hubs have now become an integral part of each community’s education system. So successful have they been that parents and teachers alike are now pushing for the Hubs to play a bigger role in schools, which is exactly what was hoped for when the initial concept was formed.
“Our Hubs are assembled by the communities that use them, creating a sense of ownership and appreciation that is instilled right from the beginning”, says Drew. “Each Hub is a complex and intimidating machine at first, and the process of putting one together can often take a couple of weeks. During this time communities are taught not only how to repair it, should it break down, but they can ask questions about what they can achieve with the Hub. The two-week build period gets them excited about the prospect of learning."
"Hello Hubs are active for an average of 19 hours every day."
Hello World’s figures indicate that the Hello Hubs are active for an average of 19 hours every day, which is remarkable given that they are located outdoors and placed in communities that do not always have electricity. On average there are eight people around the Hub during any one session, something which Drew regards as “very encouraging”. He adds, “Not only does this show that people are looking to absorb knowledge even if they are not at the helm, it also means that sharing and collaboration are being successfully fostered, and it is likely that discussions and debates about the content are happening during these sessions."
Drew also believes the Hello Hubs are helping people gain knowledge, while also ensuring that everyone becomes more aware of the idea that not everything should be taken at face value, that it is good to ask questions. “The Internet is extraordinary, but an important lesson is learned when people realise that not every article or statistic should automatically be regarded as accurate”, says Drew. “Once people, and especially children, begin to question the reliability of the information they are seeing, they start approaching all matters of life with a more critical eye, and it is amazing to see such a development taking place."
According to Drew, something that has become clear in each of the communities is that children are often taking the lead on how the Hello Hubs are used. Children are beating the adults in acquiring new skills like computer proficiency and competency in typing—and so they are taking charge.
The staff of Hello World speak at length with each community prior to a build so that they understand what a Hello Hub does and what its potential benefits are. Drew believes this to be a vital means of building trust, forging relationships and discovering how the Hubs will be used. “What we have seen is that, not only do the Hubs have the capacity to expand school curriculums, but they are also being used to find and apply for jobs hundreds of miles away”, says Drew. “Something as simple as access to the Internet can genuinely increase opportunities and expand horizons."
"The Hubs have the capacity to expand school curriculums."
The next big Hub-related challenge will be to analyse the data that has been collected from the current installations. By understanding how people are learning, what they are learning, which features they find valuable and which are not being used, Drew and his team will be able to tailor the Hubs to make them as beneficial as possible.
“We are taking steps into the unknown with this project”, admits Drew. “Every day I am gaining a better understanding of what can be done and how we can make the most significant impact. There are a lot of other objectives we would like to hit further down the line, such as measuring literacy progression and determining how we can customise each device to better serve individual communities.
Drew is confident that the Hello Hubs will become even more valuable as improvements continue to be implemented. He also believes that the success of the Hubs shows that there is an appetitive for this form of education, and that it works.
“What we have done so far proves the concept is valid. What we now want is to be able to go to investors, or possibly even government officials, and show them data that backs up what we have been saying for years: that our Hello Hubs are a viable educational tool, and they have the power to make a real difference to people’s lives.”
For more information on Hello World and the Hello Hubs please visit our website.
How a TED Talk by Sugata Mitra inspired a school in the cloud for Africa, and beyond…
Three and a half years ago, Katrin Macmillan watched the TED Prize 2013 talk by Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, in which he discussed his ‘Hole in the Wall’ research project and stated his ambition to build a ‘school in the cloud’. He wanted to find out if children who have little or no access to education could educate themselves, simply by having access to the Internet. The children exceeded his expectations – and his TED talk became the inspiration and motivation for Katrin to start Project Hello World.
In response to Professor Mitra’s innovative concept of self-organised digital learning, Project Hello World developed a solar-powered outdoor Internet kiosk, the Hello Hub. Each Hub is WiFi-enabled and is loaded with educational software and applications. With unlimited access to state-of-the-art technology, children who lack formal schooling have an opportunity to shape their own learning and thereby create a brighter future for themselves, and their communities.
Because of its principles of community engagement, sustainability and open source sharing of its technical designs, Hello World challenges traditional notions of development work. The project has initiated a new approach to learning, with just one goal in mind: to end the education deficit across the globe.
Critical research on the impact of child-led digital learning and the Hello Hubs is still at an early stage. A new and important collaboration between Project Hello World and SOLE Central, Professor Mitra’s centre for research and practice at Newcastle University, will now enable ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of the Hello Hubs and their impact on the communities they serve.
SOLE Central ‘s work is based on fourteen years of research expertise which has shown that children with access to the Internet can learn almost anything. These self-organised learning environments (SOLEs) allow students to learn collaboratively using the Internet. They also provide invaluable data for future research and development.
This partnership will see SOLE Central experiment further with self-organised learning at established Hello Hub projects in African communities. The data on usage and educational attainment will be collected and analysed by the research experts at the University.
By this means SOLE and Project Hello World will create even more efficient Hello Hubs to provide children in developing countries with access to education. The process of refining and improving our work never ends.
“This partnership is proof that sometimes all it takes to create real change is to respond to a bold call for a better world,” says Katrin Macmillan. “I saw Sugata Mitra on TED and, even though I didn’t know at that point how to reach a feasible system for universal education, I knew that we had to try. So we set out to answer Sugata's challenge to reach all children with a ‘school in the cloud’. Three years and five Hello Hubs later, we can say that we are on our way to achieving that goal."
To find out more about how Sugata’s TED Talk that inspired Project Hello World please read the blog post by Duncan McMillan, advisor to Projects For All.
About SOLE Central and the School in the Cloud Project:
SOLE Central is the global hub for research and practice into self-organised learning environments (SOLEs) at Newcastle University, UK, bringing together researchers, practitioners, policy makers and entrepreneurs.
School in the Cloud is learning at the edge of chaos; a place where children come together to discover and explore self-organised learning (SOLE). It aims to inspire them to become creative and curious problem-solvers who have the confidence and skills they need to tap into the global network of knowledge. It is a project within SOLE Central.
Project Hello World and Avenues: The World School: Partners in taking on the education deficit
Living in New York City, one of the most technologically savvy places on the planet, and being part of the Avenues community with access to the most state-of-the art-technology and educational resources available, it’s easy to forget what life was like before the Internet. It wasn’t that long ago that newspapers were bought from a vendor, long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive and writing to someone meant handwritten letters that could take weeks to arrive. The Internet has transformed our lives.
But that isn’t necessarily true across the world. For many people, unlimited access to information is unimaginable. Checking emails is neither a concern nor a possibility; verifying a news source or a health scare is not an option; taking a course online is impossible.
And yet, communities without Internet access are perhaps those who need it the most. The Internet can be used for education, health and nutrition research, connecting to the world, finding lost relatives, advocating for our human rights, sharing and creating news, solving problems and so much more. It is critically needed in developing communities that want to improve the lives of their inhabitants.
In these communities, connectivity could make a huge impact. Mobile networks are rapidly increasing in size and coverage, and this growth has paved the way for a connected future. But there is a long way to go.
Project Hello World, a project run by the UK-US human rights organization Projects For All, is on a mission to bring education to all and to end the global education deficit. By building Internet kiosks called “Hello Hubs,” which are focused on remote places that do not have schools or only have the most basic educational resources, Project Hello World makes access to information and educational resources a reality for thousands of people in the communities.
Avenues is thrilled to welcome the Project Hello World team to New York, to work with our students, faculty and staff over the next two weeks. Students throughout the school will be building a “stripped-down” version of a Hello Hub, learning about community-led projects and gaining insight into what it’s like to build something for real-world use that is truly life changing for people in remote and marginalized communities. The Avenues faculty will continue to support Project Hello World in designing research, data tools and new communication and design materials to help the organization grow and reach their mission to bring education for all.
Parents are welcome to stop by the ninth floor to see the Hello Hub build in progress, and please join Projects For All’s Katrin MacMillan and Roland Wells at 7:00 p.m. on November 9 in the Black Box Theater to learn more about the organization and the work we are collaborating on. We are also looking forward to the SXSWedu panel in March 2017, where we will present and discuss together our research findings and share the impact being made in education in remote communities.
By Faith Rosen
Director of Product Management, Avenues: The World School
(This post was first published in OPEN, the news and discussion blog of Avenues: The World School)
For more information on Avenues: The World School, please visit here.
Our Hero Gift, who fights Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Nigeria, launches new website!
Today we are excited to launch the new website of Our Hero Gift Augustine and her organisation Cesved (Centre for Social Value and Early Childhood) which will give her a platform for her relentless campaign to fight Female Genital Mutilation and to increase awareness for her crucial and life-saving work. Everything about Gift, her husband Abu and their organisation Cesved can now be found on www.cesved.org.
“When I started working in one of the hospitals in Nigeria, I came across many cases of breast-related conditions, vesicovaginal fistulas, and I saw mothers dying during childbirth. I realised that these complications were mostly a result of Female Genital Mutilation, Breast Ironing and other harmful practices, which are based on the cultural and traditional belief systems in my country. This was a turning point in my life: I was no longer interested in being a nurse, I wanted to become an activist, but I didn't know how. When I told my husband about my plans, he asked me how I would feel if our children and grandchildren married into such a cultural and traditional system. 'I would feel sad', I answered, 'and I would fight back.' Abu responded: 'Then fight back now, and end this.' So I did.” (Read more about Gift’s story here.)
Gift has been supported by Projects For All’s programme Our Heroes since 2015 which pays her a full-time salary, guaranteed for ten years. That way, Gift can focus on her crucial community work without hardship and distraction.
Gift is also supported by The Guardian End FGM Global Media Campaign, as well as Change.org who helped her set up a petition to vote in the law to end FGM in Cross River State, Nigeria.
Please sign Gift's petition here - and support her to make Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria an evil of the past.
Gift’s fight to #EndFGM: “We have to enforce the law and stop the cycle of pain!”
Gift Augustine, a trained nurse and midwife, is a remarkable woman. She has made it her mission to fight gender-based violence in her homeland of Nigeria. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is one of the main foci of her relentless campaign. While working at a hospital in Nasarawa, Gift came across many women who experienced severe complications during labour and birth or suffered from Vesicovaginal Fistula. She soon realised that these complications were a result of Female Genital Mutilation, a practise based on cultural and traditional believes that leaves girls and women in pain, traumatised and unable to develop naturally. It was during that time that Gift decided to quit her secure job and to start campaigning. She founded the non-profit organisation Cesved (Centre for Social Value and Early Childhood) and, with the support of her husband Abu and the Our Heroes program by Projects For All, she has since visited countless schools, churches and communities to raise awareness of the physical and mental impact that FGM has on girls and women, and to eradicate the practice for good.
Gift’s approach is unique: she speaks to the women, girls, influencers and those carrying out FGM (“the cutters”) one-on-one, face-to-face. “It is crucial to gain the trust of the girls and women in order to open up to me,” says Gift. “Cut women see themselves as victims so they want to shy away from a discussion. It needs a lot of talking to convince them that being cut doesn’t make them less of a woman. Being uncut myself, however, is a big challenge when speaking to the elders and the women in the community, as they perceive me as unfit and unclean. I am dealing with very sensitive issues which are deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of my country. We have made great progress with our campaign so far, but breaking taboos and creating long-term change is a long and incremental process, and we can’t expect it overnight."
As a clear sign of recognition of her work, Gift has recently been invited to the Guardian Media Academy, part of the media group’s global campaign to end FGM. Over the course of five days, journalists, activists, members of UNFPA and representatives from Christian and Islamic faith groups came together in Ibadan, Nigeria, to join forces. They shared their experiences and discussed strategies of how to raise awareness and amplify their individual campaigns. “The Media Academy showed us how important communications and the media are for campaigning,” explains Gift. “Especially radio can be a cost-effective way of getting our messages across to a wider audience."
Nigeria passed a federal law to ban FGM in 2015, but Gift sharply faults the lack of conviction to enforce it across the country. ”FGM is barbaric and a violation of human rights,” she exclaims. “Even though the practise is illegal, there are still too many girls suffering. It shows that the current law is simply not effective.” During the Guardian Media Academy, Kathrine Sladden of Change.org worked with Gift to set up a petition to enforce the law in Cross River State, Nigeria. The petition has now over 100 supporters – a small success but far more signatures are needed to make a real impact, and urgently!
There is a long way to go for Gift and her fellow campaigners. They have the experience, knowledge and tools to make #EndFGM a reality one day, and the backing from the public and the global media is immense. But the biggest challenges remain the lack of support from national government bodies and funding. “I have notable expenses for training volunteers, hiring a car to visit remote villages, and for paying teaching aids and office staff,” says Gift. “These are crucial factors if I am to be effective in my daily work. I am so grateful for the support I already receive, but I know that with more funding I could do so much more. My dream and hope for the next five years is to make FGM in Cross River State an evil of the past – and I will not stop until I have reached this goal."
Cesved (website under construction. Launch in September 2016)
Guardian Global Media Campaign to end FGM
Gift is in need for more funding to amplify her #endFGM campaign. If you would like to support her, please get in touch with us to discuss how, or send us a donation. Thank you.
If you would like to support Gift’s work to end FGM now, then please sign her current petition on Change.org. Every single signature will make a difference – let yours be one of them, because: Together we can #endFGM.