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Rescued from FGM, trained on child rights and now chasing her dreams

November 15th, 2023

Gati, a 17-year-old girl from Tanzania suffered an illness when she was a child, resulting in disability. Viewed as a ┬┤curse┬┤, she was scheduled to undergo FGM. Luckily, she managed to escape and fled to a rescue center. With our support, she was provided with counselling and psychosocial support, and was enrolled for a sewing and design course. She is now pursuing her dream of becoming a successful tailoring and design professional.

Photo: Gati, engaged in a design project

Life at home

Gati lives with her eight siblings, father and her step-mother in a village in Tanzania. Gati’s father married another wife when Gati was about 10 years old, following the loss of Gati’s mother. Her step-mother came into the family with 4 children (1 boy and 3 girls) younger than her.  

Gati’s father is the sole provider for the family. He engages in small-scale mixed farming and cultivates cassava, maize, beans and sweet potatoes for family consumption. He sells surplus from the harvest and earns approximately 60 Euros every month which takes care of other family needs as well as school needs.

In the family’s homestead, there are 3 structures made of mud and iron sheet roofs. Each of the three houses has one bedroom and a sitting room. Two of these houses are for the children whereas the third one is for the parents. The family uses a small thatched latrine that stands at the corner of the compound. They usually collect and use rainwater for domestic chores, and other times they fetch tapped water 500 metres away from home. There is no playground within their homestead but the children team up with other children from their neighbourhood to play at the school compound 3 kilometres away whenever they get opportunities to play.

Illness that resulted in disability

In 2012, Gati suffered a prolonged illness which was believed to be malaria that was accompanied by convulsions, a condition which resulted in disability to her leg and hand in the same year. Her father therefore denied her with the belief that disability is a curse in that family.  “Before falling sick, every morning I had breakfast and went to school”. Gati reminisced.  After dropping out of school, she had to remain at home and do all of the chores including cleaning the compound, washing all the dishes, caring for the younger siblings and sometimes helping to prepare family meals.

Vulnerable to exploitation

In 2018, when Gati was almost 13 years old, her father and the step-mother forced her to undergo FGM during the December cutting period but she was against it because she already knew the effects of FGM. Her older sister had been forcefully cut and bled a lot, and she told Gati how painful the cut was and her friends had similar stories. Because of the pressure from her parents, Gati ran away to the rescue shelter in December 2018. After the cutting season in January 2019, she was rejected by her parents because of refusal to undergo the cut. 

Rescued from FGM

Gati was identified by a staff member of the rescue shelter in November 2018 during preparation of the cutting season. This was after the sensitisation and training of the community members who are against FGM and other forms of GBV against girls in the community. Gati escaped to the rescue shelter for protection, where she was provided with the basic needs and sensitized on her rights as well as the laws concerning the issues of FGM and child marriage on girls. 

Much needed assistance

In April 2019, with the support of TdH NL through the GIVE TZ 2 project, Gati was supported to pursue a sewing and designing course at a vocational training school in Tanzania. She was provided with medical assessment before admission to the training school. She was also provided with school fees, pens, shoes, school bag and school uniforms. In the school, Gati received counselling and got additional psychosocial support from her peers. She was also educated on the rights of children living with disabilities and the right to protection from FGM, child marriage and any form of abuse.

Gati finally graduated in 2021, having completed the two year course and had the opportunity to continue practising her sewing skills at the rescue shelter. However, she struggled using the sewing machine due to her disability. When it was apparent that she may not be able to fully utilise the skills she acquired during her vocational training, she was enrolled in a tailoring and design course at another vocational training centre which provides disability-friendly sewing machines. She is currently continuing with her training on tailoring and design course at the vocational training centre. 

Follow up

Gati continues to receive sensitization and awareness on gender-based violence issues and the rights of children living with disabilities. Since 2018 when she was first rescued, she has never been accepted back by her parents because she ran away and did not undergo FGM, and any attempts to reintegrate her back to her family has been met with hostility. However, with frequent home visits and sensitisation, her step-mother and other family members have now changed their attitude and began to speak up against FGM. Sadly, her father remained reluctant until June 2023 when he called the rescue shelter, wishing to talk to her daughter, an indication of a change towards accepting his daughter back. Continuous assessment is ongoing to determine the entire family’s willingness to receive back and protect Gati from FGM and any other forms of exploitation.

Empowered mindset

Gati attended workshops on children with disabilities and became a peer educator. She is knowledgeable about their rights and sensitises her peers, focusing on at-risk children's rights and inclusion. She is now empowered and calls for the prohibition of FGM. She is motivated to stand up for children and girls living with disabilities in her community. “I did not want to be cut because my sister felt unbearable pain when she was cut. I also knew that when my time came, I would not be able to resist because I could not run due to disability. But after becoming aware of the rights of children with disabilities and the right to protection from FGM, I can now stand up for my rights and speak against FGM, and I can also advocate on the effects of FGM and demand for the rights of the girls with disabilities,” she explained. 

Renewed motivation and empowered to speak up

Gati has found new motivation to work hard in pursuit of her dreams. She is now dedicated and continues to concentrate on her studies at a vocational training centre in Tanzania, and believes that children with disabilities have the right to education as well. “Before, I believed that because I am a disabled girl I could not do anything, but with the support of the GIVE TZ project, I met other people with disabilities who are educated, others are doing business and are wealthy, and I also interacted with children with disabilities who are doing well academically. I came to believe that I can also do business and other activities which will help me make money and avoid being dependent on others,” she added. When the school closes, she returns to the rescue shelter.  

Gati is pleased that children with disabilities are now being considered. “I am happy that children with disabilities have started to be valued in our community and are being helped to fulfil their dreams. I am learning by seeing how children with disabilities are being involved in commemoration of national and international events to fight for their rights. I like to teach others on how to protect children with disabilities from discrimination and abuse,” she said. “The trainings and awareness that I have gained on the effects of FGM and gender based violence have made me bold to fight for my rights as a girl,” she added.

Dream for the future

Gati is driven by her aspiration for her future. “In the future, I dream of becoming a prominent producer of sweaters so that I can make sweaters for everyone, especially children with disabilities who cannot afford them; big and small, young and old.” she stated. 

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