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Rescued from mutilation during the COVID-19 school closedown in Tanzania

May 20th, 2020

“When I came home after my school had closed, my aunt told me ‘We are planning to have you cut.’ I felt extremely sad. Then she kept quiet about it, so I supposed my family had postponed their plans and I was not going to be mutilated after all. I really thought the threat was gone and it was safe for me to remain home. I did not suspect that in fact they were continuing with their preparations, in all secrecy. Then Thursday afternoon, all of a sudden Dora and Ashura came to my house and took me to the shelter in Masanga. I was shocked how fast it all went.”

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Winfrida (15 years) was taken to the rescue centre of our partner Association for the Termination of Female Mutilation (ATFGM) by Dora and Ashura, who are ATFGM’s legal officer and social worker respectively. ATFGM acted upon a tip-off from one of the community informers they cooperate with. This anti-FGM volunteer had heard that Winfrida was to be mutilated at dawn, in the early morning of Friday 8 May.

When Dora and Ashura arrived at Winfrida’s house on Thursday afternoon, they did not find her. Luckily the girl’s brother, Stephen, was home and knew where she was. He took them to the girl and she was rescued.

By then Winfrida had been home for almost eight weeks, after the Tanzanian government abruptly closed all schools when the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the country. 

The girl is normally attending Form One of Tabora Girls Secondary School, a governmental secondary school in central Tanzania, about 600 kilometres away from her home.

"I stayed in the Masanga centre for the first time when I was only 9 years old"

It took her a full day of travelling to get back home after the school close-down. She is living with her aunt, ever since her parents passed away years ago.

The girl was born and raised in the Bwirege clan, the largest and most dominant clan of the Kuria community in Tarime District in Northern Tanzania. In the years that this clan has been mutilating, Winfrida has been staying in the ATFGM rescue centre in Masanga.

“I stayed in the Masanga centre for the first time when I was only 9 years old, during the cutting season of my clan. Four times in total I have been here to be protected from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019.”

Winfrida is coping well with what has happened: “Even though I need to be in isolation for the coming 2 weeks, I am happy to be at the shelter. I feel comfortable and safe, and I am glad that I am reunited with the friends I have made while staying here before.”

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