In the name of life

Maggie Civantos wants to travel to Kenya this summer. It won’t be for a holiday where she is dazzled by the spectacular sunsets that dye the Kenyan savannah in crimson. This actress has been trying to open, for the last couple of years, a centre where girls and teenagers can live without the fear that their family will cut off both their genitals and their childhood, with a razor blade. This same family will then, years later, organise an arranged marriage to a man who will have paid for a virgin, due to her mutilation. Sexually and literally. Kenyan minors who suffer this barbaric practice see their clitoris, the labia minora and part of the labia outer removed. The wound is sewn with hawthorn and two small holes are left to expel urine and menstruation, drop by drop, and very painfully. “I knew about this practice for years, but I thought it was a cultural or religious issue. But it is not. It is a barbaric deed that is committed for economic reasons. That’s why it has become a reality in countries like Kenya, “says Maggie. Her eyes were opened by a mother and a daughter called Asha and Hayat. She had a coffee with them, listened to their story and their desire for change that motivates their struggle. She knew there was no turning back. She had to help them curb this scourge that, despite being banned in countries like Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone or Kenya itself, has not yet been extinguished.

Asha’s life seems like the plot of a film, but it is completely real. And it has caused pain, both in body and soul, although the courage and sense of humour of Asha Ismail, a Somali woman who was born in Kenya, have healed the visible and invisible wounds caused by the woman who mutilated her, with her family’s approval, when she was a girl. Asha is now a mature woman who has just passed her fifties, and since 2007 is the heart and mind behind Save a Girl, Save a Generation. Her heart pumps out optimism to the three million girls who, according to the World Health Organization, run the risk of being mutilated each year in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. Her mind reminds the more than two hundred million women who have suffered mutilation that they have the courage and voice to rise up against this horrific practice.

From her NGO, Asha does her part to eradicate these practices, alerting through education and reminding people that there is no verse in the Koran to justify mutilation. Save a Girl, Save a Generation does not forget that female genital mutilation is closely linked to child and/or arranged marriages, and child exploitation, which according to UNICEF is suffered by 72 million children in the world. Of every four small slaves, one is African.

The life of Asha’s daughter gave the name of this Ismail family project. When Asha saved Hayat this horrible fate, she was saving her two granddaughters at the same time. Saving a generation was enough for Maisha and Nora, the new branches of the family tree, to grow away from the threat of a knife severing their sexuality in the name of tradition. Hayat Ismail said “Until I was pregnant I did not consider what my mother had suffered while thinking about the fate that awaited me as a woman. When she discovered that I would be a girl, the only thing that came to her mind were all the bad things that could happen to me”. The birth of her daughters were very different from those when Asha gave birth to her. Hayat gave birth in a Madrid hospital, twenty-five years after leaving her mother’s womb, in a taxi in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Her mother did not have time to get to the maternity ward. Her biological father was a Somali husband who was imposed on Asha through an arranged marriage. Hayat was a child when the civil war that ravaged Somalia broke out: her mother picked her up from the Kenyan refugee camp where her father had gone and they left together for Europe. They have lived in Spain for many years, but a part of them has not left the Horn of Africa.

Hayat tells me all this the night before her eldest daughter turns four. Grandma Asha was only a year older when she was mutilated. Neither Asha, nor Anab her grandmother had a choice in the matter. Hayat hopes that Anab, who is now an old lady who still lives in Kenya, will one day get to meet her greatgranddaughters.

At the moment, both mother and daughter, along with Maggie Civantos and the rest of the Save a Girl, Save a Generation team, are planning to go to the Kenyan capital in July to buy the plot of land where they hope one day to build the ‘Safe in Nairobi Rescue Centre’. The idea is that this home for fourteen girls will be completely staffed (teachers, cooks, chauffeurs, psychologists and security guards) by women to increase visibility for the equal rights between genders. This process will be filmed in a documentary directed by journalist Jon Cuesta. To finance this, the NGO has been attracting partners and capital over the years. Maggie Civantos, by acting as the project’s godmother, has been able to rally to the cause actresses including: Aura Garrido, Cecilia Freire, Natalia de Molina, Nerea Camacho and Lydia Bosch. A photographer called Sergio Lardiez has portrayed these actresses and other women in the itinerant exposition, ‘Libres’, which will raise funds for Save a Girl, Save a Generation. Last October, under the conviction the culture frees, they organised a charity concert in Madrid with well-known artists and groups Vetusta Morla, Alice Wonder, Delaporte, Arkano and Rozalén. This summer, in collaboration with Concept Hotel Group, 15% of each entrance ticket bought for the Dorado Live Shows acoustic concerts of Dorado Live Shows will be donated to Save a Girl, Save a Generation, in order to finance the work of an NGO that hoists the flag of hope.

It isn’t by accident that the names Hayat and Maisha literally mean “life.”

By Pablo Sierra