Why am I interested in helping refugees? When I tell anyone that I am a member of STAR this is often the first question they ask.  My motivation for wanting to learn more about refugees spans back a few years when I first read ‘Do They Hear You When You Cry?’ by Fauziya Kassindja. This autobiography follows the story of a young girl growing up in Togo called Fauziya.  She grew up in a loving home largely sheltered from the harsh practices taking place around her and was one of the fortunate few to have accessed education. The death of her father marked a bitter twist of events when her orthodox Muslim uncle took charge of the family exiling Fauziya’s mother to Nigeria and ending her education. The real trauma began when at the age of 17 Fauziya was told she was to marry a man thirty years her senior (who already had three wives) and undergo the practice of ‘Kakia’ also known as FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). The story is a harrowing account of the trials and tribulations she faced. Most shocking is the appalling manner in which she was treated upon entering America seeking asylum.

Prior to reading the book I was unaware of the issues of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and FGC (Female Genital Cutting), something widely practiced in Fauziya’s culture and several other African countries. I won’t go into the specifics of what occurs but needless to say it is an extremely horrendous, horrifying and dangerous procedure that is a total violation of women’s rights! Due to the unsanitary conditions in which it takes place many women are at a high risk of death, severe illness and long term health issues. Women often have no say in the matter due to the highly patriarchal nature of these societies.

Fauziya was one of the lucky few to escape FGM and her story is ultimately one of success. Her case marked a pivotal change in American immigration laws whereby FGM was subsequently recognised as a form of gender based persecution. I cannot recommend this book highly enough! Fauziya is a character of remarkable strength and a true inspiration.

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