A conversation with change makers: AUB students lead to end FGM in Somaliland

Sally Abou Melhem <sa256@aub.edu.lb>, Office of Communications​​

AUB freshman students Ubah Ali and Kawsar Muuse from Somaliland, and Claudette Igiraneza from Rwanda, a sophomore in environmental health, are members of one of the winning teams at the Social Venture Challenge. Their project, Solace for Somaliland Girls Foundation, is a social venture committed to eradicating all forms of female genital mutilation (FGM) in communities across Somaliland by increasing awareness about the dangers of the practice through education and empowerment.

Watch the video for inspiring insights into Ubah, Kawsar, and Claudette’s thoughts, journey, and hopes.

The Social Venture Challenge:
The Social Venture Challenge is a social entrepreneurship competition organized by the Mastercard Foundation in collaboration with The Resolution Project. Scholars from the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at AUB participated in this competition, which was part of the 2018 Baobab Summit that took place in Kigali, Rwanda in August 2018. The Baobab Summit is an annual summit for scholars organized by Mastercard Foundation, aiming to connect its scholars and empower them to change the world around them.

Thirty-one teams of Mastercard Foundation Scholars from around the world reached the semi-final stage of the Social Venture Challenge, and got to pitch their projects to a panel of judges. The winning teams earned a fellowship, which includes funds, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers, to pursue their projects. Two teams from AUB participated in this stage with their projects, Green Shift and Solace for Somaliland Girls Foundation, and were among the winners. 

Solace for Somaliland Girls Foundation:
According to research done by the team, 98% of women in Somaliland have gone through FGM, and a circumciser mutilates at least 40 girls a week in some regions. This social venture aims to eradicate FGM through two projects, one that is short-term, and another long-term project. The first comprises one week of intensive training that will be offered in three districts of Somaliland to 170 individuals, which will emphasize the dangers of FGM on women’s physical, mental, and sexual health. The long-term project consists of training and certifying 60 individuals on a yearly basis. After the completion of their training each year, 15 individuals out of the 60 will be selected to train the next cohort. Goats will also be offered to the graduates, as a token of appreciation, and to help improve their financial conditions.

The Solace for Somaliland Girls Foundation will work closely with the Somaliland Ministry of Religious Affairs to assist them in transmitting and reinforcing the idea that FGM is not a religious requirement, as it is perceived as an Islamic tradition in that area.

As a youth-led movement, the solace foundation also plans to include Somaliland youth by creating Anti-FGM clubs in high schools within the areas of implementation. ”We believe that making youth, future leaders, part of the Anti-FGM movement will fundamentally shield the next generation of Somali girls not go through FGM,” they told us. The solace foundation also plans to collaborate with a Somaliland telecommunications company that will support them in spreading their message to the entire population in Somaliland.  

One of the solace foundation’s long-term goals is to reduce cases of FGM to 25% in the areas where the project is implemented. Depending on their success, they are committed to replicate the project in other districts of Somaliland that have high rates of FGM.
The two Somali team members are victims of FGM themselves. They explain that even though they have gone through this process over 15 years ago, they still remember the pain and side effects. They also explain how they have gathered the courage to talk about their experience openly, even though it is considered a taboo in their communities, using it as a “huge inspiration and push toward the eradication of this tradition.”

In a box on the side of the article:
The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at AUB offers full scholarships for graduate and undergraduate education to those whose talent and promise exceed their financial resources, through a partnership with the Mastercard Foundation in Canada. With a vision that education is a catalyst for social and economic change, the program focuses on developing leaders who are transformative, encouraging them to be active contributors in their communities, countries, and regions. 

At AUB, Mastercard Foundation scholars—who are provided with financial, social, and academic support—attend a series of workshops, courses, and fieldwork, in addition to the courses required for their degree.