Bringing about change
Bringing about change
In the north-east of Tanzania lies the Mara Region, home to the world-renowned Serengeti National Park, visited by millions of people from all over the world who witness the grandeur and beauty of rural Africa, the ancient wildebeest migration and see scores of other African wildlife in their natural habitat.
Mara Region is also home to Captain Lucy Chacha, the third child of nine, but the first of twins. Born in 1978, she enjoyed a happy childhood steeped in the beautiful culture and strength of her native Kuria tribe.
But like most cultures, among the good things are cultural practices and activities that are not good, and some which are harmful. In her tribe, female genital mutilation (FGM, or ukeketaji in Kiswahili) is still widely practised.
As a cultural rite of passage, girls between the ages of 10 and 20 are sent to undergo this “cutting” and return home to gifts of money, vitenge (African textile wraps) and hearty congratulations. After this, many will end their formal education and marry.
When Lucy was 14, her family prepared to send her and her twin sister to undergo FGM. She said to her parents that she did not want to do this, but they told her she must go.
In keeping with culture and tradition, she was threatened with stories that if she refused, someone in her family would die, and she would be chased away from her community.
“In those days, there were no institutions or churches that would help girls who did not want to be ‘cut’ and there was no one to defend our rights,” Lucy says.
Though it was against her will, there was no alternative and so in December 1992, Lucy and her sister experienced FGM.
Not only did she find the procedure to be excruciating, but her distress grew when she found out that several of the other girls lost their lives that day due to uncontrolled bleeding.
Her sister lost so much blood from the procedure that she became unconscious for a while. All of this pushed Lucy’s traumatised spirit to the limit.
Local medicine revived her sister and the girls were able to finish the last part of their rite of passage by leaving the camp with a joyful entourage and walking the 10km back to their village without crying or showing any signs of pain.
Commitment to change
The apostle Paul reminds us that there is hope: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
God so often takes scary and sorrowful situations and turns them into stories of hope for others.
Though her life was physically and emotionally altered by FGM, Lucy praises God that he also had a life-changing plan in her future to use her experience for his glory.
When she was 17, Lucy married Lucas Chacha and together they followed God’s call to ministry in The Salvation Army when in 2002 they entered the Officers’ Training College in Dar es Salaam.
Several years later, Lucy attended a faith-based Facilitation Seminar in Nairobi where then-Territorial Commander, Commissioner Vinece Chigariro, challenged delegates to look at their lives and ministry and ask what they had done in their communities to make a change?
“Though I had always deeply remembered my experience with FGM and wished I could have done something about it, I could only answer honestly that I had done absolutely nothing to make a change in my home community,” Lucy said.
That week, she made the commitment to do something for her people about FGM and early marriages. God gave her the courage to begin using her story by doing something that would lead to change for the next generation of girls.
Fighting to end FGM
Returning to the Tanzania Territory, Lucy shared her story with the leadership and a dream was born to help end the practice of FGM in the Mara Region, where The Salvation Army has two divisions. The Women’s Ministries Department committed to leading this ministry, which was supported by all sections of the territory.
“We began with prayer, then saturating the territory with our story, and teaching and inviting all Salvationists to engage in the process of bringing an end to this practice,” says Lucy.
In March 2016, during Easter weekend, with more than 1200 Salvationists present in Tarime, the message was delivered: FGM was not a practice that honours God, values girls and women and is certainly not a cultural practice that The Salvation Army condones.
“After Easter, our newly formed committee of 25 people spent two weeks going house-to-house to take a survey to help determine the best way forward in the eradication of this practice, firstly within our church and secondly throughout the communities of Mara Region,” Lucy shares.
A baseline survey was created. The need to saturate the region, to sensitise every level of society with understanding of FGM and to teach the truth about it, was established.
Phase two, longer-term goals, include offering a safe house where girls who do not have the support of their family can flee in the “cutting” season and find advocacy, safety and legal support.
Also planned is advocacy for girls in education and vocational skills training, and reading and writing classes for girls who are too old to continue in government schools but need an alternative to an early marriage.
What began in Lucy’s life as a traumatic experience has been set free from its silent cell, and is now beginning to make a difference to her people.
“Throughout the winter ‘cutting’ season and beyond, we will do what we can to help others by raising our voice against FGM, early marriages and other forms of injustice towards girls,” says Lucy.
Salvationists are promising not to engage in the practice of FGM and young men are promising that they will only marry “uncut” girls.
Training material, in the shape of teaching charts, is being created and used, seminars and sensitisation continues and the word is getting out to girls that they don’t have to go through FGM because there are advocates ready to support them.
“We are now, by faith, working towards phase two,” says Lucy.
The Salvation Army was given land for the safe house and is raising funds for construction and ongoing training.
Join the people of Tanzania in thanking God for his life-changing work through Lucy’s life, and pray for the continued eradication of FGM in the Mara Region.
Colonel Debbie Horwood is the Territorial President of Women’s Ministries, Brazil Territory.
This article was first published in New Frontier when Colonel Debbie Horwood was Territorial President of Women’s Ministries, Tanzania Territory.