Ain’t no hill high enough

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In the quest to find hills in South West London a trip to Lloyd Park, Croydon found some rare elevation last weekend. As I trotted two laps around the park on the hottest day of the year, it provided some much needed training for taking on the Pennines. On the final sharpest incline of the run, with the calve muscles dully aching and the sun glaring into my face, it seemed that the brow of the hill kept on getting further away each time I took a stride forward. I decided to let my thoughts wander me away from what was ahead…

One of the last occasions I was in Croydon was for an NHS FGM Conference, to raise awareness and understanding to lots of different public sector organisations that FGM was an issue that we needed to be aware of and respond to accordingly in this country. Upon entering the conference centre, with the usual circus of people networking over coffee and strategically finding seats next to their colleagues, one lady stood out from the rest. Amongst the black, grey and blue suited attendees, was a lady dressed in a fantastic bright yellow and green traditional African print dress. In an attempt to commend her for bringing some much needed brightness to the proceedings, the lights went down for the start of the conference before I had the chance.

For the next hour we were all informed of what FGM was; the different types, the health effects and appropriate safeguarding practices. It was a ‘chalk and talk’ understanding of the problem and the issues arising from FGM, and what different public sector bodies can do to support survivors and those at risk. Whilst it provided an education, the actual learning for the audience was what came next.

The lady I had spied in the African print dress walked serenely up to the lectern, introduced herself as Lucy, and explained her role in the charity organisation she founded to support young African origin people living in Croydon. She described the work she did with regards to FGM and supporting girls in the Croydon community. She then went on explain to all her story.

As a young girl growing up in Cameroon she and her twin sister were best friends. They had each other to play, learn and be with but most importantly rely upon… until the day that ‘it’ happened. For the next two minutes she detailed the pain both mentally and physically she felt a result of being a survivor FGM. She detailed what had happened the day of the cut and what happened afterwards. She also described the additional pain she felt, as a result of losing her twin sister to FGM.

As a proud Aunt of crazy but insanely awesome twin nieces I could appreciate and identify, having seen similar, with the stories Lucy relayed of her and her sister growing up together. She explained that although they were very distinct in their own personalities, they had a bond to each-other which she could not explain to others but they totally understood. What Lucy then eloquently described, the pain of suddenly not having your other half there, provided to us outsiders listening in a glimpse of what that twin-relationship is like and the effect on her of the loss at such a young age… I had been told that hearing from a survivor of FGM brings the horrific reality of FGM to life. It certainly does.

As I switched back into present that trudging up the never ending hill in-front of me, it didn’t seem so far. I knew it would end soon and it gave me that final bit of go to complete the training and remember the purpose of it of why I was doing it in the first place.

Lucy’s story is one of many reasons why we need to fight to end FGM. We can all do this, by raising awareness of its dangers to end the practice and supporting those who have survived, as a way of remembering those who have not.

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