Arusha Project


Aang Sarian
July 6, 2007, 1:10 pm
Filed under: Abroad Program, Uncategorized

Aang Sarian Yesterday we visited an incredible non-profit set in the Dodoma region, about a one hour drive from Kwa Idd. The co-founder, Gemma, was the first white person here I’ve seen who speaks Kiswahili fluently and understands a bit of Kimaasai as well. She is married to an equally qualified Maasai man who is also an Oxford graduate and speaks English immaculately. The organization, Aang Sarian, or house of Peace, works with traditional tribes in an effort to educate members on HIV/AIDS and use that as a medium for discussing female genital mutilation (FGM). Initially, Aang Sarian organized various village meetings in which all respected sectors of society (teachers, doctors, elders, etc.) where invited to speak about FGM and what the practice means in Maasai culture.

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In Maasai practice, young women are traditionally cut in a coming of age ceremony, however the operation is sometimes performed as early as birth for a few reasons. The Maasai perform FGM as a right of passage and a challenge to enter womanhood, to cleanse and purify, to prevent promiscuity and make a woman loyal to her husband, to raise social status, and as a part of a larger ceremony that teaches a girl the intricacies of adulthood and marriage. Aang Sarian’s goal is to remove FGM as a Maasai practice while maintaining and respecting the meaning behind the practice and using alternative ceremonial acts in its place. Individual Maasai man and women are educated on the effects of FGM who then disperse their knowledge among parents, girls, boys, elders and circumsizers so that these people will be approached by people they respect. Aang sarian held a conference to educate 100 ex-circumsizers who will spread the information to their peers. With the help of many Maasai and a culturally sensitive approach, Aang Sarian has developed a modified rite of passage that substitutes the operation with an HIV test (to challenge), a bathe of water (to cleanse), and education about FGM and HIV/AIDS. In this ceremony the money a girl’s parents would have paid for the operation is instead bequeathed to her as a gift. Myths that only a circumsized woman will remain loyal to her husband has been replaced with ideas woman have spoken about; that love and respect will accomplish this goal. Another myth that FGM cures a common female disease has also been disproved by medical science and for the first time, Maasai are actually being incouraged to seek out the aid of doctors and hospitals for serious illnesses and consult their traditional doctors second.

Originally, Aang Sarian was broadly an organization to preserve Maasai culture and was questioned when they adopted an anti-FGM campaign as the practice was inherent in Maasai tradition. However, Aang Sarian has so far done an incredible job of bridging traditional culture and current medical knowledge to create a healthier Maasai community much more adaptable to the changing world environment in which they live. 

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Aang Sarian is a very young organization, the modified ceremonies have only begun to be advocated this year, but already has established prestigious volunteer opportunities for masters students at Oxford and other top universities. They are currently looking to build a drop in center in Arusha town to target urban Maasai, especially the many Maasai men that work as guards for almost every house in the area. These people are more prone to contract HIV.

-Kaia

Corrections: In alternative ceremonies, the money a woman’s parents would pay to have her circumcised goes to an ex-circumciser who is present to perform a washing (alternative cleansing to substitute for FGM) and give health information about circumcision during the event. Also, Gemma’s husband did not attend Oxford. I apologize for all misunderstandings.

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