Reconstructive surgery gives hope of life to FGM victim
By Steven Ariong (2015)
Photo by Institute of Current World Affairs
Tegla Chepolukuma was just 14 years old when her friends advised her to go for Female Genital cutting. She remembers how her friends were counting days and looking forward to the ‘special’ day organized for the girls to be cut.
When that day came on a Wednesday, her grandmother came to their home in Kalas to cut them. It was Tegla’s grandmother who coaxed her and told her not to worry and that it was important to go through the rite in order to become a respectable woman and increase her chances of getting married some day.
“I closed my eyes tight and tried to gather all my courage,” she said. She wanted to wait a little bit, but her grandmother and another woman held her down.
Tegla does not wish or like talking about that day. The memory is too painful. She was scared.
Her sister, who had the procedure done before her, bled so much to the point of nearly dying.
Tegla says after she was cut, she was married off within a month. The man who married her however chased her away because she could not conceive yet the man and his relatives wanted children.
“I came back home and stayed for about one year. While at home I got a message from Transcultural Physical Organization (TPO), an NGO calling for the girls who were cut to be taken for reconstruction. I didn’t believe I would get back to my normal life, but the team from TPO took me to Mbale regional referral hospital where I was reconstructed. I thank God I was reconstructed because shortly after, I was able to conceive my first born,” a smiling Tegla, carrying her baby.
Many other girls have stories similar to Tegla’s. Mr. Jeros Odyambo the program officer of TPO who was also involved in ensuring that Tegla gets reconstructive surgery said Tegla’s surgery and that of five other girls was funded by UNFPA and UNICEF.
Talking about FGM what is it all about
The World Health Organization defines Female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. It also involves any other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
FGM/C is a millennia-long custom that practicing communities believe is an essential part of raising a girl properly.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) about 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM/C and some 92 million girls 10 years old and above who have undergone the practice are in Africa.
Doctors say FGM has several immediate and long-term health consequences. Many women like Tegla suffer for years after being circumcised because of the scarring and frequent infections. The pain is constant.
Meanwhile, several organizations in Uganda are fighting to end this practice that is mainly practiced in Karamoja, Pokot and Sebei.
In 2010, the Uganda government passed a law against the practice, with offenders facing life imprisonment.