Trigger Warning: This article discusses female genital mutilation and sexual violence.
As a peer educator trained by Humanity & Inclusion, Saly tours neighborhoods and organizes community talks to raise awareness of sexual health issues among young people. In each session, she invites 10 girls and 10 boys to discuss four subjects: puberty, sexuality and consent, family planning and sexual violence.
Fighting violence and female genital mutilation
"In addition to my awareness-raising work for HI, I share my knowledge and experience with young teenage girls in my neighborhood. They are often victims of abuse but never talk about it. These subjects are taboo here; we don't discuss them with our parents. But between young people, we can discuss the consequences of sexual violence," she explains.
Violence is something Saly knows all too well. When she was just 3 years old, her mother took her to her grandmother's village for a visit that ended with sexual trauma.
"One evening, a group of women came to our house. My grandmother asked me to join them in the bedroom. They spread my legs and I screamed... Then I fainted. I can't remember anything else."
Saly had been subjected to female genital mutilation. Afterward, she was bedridden for many weeks. Then, her mother then noticed that Saly was having difficulty walking. She took her to the hospital, where the doctor informed them that Saly could no longer walk properly because her right foot had remained contracted for too long — a physical response to the stress and trauma. Saly's parents couldn't afford the corrective surgery she needed.
Saly’s determination and courage
Despite her young age, Saly remained determined. One day, she crossed paths with members of HI’s team and was at last given access to appropriate medical care. After three painful operations, she could extend her right foot by a few more centimeters. She learned to move around on crutches and attended rehabilitation sessions.
Saly had dropped out of school at a very early age because the buildings were inaccessible and the other children made fun of the way she walked. HI's team enrolled her at the Conseil Ado Center, which provides advice and guidance to young victims of violence.
For a year, Saly took part in talks organized at the center by HI and developed her leadership skills and self-confidence. She was then tasked with defining professional goals. Today, Saly has her own sewing workshop and dreams of making outfits for the country's leading figures.
From person supported to peer educator
Saly became a volunteer and accompanied HI to awareness-raising sessions with other young people living in the remote villages of Kolda. With the knowledge and skills she developed, Saly made a key contribution to these activities. When a team member was due to leave the project in 2022, Saly was asked to become a peer educator.
"The day they told me the news, I didn't sleep all night because I was so happy! Me, Saly, who everyone laughed at! At home, I'm not taken seriously because I'm disabled, and here I was being offered a job. It was the happiest day of my life."
Today, Saly has just one message to pass on: "I ask all mothers to stop hiding their children with disabilities at home. Dare to take your disabled children out, and enroll them in school or in vocational training. Look at me: if I, Saly, can do it, so can your children."
Launched in 2020, the ENSEMBLE project improves access to sexual and reproductive health services and related rights, with a focus on women and adolescent girls, including those with disabilities. The project adopts a social and behavioral change approach based on the active participation of impacted populations and a gender-based analysis, including excluded groups such as people with disabilities. Funded by Global Affairs Canada, it is also being implemented in Togo and Ivory Coast, in partnership with CARE Canada.
To date, the ENSEMBLE project has achieved the following results:
- 207 community dialogues organized
- 262 community health workers and peer educators trained
- 2,382 recipients of contraceptive services
- 23,635 participants in awareness-raising
- 3 countries covered: Togo (maritime region), Ivory Coast (Gbeke region) and Senegal (Kolda region).