In collaboration with a foundation established by former supermodel Waris Dirie, the Adventist hospital in Berlin, Germany, opened a new center last week to help restore victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a cultural ritual in parts of Africa and Asia. The Krankenhaus Waldfriede opened the Desert Flower Center in partnership with the Desert Flower Foundation in Vienna, Austria.
Dirie, a Somali with a successful career in the fashion industry spoke at the opening ceremony of the center in Berlin on September 11. She is a victim of FGM from age five and has become an international activist on the issue. Her 1997 book Desert Flower was made into a movie in 2009. The center at the Berlin Adventist Hospital is the first clinic opened in cooperation with her foundation.
At the opening ceremony, 300 attendees watched a portion of the movie depicting Dirie being mutilated. “How many little girls are victims of such suffering,” Dirie said in her speech. “Even with all these tears, I’m truly happy to sit here. When I see this sign ‘Desert Flower Center,’ I do believe in truth."
Dirie ran away from her home in Somalia as a teenager, surviving a multi-day trek across the desert without food or water. She eventually made her way to London, where she worked at McDonalds and learned English in evening classes. She became a supermodel and was Oil of Olay’s first black model. She gave up her modeling career in 1996 and has since authored five books.
FGM is practiced in nearly 30 countries in Africa and Asia. Young girls are subjected to the removal or slicing of some of their sexual organs as a coming-of-age cultural tradition. FGM is sometimes viewed as a status symbol within certain cultures and some advocates claim that it controls sexuality and promotes chastity. Its effects often include infection, chronic pain and infertility. The United Nations banned the practice last year. The World Health Organization estimates that 150 million women are victims.
The new center at Berlin Adventist Hospital is expected to serve between 50 and 100 women each year. Dirie, 48, said her foundation is planning to establish other clinics worldwide, especially in Africa. Another speaker at the event was Dr. Pierre Foldés, the French physician who partnered with Dr. Jean-Antoine Robein to invent a surgical technique to repair damage caused by FGM. To date he has operated on 4,000 women.
Other FGM victims attended the ceremony, including the two women who will soon become the center’s first patients. Hospital officials said the center would likely serve 50 to 100 women per year.
Dr. Gabriele Halder, a gynecologist, said more awareness about FGM is needed even in countries where it isn’t practiced. Women from such a culture are still treated with traditions of their homeland while living in Western countries. “Women, after the death of their husbands, are often mutilated again so they can remarry. This needs to be stopped here in Europe, too.”
Denise Hochstrasser, women’s ministries director for the denomination’s Inter-European Division, based in Berne, Switzerland, said the new center would help restore victims to how God created them. “When women have lost parts of their body through misunderstanding, tradition, incomprehensible practices, crime and abuse in the past, then if we can, it is our duty to give them back whatever we can so they can live a normal life, as God has meant it to be from the beginning,” Hochstrasser said. “We are happy that an Adventist hospital has taken this step to help on a topic that in so many countries remains silent. We have to speak up for these women; we have to inform wherever we can.”
The Adventist News Network (ANN) is the official news service of the denomination. Corrado Cozzi played a key role in reporting this story.