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Former supermodel Waris Dirie addresses the audience at the opening ceremony of the Desert Flower Center at Berlin Adventist Hospital on September 11. The center is the first clinic in cooperation with her Desert Flower Foundation, which raises awareness of FGM. [photos: Corrado Cozzi]
September 12, 2013 | Berlin, Germany | Corrado Cozzi/ANN staff
Partnering with a foundation established by a former supermodel, a Seventh-day Adventist hospital in Berlin opened a new center this week to help restore victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a cultural ritual in parts of Africa and Asia.
The Krankenhaus Waldfriede (Berlin Hospital) opened the Desert Flower Center in cooperation with the Vienna, Austria-based “Desert Flower Foundation,” which was launched in 2002 by Somali model Waris Dirie.
Dirie, herself a victim of FGM at age five, is an international activist and established the foundation to raise awareness of the ritual. Her 1997 book “Desert Flower” was made into a movie in 2009.
At Wednesday’s 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 at the ceremony. “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 and some practitioners say 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.
Dirie, 48, said her foundation is planning to establish other Desert Flower Centers 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,” Halder said. “This needs to be stopped here in Europe, too.”
Denise Hochstrasser, Women’s Ministries director for the Adventist Church’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,” she said. “We have to speak up for these women; we have to inform wherever we can.”