Sahiyo volunteer spotlight: Social media intern Kristel Mendoza Castillo

Kristel Mendoza Castillo is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Connecticut majoring in Communications. She strongly believes in the values of consent and a woman’s right over her own body, which is why she’s excited to work with the team at Sahiyo. She looks forward to creating social change to help enforce our mission of empowering girls and women all around the world.

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I was searching for internships and came across Sahiyo’s listing. After reading and learning more about their work, I became completely interested in being part of their team. I interviewed, chose Sahiyo’s internship, and started working in the communications department as a social media intern in February of 2021. 

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

As a social media intern, I mostly create content that is relevant to Sahiyo’s online presence, as well as sharing it on all social media platforms. I also create social media reports to track campaigns and Sahiyo’s overall growth on social media.

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

I was not that well-informed about female genital cutting (FGC) until I came across all the information on Sahiyo’s website. Ever since then I have learned a lot about the topic. As part of my internship, I have been tasked to post content about Sahiyo’s campaigns such as the behind the scenes of Activists’ Retreats, or the ongoing Voices To End FGM/C 2021 project. I have been able to watch and listen to so many people’s stories and that has made me want to keep supporting and working with Sahiyo to bring an end to FGC. 

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

I encourage people to become an ally or share their own stories if they have them. Sahiyo is a great organization filled with many great people that can provide the support or all the resources that you need. By supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC you are working toward making the world a safer and better place for girls all around the world. The good thing is that there are so many ways in which you can support Sahiyo’s mission.

Sahiyo volunteer spotlight: Research intern Madrisha Debnath

Madrisha Debnath is a graduate from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi with a masters in geography. Her research interests are in the area of feminist geography, geography of bodies and embodiment. Having a female body, she is passionate to understand the cultural practice of FGC and the process of cultural embodiment. She is grateful to Sahiyo for upholding feminist values and thus being culturally inclusive, and looks forward to making a meaningful contribution as a research intern at achieving Sahiyo’s aim.

1. When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I had come to know about the practice of female genital cutting (FGC) in the African context from feminist literature that I was referring to during my master’s course in geography of social wellbeing concerning gender disparity. I had randomly searched for whether the practice was prevalent in the Indian subcontinent. This is when I came to know about Sahiyo and the petition they had initiated against the practice. I was inspired by how a counter feminist space was created by Sahiyo enabling women to come together and speak up against such patriarchal norms and practices. I had approached Sahiyo via email and was interviewed for the position of research intern. I was inspired by the active role Sahiyo had taken in the movement around “my body, my choice” and shared my views on body politics during the interview.

2. What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

My work with Sahiyo includes analysing transcripts, and writing articles and reflections on webinars on FGC. I am working closely with the core team members in performing thematic analysis on survivors’ accounts for Sahiyo’s storytelling project.

3. How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

Aspiring to be a researcher, working with Sahiyo has helped me in developing an emic perspective on FGC by gaining sensitive cultural interpretations and working closely with the community facing the issue. I have learned a lot from Sahiyo’s storytelling program on how to normalize talk around such sensitive issues and deal with them from the grassroots level. I also loved the democratic work culture of the organization that gives space for dialogue and participation without feeling overburdened. 

4. What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

In my opinion, if anyone is motivated to do a certain task, the will comes from within. It is not easy to break the silence on the taboo of FGC, or for that matter any social problems, but if we start we can contribute to at least some changes and contribute toward building an equal society.

Sahiyo highlights programs intern for scholarship win

Sahiyo programs intern Cate Cox won a scholarship via The Passionate Leaders Project (PLP) that supports undergraduate students at Simmons University. Cate is currently studying  International Relations, Economics, and Arabic. While working at Sahiyo she has helped to organize many dynamic webinars, including Moving Towards Sexual Pleasure and Emotional Healing After FGC, Art, Activism, and Healing: In Conversation Around FGC, and Everyone’s Responsibility: Discussing the Role Male Allies Play in Preventing FGC.

Cate’s project, titled “The Silent Pandemic: Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on Gender-Based Violence in the United States,” combines work experience, research, and event planning to advance our understanding of how COVID-19 has exacerbated or reconstructed violence against women in the U.S. She is working on this project during her internship with Sahiyo: United Against Female Genital Cutting, and by writing a research paper on this topic, and organizing a webinar/seminar with key academics in this field.

“Working at Sahiyo was a big part of my inspiration for this project,” Cate said. “I started my internship in August and got to see firsthand how the organization was having to shift its programming from in-person to virtual due to COVID-19. This inspired me to think about how the field of gender-based violence prevention as a whole was having to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19. How have domestic abuse shelters had to adapt? How have lobbying organizations fighting for women’s rights had to adapt? And overall, how has violence against women itself been reconstructed or exacerbated due to COVID-19?”
The Passionate Leaders Project (PLP) supports undergraduate students seeking to enrich their academic and professional interests by funding learning opportunities beyond the boundaries of the traditional classroom. Students receive funding through the PLP to fund a variety of activities, including, but not limited to global experiences, research, internships, service projects, and creative endeavors. A competitive research opportunity, only around 10 undergraduate students are chosen every semester to receive this funding and support.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Development Intern Yusra Majoka

Yusra Majoka is passionate about ending gender inequalities and believes in creating sustainable change by empowering girls and women in our communities. She graduated from St. Georges, University of London with a masters in global health. She is focused on improving women’s health and advocating for autonomy and education surrounding women’s rights. 

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I began working as a development intern for Sahiyo in October 2020. I had been following Sahiyo on their Instagram page for some time and was inspired by their mission to end female genital cutting (FGC). When I saw a call for applications, I was excited by the opportunity. 

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

My work with Sahiyo as a development intern means supporting our development team by completing tasks in the area of grant research and funding. Each month I contribute with grant or funding source research, or by helping to create fundraising campaigns. Within these areas I also help in other ways, by creating any emails that need to be sent, or maintaining documents to track our progress.

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

Working with Sahiyo has helped me to better understand how imperative it is to end female genital cutting. Before joining Sahiyo I was not well versed with the issue and now am able to understand how complex FGC is, and how much more work needs to be done to help both survivors of FGC and communities from changing their attitudes around it. Working with Sahiyo has inspired me to have challenging conversations with my own family and friends.

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

To anyone interested in Sahiyo, I would encourage them to follow what Sahiyo has achieved and support our goals to continue to protect women and young girls. One of the most important ways to support this mission is by dismantling the taboo surrounding FGC. By encouraging open dialogue in our communities we are able to bring much needed awareness to the issue, increase community education and involvement, and bring ourselves one step closer to ending FGC.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Isabel Panno Shepard

Isabel joined Sahiyo as a Communications Intern. She studied cultural anthropology and human rights at Duke University. She is interested in the use of alternative media for social justice and believes in a multimedia approach to storytelling. Her work aims to center experiences and expressions of girlhood across communities and individuals. She joined Sahiyo to empower those affected by FGC through listening to, elevating, and advocating on behalf of their stories.

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I joined Sahiyo as a communication intern a couple of months after I graduated from Duke University last spring. When I came across the job listing and read about programs like Voices to End FGM/C, I wanted to be a part of Sahiyo’s mission to end FGC through survivor-centered advocacy and collective storytelling. So, I sat down, wrote my application, interviewed, and here I am!

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

One of my favorite parts of being a Sahiyo intern is that I’ve been able to work on a wide variety of projects that introduced me to a lot of awesome Sahiyo staff, interns, and volunteers. Beyond the intern standard pack of tasks (think MailChimp, Doodle Polls, and Google Calendar), I’ve assisted with and participated in a storytelling workshop on the intersection of FGM/C and global systems of oppression, created storyboards from Voices workshops, and even drafted a few official organization policies.

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

Sahiyo has grounded in me such a profound respect for the power of story. It’s an honor to witness the vulnerability and strength of the women (and men) who come together to speak out about FGC through their experiences both shared and not. This community has taught me that stories can unite us, heal us, and empower us – as long as we respect and make space for one another.

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

Slow down and listen.

Digital advocacy: The future of activism for survivors and activists

by Sandra Yu 

Activism is the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.

Prior to Sahiyo, I thought to be an activist was to be loud. Anything less than protests and demonstrations picketing for change outside the White House was not really activism. Actionable change came from legislation and policy changes. I scoffed at digital activism – trending hashtags and posting black squares on Instagram didn’t mean you were an activist.

At Sahiyo as a programs intern, I gained a new appreciation for storytelling and digital advocacy as forms of healing and activism, respectively. In contrast to the physical mobilization of masses in protests, picketing, and policy-based activism, storytelling is a distinctly emotional and psychological mobilization. I remember watching my first Voices to End Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) video – Change by Rhobi Samwelly.  She shared her story in the short span of 3 minutes and 51 seconds, and in that short period of time, I felt as if I had visualized her pain, trauma, and conviction to end FGM/C. It is through storytelling that one will understand the need for activism; the picketing will come later.

Storytelling is particularly impactful in activism against FGM/C. As a harmful and pervasive social norm in many cultures, FGM/C is silently maintained across generations under the guise of cultural normativity. To break the culture of silence is to risk ostracization from their families and communities. Yet, many survivors have taken that plunge and have engaged in storytelling to protect future women from being cut. As allies, it is our job to amplify their stories so that more people may hear them and become inspired to create change.

I recently attended a webinar that spoke about how we can best amplify voices through digital advocacy. Digital Storytelling and Advocacy: How Stories Can Support Progressive Change was hosted by StoryCenter and moderated by Amy Hill; one of Sahiyo’s co-founders, Mariya Taher, presented on the Voices campaign as a panelist. In the webinar, Amy speaks about the need for storytelling as an avenue of advocacy. She presents research on how telling and listening to stories can increase self-esteem and wellbeing, help communities bond and become politicized, and inspire people to take action for change. I translate that as storytelling allows for transformation. It allows survivors and community members to transform the trauma of FGM/C on their bodies and mental health into a point of connection with others of the same community.

Across activist communities, storytelling allows for a transformation from discomfort to vulnerability. Isabel, another intern at Sahiyo, wrote about her experience with StoryCenter and Sahiyo’s co-hosted webinar, Intersecting Stories, where she engaged in intimate storytelling that glimpsed into “the magical nature of storytelling – how words weave friendships, trust, and respect.”

I believe storytelling has a way of transcending the individual to bind communities together through shared values and experiences. In the current age of digitization, we see stories framed in a variety of mediums such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. While it may be easy to get lost in trends, hashtags, and stories in digital activism, I find that digital advocacy is equally powerful as traditional media in allowing us to amplify the voices and stories of survivors. The process of connecting people and communities across the world through a screen is an important concept to develop. I’m proud to be a part of an organization that creates change through digital advocacy and storytelling.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Programs Intern Cate Cox

Cate is passionate about women’s rights and human rights and hopes to enter into those fields once she graduates from Simmons University, where she is studying International Relations, Economics, and Arabic. She is excited to work with Sahiyo to help uplift the voices of women everywhere.

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I was officially brought on to the Sahiyo team in late August as a programs intern. However, even before that, I’d had my eye on Sahiyo as I knew they were doing really amazing work globally.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

As a programs intern my main focus is around planning and organizing Sahiyo webinars. This means I help coordinate speakers, create supporting materials, and anything else that comes up. I really love working in this capacity because it gives me such an in-depth understanding of the actual work Sahiyo is doing to create change.   

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

Aside from helping me develop my workplace skills, Sahiyo has really helped open my eyes to all the amazing people fighting for change across the world. Even in the few short weeks I have been working with Sahiyo, I have had the opportunity to meet so many inspiring activists and change-makers. Particularly in 2020, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed — and feel like nothing you do actually makes any difference. Having the opportunity to speak to so many amazing women reminds me that we actually do have the ability to create positive change in the world if we are willing to put in the work.

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

Remember to take care of your mental health. There are many different avenues for activism, from art to webinars to writing, activism comes in many forms. But regardless of its form, activism, particularly about subjects as difficult as these, can take a toll on your mental health. This isn’t to say don’t get involved — definitely do. But be willing to step back and rest every now and then. And remember to listen to your body.

My meaningful experience as an intern at Sahiyo

By Nicole Mitchell

In early 2019, I had the pleasure of joining the Sahiyo team as a Social Media Intern. I remember being a bit nervous, as working fully remote at a new company was something I had never done before. Both my supervisor, Lara Kingstone, and the co-Founder Mariya Taher, were extremely friendly and supportive during the onboarding process. Over time, their passion about ending female genital cutting (FGC) became contagious, to the point where I found myself actually looking forward to doing the work.

At the time, I had a very busy schedule where I was finishing up my senior year of college, doing a concurrent internship in Boston, all while working full-time. Despite this, I found that working for a cause that would change so many lives for the better gave me a sense of fulfillment that I wasn’t expecting. To be honest, I miss this feeling. This is one of the things I thank Sahiyo for because I now know that it is possible to have a job that you can actually be excited about. The dreariness of your typical 9-5 cubicle life that we see in the media, or the idea of hating your job, but enduring it so you can at least enjoy the weekend, doesn’t have to be true for everyone. Many of us can find meaning and enjoyment in our work. 

Working with Sahiyo gave me direction, hope and inspiration for my future. On a more practical level, my internship also gave me tools that allowed for me to transfer easily into a role as a marketing specialist at a Boston–based company after graduating with my B..A. While I know that it is rare to land your dream job the first time, I am glad that I at least have an idea of what type of work I can look for in the future because of my experiences with Sahiyo. 

One of my favorite things I did while at Sahiyo was work on a digital campaign where survivors could tell their stories. This was a powerful experience where women from all over the world came together to share their experiences and take a united stand in ending this practice. I was also responsible for writing and scheduling out the content which helped cultivate my creative, strategic and organizational skills. Overall, I am extremely thankful for this opportunity and am glad I can still be a part of this organization in a volunteer capacity. I would highly recommend this internship to anyone who is looking to develop their marketing skills and are passionate about making the world a better place through elevating the lives of others.

Staff Spotlight: Development Intern Sarrah Hussain

Sarrah is an undergraduate student still exploring what she wants to study at Stanford University. She is passionate about women’s rights and health, especially female genital cutting (FGC). This will be her first time working with a nonprofit organization, and she is excited to create change and uplift voices with the Sahiyo team.

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I began following the Sahiyo instagram account and learning about their mission last year, when I became curious to learn more about FGC within my community. Since then, I have actively followed Sahiyo and its work, and when I saw the opening for internships in February I thought I’d shoot my shot. Since May of this year, I am officially a development intern for Sahiyo, and could not be more excited to work with this incredible team to make an impact for an issue I care deeply about.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

As a development intern, my work is primarily focused on expanding Sahiyo and securing grants and funding opportunities so Sahiyo can do the meaningful work it does.

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

I am still relatively new to Sahiyo, but already Sahiyo has impacted my life because I know I am contributing to a larger mission to create a greater change in the world. I am inspired by the passion I see in those I work with, and happy knowing my work has real meaning.

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

I would say take the leap! When first considering applying to Sahiyo, I didn’t think I had the skills necessary to be a development intern, I was scared that I wouldn’t live up to what was asked of me, and I was even a little nervous about being involved with a nonprofit working on such a taboo subject. But I took a leap, applied, and got the position, and I am so happy I did. Though sometimes I feel lost, there is a whole team of wonderful people who want to support you and help you learn. It is really comforting and inspiring to see others who feel the same way as you and simply want to protect future generations of girls.

Volunteer Spotlight: Programs Intern Hunter Kessous

Hunter Kessous is currently an undergraduate at Brandeis University studying Biology, Health: Science Society and Policy, and French. She has been passionate about ending female genital cutting (FGC) ever since she first learned of the practice. Hunter aspires to be a gynecologist and perform reconstructive surgeries for survivors of FGC. Hunter is also a student researcher on an FGC project. She joined Sahiyo in May. 

When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

I first connected with Sahiyo when I reached out for help with my research project on the movement to abandon FGC. Mariya, one of the co-founders, asked if I would like to volunteer for the summer. When the pandemic started, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get involved. I’m so grateful I’ve been able to work on the Sahiyo team remotely.

What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

I’m a programs intern, which means I am planning webinars. My big project at the moment is a webinar on FGC and education. The topic was inspired by my own experiences with how FGC is taught at my university. I also attend as many webinars as possible in order to learn what information is currently out there, and to see how other webinars are formatted. 

How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

Before my internship with Sahiyo, I read and learned a lot about FGC. Even still, in just the first month of volunteering, I have learned so much more than I anticipated. I’m eager to continue broadening my knowledge and understanding of FGC through my work with Sahiyo. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful anti-FGC advocates and survivors. The movement to abandon FGC consists of a close network, and I am thrilled to join the community and have the opportunity to work with so many inspiring people. 

What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

For every moment you spend working with Sahiyo, you will feel that you are doing something important and worthwhile. You will meet empowering, wonderful people from inside and outside of the Sahiyo team that will make you feel supported and essential to the cause. I encourage anybody interested in joining the Sahiyo team to do so!