Bhaiyo Spotlight: Honoring Donald Strong

Sahiyo was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Donald Strong, a true male ally in the work to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), whose advocacy provided energy towards propelling the Stop FGM Act of 2020 into law. As Director of Research Coordination and a Practicum Director in the Department of Prevention and Community Health with George Washington University, Mr. Strong worked closely with nonprofit organizations, health departments, and healthcare providers serving the African immigrant community in the DMV, in the work to eliminate the practice of FGM/C. 

Some of us at Sahiyo were lucky enough to work with him directly on this effort; co-founder Mariya Taher collaborated with Don on the GW Dean’s Seminar Series: Addressing Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) in the DMV. Sahiyo U.S. Advisory Board Member Maryum Saifee recognizes Don as someone who “really laid the groundwork for GW’s role in becoming a leader in the anti FGM/C advocacy efforts in the United States.”

Sahiyo would like to commemorate him through a spotlight with our Bhaiyo initiative (something Don was really excited about), which aims to create a space where male allies can come together to collaborate, spark dialogue, and spread information about this form of gender-based violence and it’s harmful impacts. 

There is perhaps no one better to commemorate Don than those who knew him best. We’ve asked some of his colleagues, and those who were lucky enough to know him personally, to provide reflections on his legacy.

Don Strong, a connector, a cheerleader, a community activist, and confidant. When he walked into any meeting, within five minutes, he made sure everyone knew one another and how we were all connected. I remember we were giving a presentation at the UN about FGM/C, and the storytelling we were engaging in was getting emotionally heavy. Don, sensing the tension, stood up and started engaging with the room. The participants didn’t know one another when they entered the room, but Don was connecting people, connecting lives, and within minutes had the entire room, standing up and sharing their stories. By the end of the session Don had us all exchanging contact information and taking group photos. He was incredibly humble and wouldn’t let us tell people that it was his advocacy, his storytelling that put the Stop FGM ACT of 2020 into action. As one of our community partners stated “It was easy to see that Don was an advocate to his core. His motivation to end FGM/C, and to get men involved in the process, was inspiring and contagious. I know he will be dearly missed by GW, the field, and most of all his family.” 

Don, my friend, I’m going to miss you. May you rest in peace and may your power be instilled in each of us to continue your mission. 

-Karen A. McDonnell

Don was a colleague, a friend, and an advocate against FGM/C. He worked quietly in support of organizations in the nonprofit community. 

Don was partly responsible for the relationship GWPF has with George Washington University today. He had called my office in search of information on FGM/C, and we ended up chatting for a while. At the end of our conversation, he invited me to meet with Dr. Karen McDonnell, Dr. Ghada Khan, and him. On a bitterly cold February morning in 2017, I met with Don, Karen, and Ghada for the first time. That meeting was the birth of the current relationship GWPF has with George Washington University.

I admired the passion Don possessed for this work. He was passionate about young men becoming involved in the work against FGM/C. He will always be remembered, and most definitely missed. May his soul find rest and peace.

-Angela Peabody

I met Don a few years ago, and since that day he has inspired me everyday with his immense passion and dedication to ending FGM/C. His ability to foster connections was simply unparalleled. His energy and charisma would light up every room he walked into and liven every conversation he had. Anyone who met him could immediately tell that he was such a radiant and incredible human being. He always cheered me on and I will be forever thankful for his friendship and mentorship through the years. Along with our GW community, and his friends and family, I will miss him so much. But, his legacy will live on. Rest in power, Don.

-Krishna Patel

I first met Don in 2015 when he and his colleague, Karen McDonnell, were thinking through the process of building a strategy to counter Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the US. I remember sharing both my personal story as a survivor, but also my experiences as a policymaker trying to move the needle on addressing the issue globally. I told him how important it was that we focus on FGM — filling the data and research gaps domestically— to have the credibility and moral authority to advocate for the same calls to action with counterparts overseas.

I was struck by Don’s kindness during the meeting and over the many years, the strength of his conviction to keep pushing and elevating an issue that is frankly still taboo and squeamish for many to absorb. That took courage and his bravery has made a difference in the lives of so many of us, both in the present moment and future generations, carrying his legacy forward.  I am forever grateful to have been blessed with the opportunity to partner and learn from such a powerful advocate for human rights and gender equity.

-Maryum Saifee