- It would be great to get an overview of how things are going in Burkino Faso - how much money have you managed to raise for the 'pleasure hospital' there, and how close is it to being built?
As of today, Sept 1st 2010, we have raised $217,000
The construction of the hospital is almost completed; we are looking for additional funds to finish it. Most of the equipment has been donated by Australian medical institutions, so we hope we can start operating on women soon.
- How many people do you expect to treat there, and have you managed to recruit good doctors and surgeons to carry out the clitoral repair surgery there (assuming it will take place at that site)?
Our current waiting list in Burkina Faso has more than 300 patients. Dr. Bowers from Colorado who is our main surgeon at this time is definitely looking forward to training doctors in Burkina Faso who will be able to carry on the work on location. Our goal is to offer this surgery completely free of charge. The current fee in Burkina Faso for such surgery is between $300 and $500, representing a 1-2 year salary for the patients. Dr. Bowers also looks forward to sharing surgical methods with African Doctors who already practice Dr. Foldes' surgery technique but may not have been exposed to his direct training. (Dr. Bowers was trained by Dr. Foldes on 2 occasions). We hope to also train doctors from outside Burkina Faso like Kenya, Egypt where a large number of FGM are found and even South Africa where FGM is not practiced but where many FGM victims migrate for economical reasons. Our hospital will a base for training these doctors.
There is also a UK doctor, Dr. John Reid, who has already received one training session with Dr. Foldes and who has been deeply involved in the implementing of the hospital project in Burkino. Dr. Reid should be finishing his second surgical training session soon and will be traveling to Burkina Faso to work along side Dr. Bowers when the hospital opens.
Furthermore, we have a Philippine doctor, Dr. Espedilla who was trained by Dr. Bowers in Feb of this year and who is planning to travel to Burkina as well and help with the surgeries.
All will volunteer in Burkina Faso along with other doctors who are expected to be trained from the point on.
- What sort of support are you giving to women in Africa who receive this treatment:
Our ClitorAid local correspondent, Banemanie Traore, has created an association called AVFE to welcome women who wish to be operated on and give them all the support they need. She was a victim of FGM herself and had surgical repair both in Burkina Faso and a second time in Paris with Dr. Foldes for surgical adjustments. Her volunteer staff is made of FGM victims, several of them have been repaired and are the best persons to coach women through the process. Banemanie is also a Raelian bishop: the Raelian philosophy is completely void of taboos concerning pleasure. Her frame of mind will be of invaluable support to the FGM patients who have suffered years of painful sexual repression both physically and mentally. We also have nurses living in the US who were FGM victims during their childhood in Africa and who recently had their surgery with Dr. Bowers in Colorado. They wish to volunteer their services in Burkina. "to give back" as they say. The hospital facilities will also include recovering areas so that the women who have been operated on can stay while they heal to make sure they have sufficiently recovered before going back to their home
- In terms of helping them reintegrate with their local communities (many of whom I'm guessing might be quite opposed to what you're doing, sadly)?
Women who come to us, do so on their own accord. All of them have been waiting, searching for a solution to their mutilation for sometimes decades. They are oblivious to what their community may think. They want only one thing, and that is to be normal again, to be complete, to recover their dignity and especially a sense of pleasure. In Burkina Faso, victims may come accompanied by their husband or young women may come with their parents who heard the good news about the surgery.
The surgery for some patients is before anything else a way to be free from the pain they experience daily following FGM complications such as bladder infections, pain during intercourse, during labor, etc... Many women suffer these pains silently because they think that they have been cursed to do so.
The surgery however does even more than freeing the patient from pain, it will help them recover their sexual pleasure allowing their self esteem to blossom and the relationship with their companion to grow.
At ClitorAid, we also have a volunteer sexual trauma counsellor, Dr. Ashley who helps our patients overcome the difficulty of shedding the unfathomable trauma they lived as a child during FGM. Therapy to help them readapt in their community is hardly ever brought up by the patient because it is of very little concern to them.
- Are there any good case studies of women who have successfully been treated and returned to their communities?
Four women were originally treated from Burkina Faso with the help of ClitorAid to ascertain the validity of Dr Foldes technique. All four not only recovered fully but are at the origin of the AVFE association and are now advertising the operation in their community, going to women organizations, schools, to give hope to all those who suffer. The hospital is built on a land that was donated by the chief of the village so that the young girls of the village can be treated there, a clear illustration of the community's acceptance. The Burkina Faso community is evolving positively and we have the full support of the Government. Hopefully soon those who still perform the mutilation will stop their butchery knowing that there is no point in doing it anymore. We are aware that other communities like in Egypt, Somalia and others would not welcome us the same way yet and would require more caution. Once the Burkina facility is running by itself, we will probably expand our activities in such countries after consulting with women associations who have already approached us.
As for the women who had their surgery in the US, most of them don't want to mention it to their community. They just want to be like any woman in the Western world and it is somehow one of their ways to put a distance with their community. They all express a feeling of freedom after the surgery, the feeling to cut away from their past.
We also have in our staff of volunteers, psychologists who under the supervision of Dr. Ashley from Nevada University and Dr Blais from Quebec University, are working on the definition of a survey that will collect data to ascertain the full effect of these operations in a scientific way. Such study will take 3 year of data acquisition and will be published as soon as completed. We look forward to sharing such data with the members of International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) of which Dr. Ashley is a distinguished member.
- Are their any cases that have gone wrong, highlighting the cultural difficulties you face in these environments?
Cases gone wrong? The Western world does not seem to grasp the eagerness with which these women come to us. However, the recovery aspect of the surgery is crucial and patients do not always realize the active part they must play to regain pleasure sensations. The clitoral area, just like any other body part that has been maimed and repaired, requires physical therapy. In the case of an organ like the clitoris, physical therapy means masturbation. Each patient is given a sexual therapy course following the guidance of Dr. Betty Dodson, sex therapist. The cultural difficulty for the patients is to overcome their sexual taboos and embrace the pleasure possibilities of their body. About half of ClitorAid's volunteers are and live the Raelian philosophy and their positive attitude toward pleasure is very beneficial to the patients. Of course, ClitorAid volunteer professionals are here to guide them every step of the way.
Speaking about cultural difficulty, one group of women is worth mentioning: young FGM victims say from 16 to 22, who are post puberty, who realize that they are circumcised, sometimes with their vagina opening sown shut. They are horrified, they despise their condition, their body, and they are terribly frightened of their first intercourse after marriage. Our ClitorAid staff are the first persons they have ever spoken to about their story and their fears. They are not allowed to go to an OBGYN and of course, they do not have the approbation of their parents to go ahead with the surgery though it is their biggest dream. The problem here of course is not in helping them integrate back in their community but saving these young women from the pain their community is inflicting upon them.
- How many women have been treated in the developing world, and what sort of success rate are you getting?
Dr. Bowers, our head surgeon, operates in Colorado and will soon move to San Francisco, California. We have not performed any surgery in the developing world as of now. The women operated on had to travel to us. We sincerely hope to have the funds necessary to open our Burkina Hospital in 2011.
- You've had a few issues with people in the local area being unhappy about the name of the hospital 'pleasure hospital'. Why do you think that is, and what sort of people have been criticizing you there? Have you addressed their concerns.?
Indeed in Africa, (maybe even more than the rest of the world) many people are ashamed to speak about sex and this malignant taboo without a doubt leads to excision in certain places in Africa. The General Health Director of Bobo Dioulasso led us to understand that one cannot speak about pleasure when referring to a hospital because such facility is made strictly to eleviate pain. We complied by changing the name of our hospital to "Kamkaso" "the house of the Kamite woman". Our medical facility will no doubt alleviate pain and restore pleasure too even if, unfortunately, social taboo inhibit that claim in the medical establishments.
Note that ClitorAid is the only charitable organization in the world that surgically repairs FGM victims and gives them back sexual pleasure. No other organization wishes to offer such charitable service because of the sexual taboos instilled by the antiquated religions that sponsor them. ClitorAid was founded by the Raelian Movement (rael.org) explaining that life on Earth was created scientifically by people from another planet and who were mistaken for god. Our body is their masterpiece and the pleasure we feel from it has a purpose. It is essential for a healthy life as it is part of the hormonal balance that they intended us to have. It is a very different approach from other religious group. So patients who come to ClitorAid, no matter their religion or spirituality immediately feel this comfortable, guilt free, respectful environment in which they can heal.
- You've had some strong criticism from Western sex researchers such as Petra Boynton, which has resulted in one of your sponsors pulling their support, and which you've described as a 'smear campaign'. Where do you reckon these people are coming from? What's motivating them to attack you, and how do you plan to respond to them (if at all)?
Dr Boynton's questions related to social research are interesting and hopefully she will find answers to her concerns.
It is however interesting to note that her first concern is linked to who started the association. That was her first obvious trigger point and one can wonder whether the fact that the Raelian Movement started this endeavor is actually what bothers her the most. She clearly says that “It also needs establishing whether any organization involved is there to do good, or to promote themselves or even operate a scam.” We are used to such insulting statement as we are often involved in controversial subjects but surprised to see it written by a scholar who should know better. ClitorAid is a non-profit organization registered in Nevada and all of its financial activities is readily available. If she has doubt, she can just refer to the financial reports that we regularly issue. To instill doubt about a possible scam is not scholarly at all, she should do her research before launching rumors. She is hinting that we want to promote the Raelian Movement through that activity. She probably didn't realize that only the Raelian Movement could do it as all other religious organizations cannot even talk about a clitoris without feeling guilty of sin. Who else could do it besides us, the Raelians, who believe that a healthy sexual life is a key to a healthy life all together. As a sex researcher, she should acknowledge our pioneering actions instead of trying to slow us down. But maybe she wouldn't have 'promoted' herself as much if she had expressed her support to ClitorAid ;-)
She also stated that “Contemporary research suggests restorative procedures are ineffective without considering wider social and cultural factors.” If we were talking about a tradition of removing one eye to every newborn, would she ask the question? An organ has been removed from 150 million women, if one of them comes to us wishing to be repaired and we offer it to her, how does that affect the community? The only effect is that this woman is feeling whole again, she is not afraid of living a sexual life anymore and has no more pain. How can such feeling negatively affect the community? Why do we even discuss the will of a woman to be repaired? These human beings have been mutilated and some scholars are saying that they should stay mutilated in order not to disturb the community?? Those of us who receive requests every day are appalled to read such statement.
Dr Boynton refers to the social and cultural differences that would make ClitorAid's approaches “ineffective or perhaps counterproductive if applied without careful consideration and adaptation through collaborative working.” Clitoraid was founded after a cry for help from Banemanie, the ClitorAid leader in Burkina Faso who discovered the possibility to be repaired existed. Rael learning about it asked all the Raelians to help her and the women like her in Burkina Faso. Fundraising started in every country around the world to initiate the process while Banemanie and her team were involved locally. Since then several doctors in Burkina are offering it, even the clinic of the first lady is offering it, all of them for a $500 charge which is too much for most of the women there ( almost 2 year salary).Our goal is to offer the procedure for free and we will succeed. As mentioned before, the whole local community is eagerly waiting for the hospital. Burkina Faso is a very advanced country and is paving the way. We are so proud of being among the pioneers who will reverse this tragedy found in female circumcision.
On a side note, the company Good Vibrations continues to donate vibrators to ClitorAid for the sexual recovery of our patients and in fact, a patient who had her surgery a month ago in Colorado called us with incredible joy in her voice just a few days ago.... she had felt her first big O - orgasm, and could not thank Good Vibrations enough for this magical tool that enhanced Dr. Bowers' surgery. We completely understand the reaction of Good Vibrations who had to give in to "certain" pressures because of economical reasons but we continue to have a wonderful relationship with this philanthropic company. Month after month, their generous donation of vibrators makes a world of difference to our patients.
So while scholars with intact genitals loudly analyze and criticize our company, we continue to quietly repair FGM victims and help restoring their human dignity. Soon this procedure will be more readily available and accepted and the Raelians will be able to embark onto the next project to help free people trapped in their religious taboos. We will make sure to inform the Guardian then and without a doubt, this will prompt well intentioned scholars to warn that we are not considering the effect on local communities. Well, we are considering the effect on local communities and this is precisely why we do it, to assist in their betterment.