Not for Profit
Sep 2019 – May 2022
It is a widely shared view that Oxford University is imbued with a rich history and traditions. And at last – on the Thursday of my first week – we became fully-fledged members of this century-old institution, by way of matriculation. It is something I did not expect to be honest. Having never been to Oxford before, I had very little reference points in terms of expectations. The whole concept of ‘colleges’ was alien to me. Also, how the university is linked to the business school was equally unknown to me. With the ceremonial passage of matriculation on this enlightening Thursday, it all came together.
Traditions bind people, and connect them to institutions. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it: tradition refers to beliefs, objects or customs performed or believed in the past, originating in it, transmitted through time by being taught by one generation to the next, and are performed or believed in the present.
This special Thursday evening – permanently engraved in my memory – we were matriculated into the Oxford University garbed in our ceremonial sub-fusq. The grand setting for this ritual was Divinity School. It is a medieval and the oldest Oxford purpose-built edifice with imposing character. In awe, we proceeded to take our seats. Then the heads of programmes walked in procession headed to the ‘alter’, while reciting Latin expressions. These expressions have probably been regurgitated over and over again to millions upon millions of scholars initiated into the annals of Oxford history and tradition. The whole ceremonial manifestation and attendant rituals conveyed a traditional connection to the past and continuation to the future. As the ceremony advanced, it left me with a mystical feeling that spread throughout my body and brought me to a project – calling if you like – that has constituted the majority of my work over the past decade.
When she said…. ‘this day is a rite of passage, a transformation for all of you into something new’… it triggered deep emotions. For the past ten years I have been working passionately with Amref Health Africa and Nice Leng’ete (Times 100, 2018, https://time.com/collection/most-influential-people-2018/5217623/nice-nailantei-lengete/) to put an end to the fact that in Africa, every year, 2 million girls run the risk of being cut (female genital cutting). Many of these girls would be cut in a rite of passage, transitioning into womanhood through a cultural celebration.
My rite of passage at Oxford harmlessly brought me closer to making my dream. However, for these innocent girls, this particular rite of passage effectively kills their dreams.
Leaders like Nice Leng’ete fuse change in their local and broader communities. Complex community conversations are leading to revised traditions and alternative rites of passage. In these alternative rites of passage, the culture is valued, womanhood is celebrated and knowledge is spread. The alternative is in the fact that the ‘cut’ is replaced by education. Parents are accepting this as an improved path for their daughters to become a woman in their communities.
I am here because of them. I will make sure their leadership is known, their potential recognized and their voice is heard deep down into the Said Business School and Oxford.
I will not stop until their rite of passage, will be one that makes their dreams come true.
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