5 years Desert Flower Center Berlin: the big interview

Youngest FGM-patient at the Desert Flower Center was 8 years old!

Dr. med. Cornelia Strunz is the kind soul of the Desert Flower Center. She is the medical coordinator and senior physician of the Desert Flower Center Waldfriede and the Secretary-General of the Desert Flower Foundation Germany and thus the first person the women get in contact with by phone or e-mail.

How many women have been treated at the Desert Flower Center Berlin?

At first, most women visit our self-help group, which takes place once a month. Every woman can participate anonymously. Only if they decide to seek help in a personal conversation, the women’s data are recorded!

260 women have had a consultation with me over the last 5 years. Half of them decided to undergo a recontructive surgery. Altogether, we have been able to help about 350 women with our holistic medical treatment since the opening of the Desert Flower Center Berlin.

According to the World Health Organization, there are four different types of FGM. Which type of FGM are you most often confronted with at Desert Flower Center Berlin?

Most women who come to the Desert Flower Center are originally from Somalia. In this country over 98% of girls and women are affected by FGM! FGM Type III is here most prevalent.

Because of that, most women at the Desert Flower Center are affected by this form of genital mutilation. This means that the external genitals were (in most cases) completely removed. Afterwards the remaining parts of the outer lips were sewn together, leaving a small hole for urine, menstrual flow and vaginal secretions. As a terrible consequence, they have a strong functional discomfort and it takes very long to empty their bladder. In addition, the menstrual blood can not drain properly.

How old was the youngest and how old the oldest woman who was treated in the Desert Flower Center Berlin in the last five years?

Our youngest FGM patient was eight years old! She lives in Germany and was cut at the tender age of 8 months in Gambia. In the summer of 2015, her parents came to me and asked for help.

The oldest lady who was treated in our Desert Flower Center was about 65 years old! Since many women do not know their exact date of birth, we are often not sure about their age. This woman had a prolapse of the rectum as a result of FGM and had to undergo surgery!

Are all women who are seeking help in the Desert Flower Center also having a surgery?

No, we offer a holistic, interdisciplinary treatment here at the Center. That means many women come only for consultation, talk therapy or psychological care! Many women also need support in bureaucratic matters.

How exactly does a reconstructive surgery work?

At first, scar tissue, which causes pain, has to be removed under general anaesthetic and sometimes even cysts may have to be removed. Then the clitoris and labia can be reconstructed. The clitoris is about 8 cm long – through FGM usually the visible part is brutally removed. In the course of the reconstructive surgery, the clitoris is pulled forward. This is how we succeed in completely rebuilding the female genital organ.

Next week: Dr. Cornelia Strunz talks about the most moving moments of the last 5 years!

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