Peggy Mulongo is a wellbeing coordinator and cross-cultural mental health practitioner for the charity NESTAC, which supports African people and immigrants in the north west of England. She’s recently completed an MSc in Nursing, which has helped her to develop expertise in mental health and culture.

While completing her postgraduate qualification, Peggy, who’s originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, set up Support Our Sisters (SOS), a clinic providing support for victims of female genital mutilation (FGM). She describes how her qualification is helping her to raise awareness of the practice and deliver vital care for its victims.

“A very positive outcome resulting from my MSc training was that my findings from my dissertation opened doors for me to develop a three-year pilot project to provide psychosocial support to those at risk of FGM in partnership with the , Midwifery and Social Work at the University of Salford,” she says.

“I was already working as a mental health practitioner in the community before I completed my postgraduate qualification. I’d been in the country 14 or 15 years, I came with a degree in biotechnology from Congo but had to go back to square one because it didn’t count as an equivalent qualification. I completed my access to higher education qualifications within six months instead of the usual two years, and then obtained the qualifications I needed to practice mental health nursing in the community.

“The Mental Health Nursing (Advanced Nursing) Diploma gave me the flexibility I needed to do my own research into FGM,” Peggy continues. “Since 2003, I’ve been working to support black and ethnic minority (BME) communities and I knew I wanted to deliver a service around FGM. This is where all my experience is.”

Peggy was able to complete a dissertation on the psychological impact of FGM, and her findings proved the need for psychological support for affected women and girls. Armed with her evidence, she applied for funding to set up the Support Our Sisters clinic.

“The articles I wrote and the evidence I produced reinforced the fact there was a need for the service I was proposing,” says Peggy. “We now have three clinics across Greater Manchester, and as well as directly supporting affected girls, we provide training for professionals and lay members in FGM-affected communities.

“In the clinic we’re able to assess the needs of people who may be worried for themselves or someone else at risk. We can provide wellbeing and emotional support, and depending on the age group we can work with schools, youth groups or women’s groups. We run activities related to health and wellbeing including relaxation sessions, fitness, drama and leadership development because the women we work with usually lack confidence. We give them skills to make them feel empowered.”

Evaluation has shown an increase in confidence amongst affected women, with a reduction in flashbacks and psychological issues. There’s also an increase in volunteers who are going back into their own communities to advocate and talk against the practice.

But, says Peggy, there’s still a lot more to be done.

“We really need support in terms of both human and financial resources,” she says. “We receive funding from diverse sources, but we always need fundraising ideas and volunteers. We also need help with our website and with pieces of research so if any University of Salford students are able to give their time, then please do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

“Most of all we need to promote the fact that FGM is not a local project. It’s everybody’s problem. Anyone you know could be affected by it – it could be a friend, a partner. We need to let them know they’re not alone.”