Mutilated at 8, activist by 12: Berlin recounts her journey to Canada
Published Thursday, June 2, 2016 10:40AM EDT
Activist Berlin said growing up as a child in Somalia, she had no idea there was a world beyond her war-torn country. So when she was subjected to genital mutilation at age 8, she assumed it was just the way things were.
It was only when she was 12-years-old and heard her parents arguing about female genital mutilation that she began to ask questions.
“It made me think, why is it wrong?” Berlin, now 22, said in an interview on CTV’s Canada AM on Thursday, explaining why she became an activist, speaking out on the radio about genital mutilation.
Then the threats began.
“Growing up as a curious person in a country like that, it’s difficult,” Berlin said. “I had a lot of questions because the Somalia people that are living in the country, we are not open to the outside world.”
Today, after leaving Africa, Berlin is living in Toronto, and studying with the hopes of becoming a medical doctor. As Canada marks the launch of its first-ever national Pride Month, Berlin, who is gay, plans to participate in the festivities.
But, Pride month, which commemorates the struggle for rights by Canada’s LGBT community, is also a reminder that there are many people around the world who still don’t enjoy the freedom to be who they are.
Berlin knows all too well the high cost that comes with being herself.
After receiving phone calls and threats in Somalia, Berlin moved to Uganda, which the young woman says was a “game-changing moment” for her.
There, she learned English and saw for the first time women without head coverings and even wearing shorts.
Meeting people more like her, gave Berlin the motivation to “go ahead and change people’s minds” about acceptance and change.
She devoted herself to educating young women and aiding the gay community.
But living in Uganda, where there are no legal protections for LGBT people, Berlin was forced to lie about her sexuality.
When someone outed her as gay, Berlin again received death threats. But this time, the threats escalated to violence, and Berlin was physically assaulted outside her house.
Though it had never “crossed” her mind to leave Africa, where Berlin said she was making a difference in people’s lives, she escaped to Toronto, with the help of an organization called Price of Silence.
“Coming here has really changed a lot in my life, this is a new world, new life, new everything,” Berlin said.
Berlin plans to volunteer with Pride festivities in Toronto this year.