She arrived at RM the first month we opened – a painfully traumatised and deeply damaged 12 year old young girl. Following her rape she came to us from the remand centre, where we know there is so much abuse among the children. She spent the first month at Rafiki Mwema with her hand over her face, hiding her shame and not showing her beautiful face. She didn’t speak or offer any eye contact – I don’t think she had ever seen a white person and that just added to her immense fear.
She took the longest time before she began to feel safe. Slowly her hand came down for short times. Slowly she offered a gentle look at another person. Slowly she smiled and we saw the beauty that had been so hidden. She was able to share her story and add her fight to imprisoning the man responsible. We were so proud of the path she had travelled.
Like all our girls, she began to breathe in the healing air of Rafiki Mwema and the magic began to show. She made friends (the girls adore her) and built close relationships with the warm and giving staff at RM. After 14 months we began the process of her going home. We all had questions about her safety but were reassured at visits with her mother. We couldn’t get close to the village because of the very difficult terrain around her remote village. It wasn’t safe for our staff to travel on their own by pick-picki (motor bike) and our van can’t get through the really bad roads. So we met the mother in the nearest town and listened to how things were fine. We couldn’t get to the school where we may have heard something different.
She returned home and we did the best we could but our best simply wasn’t good enough. Our staff spoke to her on the phone where she reassured us all was fine. She had a very quiet voice but we know she was a quiet child. We spoke with her mother, who told us the same story. We tried to get to visit but couldn’t pass through the road.
And then we had a party.
All the ‘old’ RM girls came for a party and we arranged to picked her up in the nearest town. A shell of a child came back with us that day. Her hand covered her face. Her voice wouldn’t work – she could tell us no story of her life apart from she was fine. I will never forget her haunting face as she looked into my eyes silently pleading with me as she went home again. I was determined we would find out what was happening. Please note – we cannot just decide to ‘keep’ a child at RM – it has to be agreed through the courts and there has to be a good reason. Oh my – there was a good reason but it took us months to get her home to us.
We really really tried to visit her home but by now the family were blocking us out and without a vehicle we couldn’t just turn up – it wasn’t safe with no protection and being exposed on a motor bike. Plus we needed them to direct the pick-picki and then we were very physically exposed. After much frustration and many tears we received a phone call from her that changed everything and we were able to get the court’s permission to bring her home. Her mother wouldn’t argue against the wishes of the courts.
She had been living through hell. Her mother was making her sleep outside with the wild dogs, as she was unclean and bringing shame to the family. Many local men were abusing her sexually and she had no defences against them. Her own brother had taken her to a party and ‘loaned her out’ to his friends and had arranged to ‘sell’ her to pay off a debt. She was worth £4 or $7.5.
We were able to persuade the mother to let us take her on the evidence we were given and had to wait for the mother to bring her to the nearest town. I can’t describe the relief when she arrived at Rafiki Mwema – safe again and we will never let her face those horrors again.
Am I proud of the way we worked with her community – not at all. Am I proud of the fear and horrors she experienced after leaving us – I am ashamed and horrified.
Truly, I know if we had a vehicle that could have got us up to her village we could have seen for ourselves what was happening. Our staff are fearless but we cannot jeopardise their safety by arriving in a hostile community reliant on a motor bike (with the driver probably a local man). A safe vehicle means we can visit our village girls in comparative safety. It will change everything in the communities.
Can I tell you every girl is safe from a story like this? Can I assure you this cannot be happening as you read this? Can I promise you a ‘happy ever after’ for every girl that leaves us? I wish I could.
I can promise you that we do everything humanly possible to ensure the continued safety of the girls but our need for a serious off road vehicle is not to travel around in comfort. It is to give the girls as much chance of safety as we possibly can. It is hard to imagine the remoteness of some of our girls.
Of course to match her story I can give you many many successful returns to home but for me, my dreams are haunted by this girl and the horrors she endured because we couldn’t reach her.
The longer she was home with us – the more she let some of her guard down and began to share the intimate details of those months back at home. Of all the things she lived through there were two standout stories. Her own mother paraded her through the village and told all the men to have sex with her – she was meat and filthy. Not once – not twice – it was her life.
One of the men she was forced to have sex with was an old sick man who had HIV – she shook with fear waiting for the results that she feared would condemn her to death.
For once her Guardian Angel must have been close as her results came back negative. Broken and shamed. Nothing to find Joy in. Will she trust again – I don’t know. Will we try until the last breath in our bodies – you bet your life we will.
A quiet child driven to silence by her fear of her abusers and the seemingly impossible journey to Rafiki Mwema