Today one of little angels stepped in to the bus and made her way, with her key worker to school, for the first time.
Not an outstanding statement – many children are starting school this month, with their new school shoes, book bag and shining little faces. Some will be excited, other will be a little scared – and mummies the world over will spend the day, looking at their watches and rushing to meet their little ones at the school gates.
I may not be her Mummy, I wish I had been, but I spent all day yesterday thinking of this little lady, because her first day at school is nothing short of a miracle!
Our little ‘newbie’ has survived a short life filled with horrors you and I hopefully can only imagine. When she came to Rafiki Mwema we were only given the bones of her story, and that was bad enough. We have more and more ‘stories’ shared about her early life.
To say she is beautiful doesn’t do her justice. To say she is traumatised is an understatement of the highest order.
This little girl came to us at six years old, along with her sisters. Their story was so harrowing they were all over the national news. I can only share bits of it with you.
Our little baby girl had an early childhood of violence and sexual abuse that breaks me to think of.
She was a village girl whose mother appears to have mental health problems and, for many reasons, including fear for her own life, couldn’t keep her daughters safe. One, the youngest, was caged up and beaten, the eldest had her young body used and abused to pay for their basic needs of water and firewood, and the middle child, she was left to roam free.
Picture a beautiful African village, where the children run to greet stranger with their big smiles. A group of giggling children making their own games out of stones and sticks – poor but happy. This is the image that is so often shared with the Western world.
And then picture our little one, spending her days and nights away from any form of safety at all. The mud that stuck to her body as the rains passed through. The rancid smell of the many men that forced her to believe she should have sex with them. Her ‘smile’ was saved for the many many truck drivers who passed through their village – her payment for the heinous sexual abuse these adults deemed ok to inflict on her many times a day, was a sweetie or two – many didn’t even ‘pay’ her that. She was filthy, survived like an animal and riddle with disease. She was raped, beaten and robbed of her childhood while adults in her village shared their disgust about HER behaviour. She was SIX years old and this had been her daily routine for years!
I am not sure of the details of what happened and by whom, but someone took it upon themselves to cut this little girls genitals and mutilate her – possibly because she had behaved so badly – the impact of that will live with her, her whole life. I won’t go into more details but enough to say this injury traumatised some of our staff, and I am sad to say they have seen some horrific injuries on our babies over the past two and a half years – this was appalling.
So this little girl arrived at Rafiki Mwema and created chaos and fear amongst the staff and girls. She had never been shown a kind word or a gentle deed. So she behaved as she saw right in a scary place – and kid yourself not, Rafiki Mwema was very scary for her. She bit, pinched, shoved, hit – stole what she wanted from anyone. And now, over a year later, she is calming and we are seeing the soul of this baby. She wants to be kind, she wants to love her sisters, she wants to laugh with them – but she is scared. Adults and children have tricked in the past her – tricked into violent sexual acts – tricks that have led to horrific beatings, they have tricked her so many times in the past. Trust is a slow gift she is giving us.
So today, going off to a Special Needs School in town where they understand her emotional needs, is a huge step. We are letting her see that we trust her, that we care for her, that she is part of our family and that we will always be at the school gate waiting for her. We are only letting her be at school for half a day because she belongs with her family – but she needs a break from the constant battle she fights within herself not to hate her sisters; not to resent every kind word given to others; not to recoil from the love the carers show her. It may sound strange to let her go to school, but she is a unique child, and we will rewrite every rule in the book to help her feel valued, safe and loveable. I wish she could trust that I adore her – maybe one day.
One of the things she is so ‘strange’ about is that when she is given a sweet, along with our other girls, she wants to hide it, and then look at it and touch it. She rarely eats her sweets. I wonder just what memories the ‘gift’ of a sweet has for this damaged angel. I wonder if she imagines that one day we will extract ‘payment’ from her for these sweeties. I can only imagine the fear and anger in her beautiful little head – because I have NEVER lived a moment in her life.
I know she, her sisters and all our little ones are the reason I will spend my whole life trying, in any small way, to find some safety in a world that has inflicted danger and carved fear into their minds.
Our little shining schoolgirl, on her first day in school, is the most important teacher in my life and for that I thank you little one. I will hold your hand into the future and hope we get enough of it right. I pray we can change how you see yourself, as the beaten sexually traumatised shell of a person – and show you the light and the beauty that I see every time I catch your little face looking at me. Moments the mask slips and I see the vulnerable baby, the innocent little girl, desperate to connect.
You are my life’s work and I thank you for trusting enough to let us help you.
To say I love you just isn’t enough but it’s all I have.