Sitting in the office late in the evening with one of our very withdrawn young girls. She is using every bit of her English and I am digging deep for my Swahili as she shares her horrific story for the very first time.
She starts by sitting on her own chair, her little body distorted as she looks down and pulls her body away from me, but has her legs towards me – trying to hide her shame of the words she is telling, but wanting to keep a connection at the same time. This is just one way her need is in conflict with her thinking. She tries to stay invincible – it was how she survived – and yet she needs to be loved. I can’t tell you how her sharing her story has impacted me. I thought we would NEVER hear her speak about what had happened.
As her story unfolded I was shocked to hear of the many men who had raped her and her sister. The casual way in how this was part of their daily life. Small things that young Kenyan girls have to do on a daily basis led to her being raped, sometimes many times a day. She gave me names but didn’t have surnames, she gave me details that I never wanted to hear – I can’t imagine how she survived with no one to care for her. Her mother has mental health difficulties, maybe from the intense violence that existed daily in her small, poor dwelling.
She told me that she had escaped the violence that had been handed out by her father, and yet I have seen the horrific photos of the intense injuries she had when she first came to us. Her little back had been severely beaten and was covered in what looked like whip marks. She had burns and human bite marks on her beautiful, tiny body. She tried to protect her violent father and distance him from what was happening. This is very normal behaviour from abused children, and yet confuses many people.
She told how a neighbour gave her little sister a bribe of sweeties to stop her from testifying against the neighbours husband. She spoke about her own mother mutilating her little sister with the most horrific intimate injuries. All this came out in a tiny voice, her face hidden by her hands.
I don’t know how she arrived on my lap – the intensity of her story and the energy in the room almost pulled her off her chair and into my arms; The child whose job was to be unnoticed putting her trust in me. I held her like a baby, stroking her face as she looked deep into my eyes and time stood still. I have known her over a year and she has never looked so ‘at peace’ and accepted. It was a total privilege to hold this little girl in my arms and share her tears; Her tears that began the process of acceptance for herself. I cannot take away what happened to her, but I can let her know that nothing that has happened could ever make me love her less. Nothing will stop me seeing the beauty and innocence of this abused and violated little angel.
There is no magic formula for our girls, and those we have yet to meet. We parent them with Playfulness, Love, Acceptance, Curiosity and buckets of Empathy and in time changes will happen. They may be small and hidden, but they are happening on a moment-to-moment basis.
Without Rafiki Mwema where would our girls be, physically and emotionally? Who would wait for girls who are scared to speak to use their voices? Where would we be without your love and support?