#MeToo (hata mimi) in Swahili, is a word that makes my heart stops for a second. We normally go out to schools for educational visits as we talk about sexual assault. Our main agenda is to educate the children on what sexual assault is, how to protect themselves, who and how to report in case it has happened and lastly, to assure them it was none of their fault in case it has happened as we encourage them to reach out to us for help.
Loosely put to help parents, guardians and even schools as they help students, sexual assault falls in one of this three categories according to Jennifer Gentile Long, the chief executive officer of Aequitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence Against Women are;
1. Penetration of body part by another body part or by an object
2. Contact with genitalia, breasts, buttocks or other intimate body parts 3. Exposure of genitalia, breast, buttocks or other intimate body parts. I never thought that it would be necessary to have these talks in our primary schools (lower grade) level because in my thinking, these are kids and they such talk is too heavy for them. However, the reality on the ground is confronting us to arise and speak candidly about these matters. Both parents and teachers need to join hands and work together since it is happening in our homes and it is happening in our schools.
“A friend of a child, is a friend of the future”, which simply means if you care for a child today, they are able to come to you in times of trouble because they can see or sense the genuine concern and in turn the child’s future will be secured because someone cared enough to listen, to direct, to rebuke, to encourage, to love before roots took shape. It counts how the foundation is set for a stronger, steadier future. This is just one way that our warriors come to us through school outreach programs. Other times, we have received phone calls from the law enforcement, hospitals or chiefs and we are able to pick it up from there.
Once a child comes to us, we ensure all her paperwork is in order. For example, the hospital report and in case a case is active we ensure dates are keyed in for the next hearing and the appropriate offices to follow up the matter. The settling down process is not easy, but very necessary. The girl was used to doing things in a certain way in their home and with every new space, a set of new rules are in place and they need to be followed. It is no different with our home to ensure that all our warriors have a safe environment to allow each one of them to thrive in the best way possible despite the circumstances surrounding there being at the home.
As part of the orientation process, the new girl is given her welcome pack which basically includes clothes and toiletries as she is shown where she would sleep depending with age and nature of her trauma. Other girls in the house receive every new girl with joy knowing how important it is to make one feel at home away from home.
Settling the girl in the right room according to age helps to ensure there is no bullying and this has been made very clear to the girls. We have put in place anonymous reporting mechanisms to help us with early detection signs of harassment. These survivors have gone through a lot and we want the shelter to remain a safe haven at all times because all of them are on a journey of healing. Survivors settle down differently, others faster than others depending with personality, background and the weight of the trauma that one is carrying after the ordeal.
The next order of business is to register the girl to a school. As days go by the girl is gets to learn the routine and the new space after realizing we want the best for her and our best is to communicate in different ways that we as the Olmurani (warriors) team, are there for her and we want to walk together in this journey.
Counselling is only introduced to the survivors once they settle down and their guard is down. It is most effective in this way with children. Our children’s therapist is trained to make sense what is going on in their minds, bodies and lives in a way that they can understand. Each child is unique, and each ordeal is different even if it was a multiple occurrence at the same time. For instance, we have two girls who were brought to us by a school through the area chief. Two best friends were walking home together from school when a man grabbed them and forced the pair into his car. The man abused them one by one inside the car and made the other watch. Both had different ways of coming to terms with what happened. One was able to explain in details about the ordeal, while the other one kept crying and was painfully shy to even look up. It boils down to personalities and level of resilience in each girl.
Some girls need only child counselor, while others might need psychologists, therapists and even a psychotherapist. Hospital visits is something we have to do at the home for the kids and these can be very expensive depending with an individual case.
There is this time when a 4 year old survivor came in whose rectum had been terribly damaged due to rape or defilement as it is called for young children. She was done for a surgery where a stoma was done on the side of the abdomen (an opening) to allow waste that is urine and stool to be diverted out of her body through that opening. It was very painful and unpleasant. Thank God the pain is not there anymore even though there is still more but today it is not. It is uncomfortable though. So sad watching a 5 year old now, not being able to play like the rest because of this predicament and her rapist a neighbor flee once they discovered the child in the pit latrine where her perpetrator threw her in leaving her for death.
Our warriors are tough girls, they have gone through so much, but when the smiles come through, you would never guess the kind of paths that have been forced to walk on. Thank God rape is not a destination you go to and yes it can be if help is not realized. Every decision can be based on the foundation of rape if help is not available, every dress can be chosen on that basis, every outing will be considered from that torn fabric in our society. No, it should not be this way and that is why we exist.
Don’t hold them back because of shame of not knowing as a parent but instead let them come for counseling or support groups depending with age. Allow them to get help even if it was a wrong touch, let them seek for help, please let them. It is much needed even if not now but for their future. Share this blog post with many as you encourage them to fight for a better future by looking out for our children in their different capacities. Today I leave you with a quote that many believed was from Zimbabwe’s founding Father the Late Robert Mugabe and it says, “if you are a married man and you find yourself attracted to schoolgirls, just buy your wife a school uniform”. See you next Wednesday for another warrior special!