The content in this story may be triggering for survivors of child abuse.
It’s usually evening when we arrive at the Round Home, carrying a child, who has just come from an intervention by authorities. It is a heartbreaking sight to watch the child, especially a very young child, sometimes a toddler, slowly walk down the bush-lined path toward the round shelter. Every child who walks down this path has a chilling story. The walk is actually a graduation march from a brief but tortured life, into safety and love.
I look at the young stranger with mixed emotions. There is the sense of responsibility and compassion for this little human being whose survival and restoration now largely depend on us. There is anger at the depraved adults who took advantage of the child’s vulnerability and derived sick pleasure from the use and abuse of the child’s body and mind. There is the sense of revolt against a system that perpetuates extreme poverty, which forces starving families to peddle their children as a means to obtain food. There is also awe at the child’s ability to survive. I invite the child, “Come, let me give you a hug,” and in my mind, “I want to hug you because I admire you for having survived all the different kinds of pain in your young life, because you are a treasured piece of humanity, and because I’m honored to now be in a position to help you and love you with a love that hopefully could heal the pain and help you to grow and become what you were meant to be.” And at the precious moment of embrace, I cry inside; my heart is breaking again. There is jubilation every time a child is welcomed to the Round Home. There is also sadness about what it means.
Each day is a revelation.
The toddler who cannot yet speak reveals in actions the horrors that she has gone through…
She is afraid to go inside a room. She howls at the sight of a bed. She goes through an ordeal every time a staff tries to bathe or change her. She is in physical and psychological pain all the time. Her diaper is taken off to be changed, and she goes into madness; she pulls her hair and scratches her face and wounds herself all over. A heart wrenching, unbearable sight of a baby. What have they done to you, baby, that you now punish yourself beyond belief? The medical examination says it all and confirms what we already know to be true. You recoil at the thought of what happened.
No words of comfort, reassurance, or affirmation can get through to this child. You cannot say anything that she would understand. You can only love her. You can only talk, live and breathe love for her.
You can also hope. We have done this before. Someday, as other girls have, I know that she will also walk up the bush-lined path once again, this time saying goodbye and restored and empowered to carve out for herself a normal life outside. I know that this once-wounded bird will have healed wings and soar to heights she was meant to reach.