VIS­IT­ING A SHEL­TER

Sunday Times - - ACCENTS - Ver­nice Shaw

A mes­sage on a friend’s Face­book wall grabbed my at­ten­tion: 16 girls, be­tween the ages of 6 and 18, have been res­cued from life-al­ter­ing sit­u­a­tions … So on Sun­day we head out to meet them. I’m ap­pre­hen­sive. What do you do? How will they feel hav­ing strangers in­vade their space? We stop the car at the end of the gravel road. We hoot. No re­sponse. We hoot again. Then a few lit­tle ones come bound­ing to­wards us. They help us un­load the things we brought to make the place feel more like home. I’m over­whelmed but try to keep a lid on it. We are in­tro­duced to fresh-faced chil­dren and my eye catches a lit­tle girl who looks about four years old. She wears a bright pink dress and has lit­tle pony­tails on ei­ther side of her head. Surely not, I thought. I didn’t ac­tu­ally want to know her story. I wanted to pre­tend, for at least that mo­ment, that noth­ing hor­ri­ble hap­pened to her. Two older girls were in the kitchen mak­ing slap chips and bread for lunch. The cook, when asked if she wanted to be a chef, gave the biggest smile and said that would be awe­some. The other missed a year of school but is keen to fin­ish Grade 11. I couldn’t bring my­self to ask how they got there; all I cared about is that they were safe for now. Un­for­tu­nately their safe place has al­ready been breached by thugs who thought it okay to vi­o­late two of the girls. They need se­cu­rity but how do you get some­one in there to help? Will he also take ad­van­tage of them? Plumb­ing needs to be done. Him too? I can’t imag­ine how they will piece their lives to­gether but there’s an un­de­ni­able re­solve to get through. To change the course of their lives … And this is just one group of chil­dren, in one home, in a coun­try with mil­lions of chil­dren with sim­i­lar stories. When will this end?

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