“I’m obliged to give back”
She’s 11 years old, a skinny little strap of a girl whose thick, long lashes frame eyes that have seen too much. Her shoulders are squared and her voice is soft, but there’s no mistaking what she is saying. “My dad held me down and then he had sex with me,” she tells the very tall man with dreadlocks who has flown half way round the world to hear her story. Ann, whose surname we cannot share, is the face of a child protection crisis in Kenya that World Vision and their newest ambassador, AFL star Nic Naitanui, want the rest of the globe to know about. We may associate this African country with breathtaking landscapes and captivating wildlife, but it is also a place where children are abused, trafficked, orphaned young, sacrificed into marriage and pushed into prostitution – robbed of an innocence they barely ever had.
A neighbour told Ann’s school they suspected her father had raped her and the teachers quickly swooped, rehousing her in their rescue centre, which currently accommodates 46 boys and 37 girls. Her mother had died, she tells Stellar, and her father turned on her after unsuccessfully attempting to sexually assault her elder sister, who also now lives at the rescue centre. Her father awaits sentencing.
Her teachers don’t have the resources to address her trauma; for now – thanks to World Vision’s education and protection programs – safety is enough. But she’s doing well. “Since I came to boarding school, I am position three in class,” she says with pride. “I love science and I teach the other kids. I want to be a pilot when I grow up, so I can take people up into the air.”
Sometimes, where you are born means you are in a place where life is a constant battle against circumstance. Ann and her classmates live on the edge of the highway that runs from Nairobi to Mombasa. There, rain rarely falls, water is scarce, crops don’t grow, elephants and monkeys destroy the few that do, and the truck drivers who transport their cargo along the highway use the local lodgings for overnight stops. Sex is both a currency and a means to an end.
For head teacher Winifred Sila, getting children to school is her primary goal. There she can feed them, teach them and show them an alternative way of life. Her staff, who are educated in World Vision’s programs, explain the difference between “dirty money”
Stellar travels to Kenya with AFL player Nic Naitanui as he joins forces with World Vision to help children traumatised by war, violence and sexual assault rebuild their lives and look to the future with hope
and “clean money”, and encourage them to make good choices and to confide in those they trust.
As Naitanui, 29, listens intently, Winifred explains to him that “they have not healed, they still have wounds. We want them to feel there are people in this world who still appreciate them. It’s not important where you come from, but where you are heading, that determines your future.”
Her stories are heartbreaking: girls as young as nine forced by their parents to sell themselves to the truck drivers so the family can eat; a teenage boy raping a friend’s sister after his friend did likewise to his own sister, leaving her pregnant; children late to school because their mother locks them in the house overnight while she services the passing trade; mums who go missing for weeks while they take to the road with a man who’s offered money and a flicker of love.
A tiny eight-year-old boy called Sila tells Naitanui how he spent weeks living in a marketplace where he was sodomised, and sold soft-drink bottles to buy food. For the West Coast Eagles player, harrowing tales such as Sila’s are all the more reason to be here. He has travelled to Kenya after the end of the team’s latest season; he believes it’s not enough just to play footy and enjoy the trappings of success. “I come from a challenging background so I can relate to some of these kids,” he tells Stellar. “I always thought if I did make something of myself, I’d be obliged to give back.”
Naitanui was born in Penrith, NSW, and raised with his twin brother by a single mum after his dad died when the boys were two. He tells Stellar that hearing the children’s stories firsthand was confronting, particularly because they were the same age as his nephews and nieces. But education, he says, is key. “The more education these children get, the less likely they’ll fall into these traps, and the more likely they’ll get good jobs so they don’t have to live in poverty. They’re not just going to become smart kids but good people as well.”
Over a week that saw him introduced to World Visionsupported initiatives, such as a women’s food-production group, a water-management project, a community-led savings cooperative, goat farming programs – as well as nearly 1500 eager schoolchildren – in the end it was footy that won him a new legion of fans. The old women might’ve chuckled at his 201cm frame and his size 15 feet, but for the kids, it was all about the sport. “You can travel this far across the globe and a funny-shaped ball brings everything and everyone together,” he tells Stellar with a grin.
At one point during his visit, Naitanui played for more than an hour on the red dirt field, but as he was leaving a little boy nervously reminded his teacher he’d been promised a private lesson. Turns out Sila, with his broken shoes and broken life, had told the big man his story in return for a few kicks. And so it was that as the sun went down, a little boy with nothing felt he was everything. Help change the life of a child and the people around them this Christmas by sponsoring a child or giving a gift that will transform their world. For more information, visit worldvision.com.au/ways-to-give.
ON THE MARK (clockwise from opposite left) AFL star Nic Naitanui visiting school children in Kenya; the footballer making two new fans; listening to a child’s story in a rescue centre with a worker from World Vision; the local women found his towering frame amusing; Naitanui sharing his time, and love of footy, with the kids; (below) playing for the West Coast Eagles this year.