I arrived at Kaisosi village for choir practice only to run into one of our orphans who is 13 years old, lets call her Jess (a very non-Namibian name!). As is customary we greeted each other by saying that we were both doing well, all the while I was starring at some relatively fresh wounds over her face, arms, and legs. It turned out things were not going well for her at all.
Jess is a troubled teen. I think both parents have died, but it’s presumed that there was some sexual, emotional and physical abuse as a young child. Currently she lives sometimes with her Grandmother, sometimes with her drunk Aunt and sometimes under no shelter at all depending on whether she was kicked out from her “home”.
Jess was the first orphan I met upon arrival here. She speaks confidently in English, unlike most kids her age, and I warmed to her immediately. She’s bright, has a great leadership skills, is willing to help out at project when we need it and has a beautiful singing voice. She craves friendship and role models as was evident in her friendships with all the other female missionaries that have passed through. It also didn’t take long to be filled in by the others that she was constantly in and out of trouble.
This past year before her 13th birthday we had her tested for HIV…she hadn’t even had her first period yet. Thankfully she was negative. She has almost been kicked out of school on numerous occasions, but for the grace of God (and the kind Principle) is still able to attend. It seems she has many enemies…I have had to bring needle and thread to help her mend her school uniform after a bunch of older girls came to bully her because they were jealous that she was hanging out with white people. Through my biased eyes I see a tender, loving, good kid with a sharp tongue and a broken heart.
One thing I have learned here more than at home, is that “there are always two sides to a story”. I get phones calls from her relatives telling me how horrible she is and the horrible things she does, and then I hear her side of the story…In my opinion, Jess is acting like a hurting 13 year old, and her caregivers are acting just as young and immature. Their main complaint is that “she doesn’t have any respect”, honestly I don’t know that I would either.
Respect. In this culture, if you are even one year older than someone, then you have more authority and you deserve respect. It has got to be one of the most misused and misunderstood words here. I often sit with the kids trying to teach them that as much as it is important to respect their elders, respect and trust are things that are earned and treating others with love and honour will help to earn it. I think that Jess acts out in anger and frustration because she knows that those in authority over her don’t treat her with any respect either.
So why the recent scarring? She is one of the lucky few that actually gets a monthly grant from the government, an equivalent of about 25 Canadian dollars a month. Half of the money is suppose to be for the caregiver and half for the child. Well, her drunk Aunt was demanding she give her portion over, but Jess needed to buy a new school uniform. Jess was stubborn and wouldn’t give the money over so the Aunt started to beat her, but she felt like she couldn’t do a good enough job, so she got a tall 20 something year old guy to come and do the job for her. What kills me is that a whole crowd formed to watch…no one with the guts to stop it, speak out or protect her.
My heart fell when she told me her story. She said she went to the police but they told her she was too young to make a statement. I called the social worker, but she’s in South Africa for a week. As we hung out, she pointed to the guy that beat her, just close by. My heart wanted to hate him, although I knew there was no solution in that. So, I cuddled up next to her, held her close and said I was sorry all the while trying not to ball my eyes out right then and there. I wish I could rescue her, and give her a chance to see life without abuse, hatred and pain, instead all I can do is love her for the short period of time that God has placed me in her life.