Every time I go out on a project visit I get a different type of jolt to my heart. My expectations never match the outcome of how I feel once I’m with the children. I walk in thinking this situation will be something I have seen before, something I should be used to by now, but it never works that way.
Click on the photo to watch a video from the visit
Some time ago, I met Sofia while visiting one of our projects. She seemed like such a strong and determined young woman with her child on her hips. She sat down with me to share her story.
Her child was over one year old but they didn’t have anywhere to live until a month ago. Her mother was a drug addict that had just been released from prison and she did not want to return to that home, where she knew she was exposing her child to a very dangerous way of life. Her dad was still in prison for possession of drugs. Her boyfriend committed suicide a month before her baby was born. She was all alone but smart enough to protect her baby first and do whatever was best for her child.
I wasn’t sure I could take in more, until she smiled and looked me in the eyes and told me she was so happy now. She had found a home; her best friend’s mother had offered her to come live with them. Even though five people already lived there, they made room for Sofia and her child, and took her in. She told me that she had no idea what it felt to be part of or have a family life until now.
She then explained to me she had taken courses, before and after giving birth by a program that Childhood supports, and that made her realize the importance of her baby and how it was her responsibility to make sure her child was well care for. She said that if I had had anything to do with that, she wanted me to know how thankful and grateful she was, because the program had opened her eyes of what a miracle her baby was and how it was now up to her to change the future.
This is one reason why I am so proud of being a part of Childhood and the work we do because we reach out to very vulnerable teenage girls and provide them with education, money for day care, and support, so their lives can be a little easier and prevent their children from suffering even further due to their harsh circumstances.
Thanks to the organization Ponimanie and its project “Barnahus in Belarus” there are now child-friendly interview rooms in Belarus where children who are witnesses to or victims of sexual abuse can be interviewed.
Often children who are witnesses to or victims of sexual abuse are forced to suffer through up to twenty interviews conducted by different adults. Every conversation about the abuse forces the child to suffer through the trauma again. Moreover, the interviews are often conducted by people who are not trained in how to interview children. By asking insensitive questions and unconsciously blaming the child, the interviews may cause new trauma. Thanks to Childhood’s support, Ponimanie has been able to train prosecutors, police officers and psychologists in child psychology and interview techniques. The training, the interview rooms and advocacy has resulted in that child victims now only need to tell their story once in a safe environment with trained professionals.
The following story about two sisters shows how important the project Barnahus is. Natasha, 15, was sexually abused by her stepfather when she was 11 years old. She moved and stayed with her grandmother and never told anyone what had happened. When Natasha’s stepfather later started to abuse Natasha’s sister Irina, the girls’ grandmother found out about it. The grandmother contacted Ponimanie who helped her contact the local prosecutor. The prosecutor chose to use a child-friendly Barnahus interview room. A specially trained psychologist met with the kids and interviewed them once to collect the children’s testimony.
The court approved the interview as evidence and chose not to ask the children to testify during the trial. The step-father was sentenced to prison. Thanks to Ponimanie, Natasha and Irina now receive rehabilitation and support.
Photo: Jerker Andersson
To protect the children, the names of the children are changed.
The Terra dos Homens Brazilian Association is an organization established in Rio de Janeiro that is supported by Childhood. Terra dos Homens Brazilian Association works with children and adolescents about to be or already separated from their families, children living in shelters or on the streets, child victims of sexual exploitation and child victims of domestic violence.
The organization’s research on street children in the city of Rio de Janeiro concluded that the majority of the children originated from a community called Mangueirinha. The Terra dos Homens Brazilian Association decided to find out why and realized after further research that the causes included poverty, dysfunctional families, high rates of domestic violence, and a lack of child day care centers.
With the results from the research, the organization decided to implement the program Local Roots. The program was organized in the Mangueirinha community itself and the goal is to establish an effective support for children, adolescents, and families living in vulnerable situations.
Terra dos homens
The organization has now been working with the families since 2008, improving life quality and decreasing violence rates. Many women have received help to get into the labor market, children and adolescents have received therapeutic care, and two new child day care centers were established in the community!
These are the outcomes of the constant and attentive presence of the organization’s team and the firm commitment of local leaderships to plan and execute the activities.
/ Anna Flora