Thrown in at the Deep End
My first few days as a volunteer in South Africa, what can I say… I did my homework beforehand but I was still surprised in both a positive and negative way. There was my lovely host and her family giving me a home and making me feel like a family member. There was the Bobbi Bear staff who welcomed me and were so friendly and give the children a voice and comfort those who have never had either. There is another volunteer who was working her ass of for the kids and made my start much easier. There are people smiling at you and hugging you that have never met before. And it’s warm every day.
But then there is a little girl who suffered long-term rape before her 3rd birthday. There are these women working at Bobbi Bear getting up at 4am in the morning and taking care of 10-20 children each when they come home in the afternoon (some children are theirs, some are ones that have been rescued). There is the girl desperately looking forward to moving in with one of these women soon. There are these other women who are afraid to attend Bobbi Bear’s weekly meeting at The Tree because there are robbers and rapists waiting along the way they have to walk. There is this little boy at The Tree who said with his quiet voice “because we are so hungry”. And there is the little boy in the picture who picked my elephant out of the toys at The Tree today, so it’s his now.
Many of these sufferers are worse than I imagined – and I have not even personally been present at a case yet…
I witnessed two cases in the very early days of my volunteer programme, one at the Bobbi Bear house and one at the police station in Isipingo. Bobbi Bear offers counselling at local police stations several days a week in a victim friendly environment (a room outside the police station which is decorated nicer and there’s less disturbance). We stayed at the house all the time to take the other case and from now on me and the other volunteer will be keeping close to the woman trying to figure out all about her past. There will be the second part of our training and additional to The Tree there was a fundraising event in Durban.
We took care of a little boy for two days. The police found him in the streets and brought him to Bobbi Bear and he’s been living with the volunteers. Fortunately he is healthy and also the sweetest. I have some more respect now for everyone who is a parent.
I went to a South African police station. Wow! I heard people complaining a lot before and in Germany we complain a lot about authorities. But this was something different. Nobody seemed to have the slightest interest in our ambition to find our little boy’s parents or clarifying if anyone reported him missing. Even after we were registered there we had to ask for all the information all over again. Our designated captain was the worst. I asked several times what would be the next steps. “The Police officers who found him have to decide where he’ll stay”. Okay then please ask them. Then finally, “leave the boy here and we will place him into a foster family, because the parents can’t be found”. We didn’t want to do this because once he is in that foster system he won’t return and we still have hope to find his real family. The lady replied “okay what about you take him home again until Wednesday and we’ll see if we find the family until then. I cannot find the list of the people who were reported missing right now, so I cannot tell you if his family reported him.” — eh what? Really? You just wanted to send this kid to a children’s home (which are worse) until he is placed in a foster family (who can be worse) out of laziness because you can’t find the document?!!
We forced them to give us his file. He was found last Friday. We got a crappy copy from a notebook. No word was written about him on Friday, so basically there was no file. Afterwards I learned that they can’t even take the child anywhere without a decision from court and a social worker involved, so we will get a social worker and go to court. And this child was lucky because he wasn’t hurt. So many others who already went through hell suffer from this secondary abuse by the authorities, which are supposed to protect them. An indication of how essential the work of Bobbi Bear really is.
After having our little boy for six days we handed him back to his family. Since he is not safe with his mum he will stay with relatives from now on. Being very happy that he could stay with his family instead of becoming a foster child, I gained much insight into how things work in Africa. In the end it was the Bobbi Bear staff that had to make sure the process of handing over the child was all correct. Not too satisfying considering the issue of human trafficking in this country. But it seems our little boy is going to be alright and we’ll visit him next week to make sure. Bobbi Bear have a strict follow up process.
Unfortunately the next child had to be taken away from her family. This two year old girl was beaten up by her granny who took her to the hospital. The granny was arrested, but since investigations don’t start on a Friday evening the girl stayed with us until Monday. She had five very long scars on her back. What is wrong with people? After our boy I thought it couldn’t get any cuter but I fell in love with her face the second I saw her. Too many sweet children here. And too many messed up adults. I fall into bed. We’ve been to schools, police stations and hospitals with a start time of 6am to 6pm. The need for volunteers is great.
We go to the hospital again at 7pm to get the little girl one further check. We had to wait more than an hour although we had an appointment, then the doctor said he didn’t check the girl’s back yesterday because the granny did not mention any assault towards her when she came in with the child. I thought “why didn’t we go with her?!” but at that time the granny was not arrested yet so she still was the legal guardian of the child and not us. Still the doctor admitted he should have noticed yesterday that her belly was huge and hard. He then referred us to another station and I was shocked because that part of this government hospital looked like an old prison. Everything was rusty, not to mention unhygienic. I know I shouldn’t compare everything to home but that is just the only comparison I have. We live in a privileged world in Europe. We don’t know how lucky we are.
The little girl was taken into a room with three members of the Bobbi Bear staff, I waited outside. After a while a man came along with a two-three year old child on his arm followed by a woman who was crying and wining. Everyone waiting seemed to assume it looked very bad for the child. They went into a room and one or two minutes later the woman began screaming heavily and desperately. It was horrible. The doctor came out after a while, saw our faces and explained that he just told them their child was dead. There was absolutely nothing he could do because it was just too late, the child had already died when they came to the hospital. More family members came and the screaming had not stopped when we left that part of the hospital hours later. Volunteering abroad is not for the faint hearted.
The doctor still had to take blood from the little girl while she was lying in the room right next to the screaming family. I had to hold her arms and legs while the nurse was taking the blood because she was really afraid and crying and screaming. Unfortunately she had to stay in the hospital because there was also something wrong with her breathing and her liver. We left her with some nurses which, I personally think treated the child in a very rude manner and were not very caring. After five hours we left and I am astonished, sad, angry and tired.
There was a seven year-old girl who had already suffered an unbelievable history of abuse in the very few years of her life. As in many cases it is family members who harmed her. She has nowhere else to go, so she stays with the volunteers until the social workers figure out a long term solution for her. Sadly her case is one of thousands. Fortunately this child is full of joy, very smart and singing all day. It’s beyond a shame on those who destroy these kids’ happiness. Never stop caring and take a stand against child abuse!
To follow in Inga’s footsteps