Her little arm flew up in the air with courage and enthusiasm as she said, “my daddy does that!!” Salma, the little 4 year old, did not have a clue of the shock and pain that her words were to cause the trainers for the next few years. This eager response came to the trainer saying “no adult can touch the private parts of my body” as they bravely (of course bravely, were in Egypt after all) touched their own breasts and pointed at their own bottoms and vaginas to indicate to the little people in front of them what they were talking about. Some private sessions with the child counselor revealed that this little girl had been sexually abused by her father for some time. When the brave little girl, with the brave little team who were doing pioneering work with the kids decided to involve her mother, she chose not to believe her daughter and threatened her back into silence telling her that all naughty children who lie, will go to hell. Salma, so far, is still suffering.
But it was this girl’s journey and the other stories that got this small group of changers to keep working, to keep struggling and to keep promoting the need to grow so they can reach out to as many children and parents as they needed to, to bring about change, to equip them with the tools and courage needed to bring this taboo subject out in the open. It was when Sara found herself in the home of a sexually abused 12 year old girl confronting her father, with her brother and a body builder they’d recruited the help of standing outside the door of the house, that she knew the risks she would have to take to make her dream come true. But perhaps realising that the girls mother knew about the abuse and justified her husbands actions saying she was getting old and could no longer satisfy the man and her daughters had to help out, was an even bigger shock. Before appearing at this particular doorstep, the child had confided in Sara about the abuse and after discussing the risks, they both decided on confronting the father. 12-year-old Aya’s bravery paid off. Whether it was that Sara put the fear of god in the man threatening him with bringing charges against him, or whether her educational approach really made a difference, the important thing is that the father hasn’t touched Salma for six months.
The little boy, who pointed at his 5-year-old classmate saying he takes him into the toilets to touch his penis revealed a case of abuse suffered by the other little child from his paternal uncle. Explaining the reason he took his classmate to the toilets to touch him, he said “He’s my friend and I love him, I love him so much and I wanted him to know I love him like my uncle shows me he loves me”. Kareem’s parents were extremely supportive and faced the uncle and have cut all ties, though they decided against bringing charges against him. The best story Sara recounts is of a 9 year old girl who was sexually assaulted repeatedly by the family driver. She worked with the family till she bought charges against him and is now counseling Heidi through her trauma.
You may be wondering, reader, why I am writing this blog about sexual abuse when this blog has focused on street children so far. The reason is linked to why I don’t fundraise for these children. I am witting this post, because it is not poverty that pushes children to the street, it’s violence. Much of this violence is sexual violence and abuse and so if you’re a parent and you haven’t raised your child’s awareness on how to say NO to sexual abuse, then your child, no matter what background they come from, are vulnerable to having no choice but to moving to the street.
My work with street children has made me see the absolute worst of humanity as well as the best it has to offer. Part of the best it has to offer is the amazing people I’ve come to work with – all on a voluntary basis, self start ups and people’s own initiatives. One such person is Sara Aziz who founded an NGO called SAFE (Sexual Abuse Foundation for Education). After studying child abuse awareness and counseling in Denmark and the USA, she returned to Cairo to write a book for children and devised holistic programs of training for children, parents, teachers, religious leaders, social workers and volunteers, on how to protect children from sexual abuse. Sara has gained the approval from the ministry of health to raise awareness of sexual abuse of children taking vaccinations. Recently, despite all the difficulties one can face with the Egyptian government and bureaucracy, Sara has just received the go ahead from the ministry of education to enter schools and run her curriculum with children starting at nursery. Sara has also spent a month in the Philippines training 300 social workers on counseling child survivors of sexual abuse. In Kenya and Tanzania she went to train the church pastors on child protection.
I met Sara on an exchange in Germany and I have worked with her on a plan that she comes to deliver this sexual abuse training to my street children who are under 5 at the shelter.
Now my dear reader, I will offer you two things; if you have children or are responsible for them in a school or any other settings, get in touch with Sara so that she and her team can share this invaluable experience and opportunity with the children. If you don’t, then I suggest you contact her to volunteer, get trained and take part in raining awareness of sexual abuse and protection so that a whole new generation can have a tool that may be the difference between a life lived in the misery of the darkness of victimhood or a life with the power that comes with the knowledge that when others cross their boundaries, it’s not your fault.
You can know more about the incredible work Sara and SAFE do here: