We are in the fight for their lives
I have avoided writing this blog post because sometimes a part of me doesn't want to tell you the bad things we see and have to deal with while running Arise Africa. I have also not wanted to share in an effort to protect the personal stories of the children we love so dearly. However we need prayer warriors and I know our Arise supporters are all about that!
In March we had two teenage girls approach Brenda, our child sponsorship director of Dotroda School, and tell her that their uncle whom they live with had been sexually abusing and raping one of them. It had been going on for a while and we were very relieved they finally told us. We immediately called our social welfare contacts and the police. Luckily, and to our surprise they actually cared.
To make a long story short we were given temporary custody of the girls and they went to live that night at our head offices in Zambia. The uncle began to aggressively go after our staff who lived in the neighborhood accusing them of kidnapping the girls. After three days the police instructed us to tell the uncle we would meet them at the police station. When we arrived the police began to explain to the uncle what the girls had said about him. He was quiet, but his brother who came with him began to scream and yell it was all lies. The uncle was charged but not put in jail. The family continued to harass our staff and tell the police it was a "family issue." They began approaching Arise Africa employees at their homes and telling others in the community that we steal children. We have had to hire security to go with us to the court appointments after they approached our house mom and one of the girls in the parking lot after a hearing.
Even when social welfare explained to the family that it was not up to us to give the girls back, they didn't care nor seem to listen. Only when the police notified to them that they would arrest them if they continued to threaten our staff did they stop.
The girls had to go to the hospital to be examined and have had to tell their story to the police, social welfare, the doctors at the hospital and attorneys. It is very difficult to watch this.
Since April there has been an ongoing trial against the uncle. There is a prosecutor that is hired by the government and Arise hired another attorney to advise us and help the prosecutor. As our attorney told us, their job is to make sure evidence doesn't "go missing" and that the government does its job. The uncle also hired himself an attorney who is a pretty difficult man to watch in the court room. His attorney has accused our male staff of raping the girls. When Brenda was on the stand he threatened to have her thrown in jail if she didn't answer the questions fast enough.
Once we felt that the girls were safe with us and the family had stopped trying to find them, we moved them into the girls Arise Home. We enrolled them in the school our Arise Homes attend and began counseling. To watch them change from coming to us so scared, shy, and timid to how they are now is both amazing and scary. It is amazing to see them begin to heal and feel like they are safe. It is amazing to watch them "come out of their shells" and laugh and play games like girls their ages should be. But it is scary to think we only temporarily have them. It is scary to think that if the uncle is found not guilty, they could be sent back to the family who doesn't care about them. It is scary to know that social welfare gets to decide their future and we just don't know.
The trial process in Zambia is unlike America. About once a month the judge (magistrate) calls another witness to the stand. So far the girls have testified, our staffer Brenda has, the police officer has and the uncle has. After one person testifies the judge dismisses court for the day and appoints another time which is usually a month away for the next witness to testify. It is a slow process. I have continued to tell our staff I am OK with how slow things are moving because it means we get the girls in our hands longer. We predict the trial will end in October.
One of the girl's mother has shown up who apparently sent her to live with the uncle because they were in a remote village and she wanted the girl to get educated. She had not spoken to her daughter in years nor obviously cared how she was doing. The family has said that they don't even want the other girl.
When I started Arise Africa never in a million years did I think I would be dealing with things like this or literally fighting for custody for girls who deserve to not be abused. This world is ugly and dark and terrible sometimes. I can get so angry, feel defeated, and stay up at night with the reality of this because of the work I am in. And trust me, there have been numerous sleepless nights since March with me worrying about this. I am not only worried for the girls, but for the position our staff is in and the threats made against them. But you know what, our God we serve is much much bigger. Luckily Arise has been around long enough for me to grow in my confidence in the Lord and see the many many blessings and miracles our children have been a part of. This gives me a massive amount of Hope for these girl's futures.
I am asking you to pray fervently for the outcome of the girls. I am asking you to pray to the Lord for justice. In a country where children aren't valued, we are shocked we are this far along in the process and they care enough to even put the uncle on trial. This is encouraging in itself. Let's come together to pray for the Lord to once again move mountains on the girl's behalf. Pray for their hearts and for them to see the Lord in their lives even with the terrible past. Pray for mama Aquiline who is with them everyday and has loved and served them more than any other human has in their lives.