In March 2018 Arise Africa had two teenagers, Violet and Margaret, who were in our child sponsorship program approach our staff and inform us of sexual abuse they were enduring in their home by their uncle. This set off a trigger of events of getting the police and social welfare involved. And let me tell you, it has been a roller coaster of a ride to where we are today.
Working with the Zambian government for anything, is difficult. It is slow, corrupt at times, confusing, and works in ways we will never understand. Luckily, in the case of our relationship with social welfare we have our country director, Monica Jalasi in charge. Monica used to work for social welfare and she understands how the system works and is level headed and persistent. Monica’s husband also is an attorney in Zambia and understands the legal world much more than we do.
Once Violet and Margaret told us what was happening social welfare and the police began their investigation. From what we understood Margaret had no family and both of her parents had died. Violet and Margaret are cousins and had been sent to live with their uncle “in the big city” by Violet’s mom to get an education. The mother had sent them over 8 years ago to live with her brother (who was abusing them) and had never checked on the girls or called. The police were bribed at least once in the process and the uncle was released and he began threatening our staff in the compound this happened in. The girls had to be interviewed by the police multiple times and examined at the hospital. It was invasive and in our opinion the girls had to endure many interviews and other procedures that were difficult and could have been handled better.
We lucked out in that the girls were put in our temporary care immediately and we had the girls Arise Home to let them live in. Our other girls in the home welcomed them immediately, and didn’t care about having to bunk up and share their rooms. They get it, when a new person comes into the homes, they know the situation must be as bad as their’s was before they moved in.
There was a trial set for the uncle and we were given a court appointed prosecutor. However he didn’t do his job well so Arise had to hire an attorney to watch that evidence didn’t disappear and that the prosecutor was encouraged to do his job. The trial took a very long time to happen. Almost every single time we had a court date it was delayed. It was delayed for the judge not showing up once. It was delayed because our own prosecutor didn’t show up which angered the judge and he was almost thrown off the case only to find out he was at mandatory training that the government made him go to. But somehow the judge didn’t know about it?? It was delayed because the doctor who examined the girls couldn’t access their files for the court appearance because they were in a safe and the person who had the keys was on vacation for two weeks. It was delayed for over two months because Violet’s mother wouldn’t show up with the papers showing she was a minor, for fear of getting her brother (the accused) into more trouble. For over a year this went on and on and on.
The entire time the trial was happening the family was aggressive to us in the parking lot of the courthouse after the hearings. They would tell us this was just a “family issue” and that the government shouldn’t be involved. They were aggressive towards the girls when they had to testify so we had to hire private security to protect us and them. Threats were made to the girls about when they get them back they will “send them to the village forever and not care about them.” It was ugly and scary. Finally the judge intervened and threatened to throw the uncle back in jail if the threats continued.
After a year and three months the judge ruled that the uncle couldn’t be convicted of his crimes because when the crimes occurred it was at night and the girls couldn’t see his face in the dark. This is a true law in Zambia, and he was allowed to walk away from the years of sexual abuse he had inflected upon them.
We were devastated. We were scared for Violet and Margaret and they had lived in the girls Arise Home for over a year now. But what the judge did rule, was that social welfare would now do a investigation and decide where the girls should live ultimately. It was up to social welfare to decide what was in their best interest.
For the next 4 months we worked with social welfare while they did their investigation. The mother to Violet was angry and still aggressive. They brought in a person who said they were Margaret’s uncle and said he should get custody of her even though we knew he was a stranger. We suggested that we would pay for DNA testing of him and suddenly he disappeared and never came back. Social welfare finally announced one day that Margaret could stay with us but Violet’s mom got ultimate decision for her and she wanted to take her back to their remote village where she wouldn’t receive an education. It was gut wrenching for us to have to go home and tell this to Violet.
We asked social welfare to go to the village to do the investigation to see exactly where Violet would be living. This is required by law, and suddenly social welfare told us they didn’t have money for car fuel to drive to the village from where we were. They asked us if we would let them use our cars and our fuel money, and we politely said HELL NO. If you are trying to take this girl away from us, we will not help in your efforts! This stalled their investigation for some time and Violet got to stay with us.
In the meantime we tried to understand the mother’s motives for taking Violet back. It was clear she could not financially care for her and had left her many years ago with her brother never to even check in. When the mother’s family members were around her (other brothers and the actual accused brother) she was aggressive and mean and she wanted Violet back. We started to realize that they were pushing her to fight for Violet so that they could probably sell her off to get married and they would receive a dowry from the groom’s family. We were concerned she would be sold into sex slavery possibly or revenge would happen upon her since she did tell an adult about what her uncle was doing.
Monica was very smart ins starting to pursue the mother AWAY from social welfare and the rest of her family. As we waited for social welfare to find fuel money to go investigate the random village Violet would need to live in, we invited only the mom to come see the girls Arise Home and learn about Violet’s current life. We wanted her to see first handed the house she lived in, the school she was attending, the uniform and clothes she wore, the other girls in the home, and the opportunities she had.
And you know what happened? Monica won that mamma over! The mom began to like us! She liked what we were doing for Violet. And the mom began to say that her village and where she was living wasn’t a good fit for Violet. The mom began to see how well educated Violet was and how happy she was. And the mom did care about her.
Last week we were able to go back to social welfare (they are still looking for that fuel money!) with Violet’s mom and as a team tell them that she had decided that what was best for Violet was to live with us! We have officially been given permission for the girls to live in our full time care until they are grown up and on their own!
The greatest part of this is not only are both Violet and Margaret safe and cared for, BUT Violet’s mom is on our team now. We have a mom who hopefully will stay involved and come see Violet and be a part of her life. We have told her we will pay for her bus fare to come visit Violet from her village. We want that. We never want to break up families or tell parents they shouldn’t care for their children. We want to be a team and we figured out a way in a very sticky situation.
459 days after Violet and Margaret first approached us, the process is over and they are OURS! Although we lost the trial and the uncle is out and free, we still got a major win. We didn’t have to let go of these girls and the Lord allowed us to ultimately protect and care for them.
Take a look at their lives this past year and a half in the girl’s home:
To get to see Violet’s face after ALL she had been through when she finally was told she wasn’t going anywhere was incredible. To watch her be so strong but scared throughout everything was hard. To watch both of them at the trial and work through those pains was hard. To listen to Margaret ask me to pray for her for ultimate forgiveness against her uncle, was gut wrenching.
Every time I called Monica for an update about the girls, she had one line for me. “It is a process Alissa… don’t stress.” I remember when the final verdict was supposed to happen early in the morning in Zambia I had told her to immediately call me in America even though it was going to be 2AM. I woke up to her phone call and I answered only to hear Monica tell me the hearing had been delayed two weeks, and to remember “It is a process.” She was very tight lipped to me about how the outcome will be but continued to remind me to deal with the process as much as possible. This is a line I must hear over and over from the Zambian side, that it is going to be a process!
I feel like the Lord is telling us this everyday in our lives. Where we are today, is part of the process. We want things now. I want a better relationship with the Lord now, but it will be a process to work on that and grow through reading the Bible and praying. I want children fully sponsored or schools fully built now, but that will be a process. The actual process in itself is more important than the outcome sometimes. Throughout the process is where you learn to trust the Lord. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart: and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.”
This process was hard and scary. In the end the girls are safe and loved and that is what mattered. Even if the Lord had taken one or both of them away from us, we would have had to trust HIS process.
Violet and Margaret will live in the Arise Homes until they graduate from high school, thanks to Monica. At that point we will work with them for the next phases of their lives, whether it is trade schools, college, or something else. They will now have access to great food, education, a safe and nice home, discipleship, counseling, and most importantly love for as long as they need it from us.
But the reality is, to care for the girls comes at a price for Arise Africa. This costs us money to provide this level of support and we need your help. We took the girls in quickly and for the last year and half have been “footing the bill” for them with the help of one of their sponsors generously. Now that we know they are ours, we need to find other sponsors! Please considering joining Team Violet or Margaret and be a part of this awesome story of redemption and second chances!