As we reflect on love this month, due to Valentine’s Day coming up, we want to share with you what showing love looks like in a whole new realm.
Imagine you are a child who was raised in severe poverty, never knowing if your family would eat that day. School fees are out of the question, but a family friend has compassion on you and provides for your school fees so you can learn to read and write. There is nothing given for school supplies, but you figure you will manage somehow. You are thankful and excited, simply for being privileged to attend school.
When you get to school, you realize most of the kids have at least a piece of paper and a pencil, but that is not something you had the luxury to bring. The teacher scolds you and the other students for not having adequate supplies to participate in class. He then tells you and the others that if you cannot afford these supplies, then you can talk to him in private and he will see what he can do to help you.
When you approach the teacher, he takes you outside behind a tree and says that if you do a favor for him he can arrange to get you the piece of paper and pencil that you need. He arranges a time after school to meet you so this exchange can happen
After school, you meet this teacher privately at the designated spot. He then asks you to do something that you are not comfortable with, but you see no other option, so you agree and the favor and supplies are exchanged. Throughout the years ahead, this similar thing will happen again and again to you and your friends. You never talk about it, because you have become accustomed to this as normal behavior.
One day a group comes to your class with a program called “Break the Silence”. They begin to explain that this type of behavior is called sexual abuse and that it is wrong. You are taught that “You Are Valuable”, that “Your Body Is Your Own”, and that “Safety Is Your Right”. You are also told that if you are being abused sexually or physically you can call a free nationwide crisis hotline to get help!
You are completely shocked to learn that these actions are not okay. You are relieved to hear that you no longer have to do what is not comfortable for you – and never seemed completely right. You are also consoled once you realize that your teacher, who makes you do these things, is also listening to this talk, and now knows that you have a way to tell on him if he continues to do these bad things. You suddenly remember that there is a man in your neighborhood who also offers this same type of exchange, but now you know this is wrong and you should say NO to him as well.
From that time forward you feel empowered, valued, and protected. There is a sense of freedom knowing you will no longer be forced to do things that make you feel violated, even if you do not have the adequate school supplies that day. You know you will be okay.
These are the types of stories we hear from kids in Liberia who are being taught about their rights through our “Break the Silence” program. Our staff recently told me that when they are in the marketplace shopping, kids who have been taught this lesson are chanting at them, “My Body is My Own… Safety is My Right”. Our Liberian staff members Rosetta and Teah, who teach this program in schools and orphanages, said this is a great feeling to know that these kids are truly getting it. Their mindset is changing because they realize this ugly behavior IS a crime and that they have help.
I cannot think of a better gift that symbolizes love to a child than empowering kids to know their rights to their bodies, and that they are valuable and protected. These concepts are new to many, and are changing the course of the future for countless children in Liberia.
We are working hard to reach as many children as we can with this message, while being the only source of funding for the National Hotline. It’s so valuable that we are working on getting a similar program implemented in Benin as well. Through your partnership you are helping us to change the social behaviors of abuse.