Sorry for the lack of blogs while I was away – many reasons but not least that the internet and I fell out on many occasions. I will catch up with you over the next few days but want to start by saying goodbye! This, like all trips, has been amazing, humbling and moving on so many levels. The changes at both Rafiki Mwema and Rafiki Familia are immense with all children having made life empowering changes but it is the boys house which is almost totally unrecognisable!
Remembering that we have 16 young boys, ages from twelve to seventeen who have all survived the horrors of living on the streets, some for many years; remembering that physical, sexual and emotional violence has been part of their daily lives for so long; remembering that the very people who should have been protecting them were the faces of fear and violence to our boys; remembering they literally lived by their wits and dominance over their street brothers. Then put 16 boys together, off the streets; drugs and alcohol removed from their lives; place them all together under one roof; insist they attend school at Rafiki Familia; train the staff in therapeutic parenting; put clear guidelines in place; be playful, loving, accepting, be curious and buckets of genuine empathy – stand back and wait to see what happens! Imagine all those boys under one roof – and picture 16 boys learning to feel loved and part of a family for the first time in their troubled lives! I am beyond proud of the progress our boys have made, and the commitment of the staff. I can promise you there have been many many full-on moments which have been managed so well by our staff.
As part of their school holidays we have arranged for the boys to have clubs on a daily basis. They attend dance, karate and debate clubs and are really benefiting from working together as a group. They are accepting the rules of karate and dance and finding a voice in the debate group – pure magic to see.
I think the biggest moment of the whole tripe was saying goodbye to our boys. For the first time the boys were brave enough to show the connection they were making to us. One of our boys, Peter, who has had a life of extreme violence, has spent the last week making a bracket with my name on it, and another of our boys, Brian, has made a bracelet with Janet’s name on it. The time and connection that have been put into those beaded bracelets is earthmoving! From boys who are unable to put the needs of anyone before their own, because thats how they have had to survive, spent time and effort to give a gift to someone else.
As we were leaving they put on an impromptu farewell concert where they showed off their dance and karate skills and stood up and said goodbye to us. To hear small Brian saying how much he had loved our early Christmas – that no-one has EVER remembered him at Christmas and he has never received a gift – he was outwardly emotional. He said that he will remember this Christmas for the rest of his life (cue tears from me!) and then Peter – who is a really headstrong, angry and adorable young man, thanked us again for giving them church clothes. He said in his life he never imagined he would own his own, sunday best clothes, and all the time, James carried his bag of gifts he had received the day before, under his arm, loving the ownership he had over something for the first time in his life! I’m not sure if I am articulating well enough how humbling, beautiful and moving the gifts the boys give us – the gifts being the things they are teaching us about remembering that every single person has a story to their lives. Our boys weren’t born to live on the streets, they arrived their through no fault of their own. They are truly strong and amazing young men and we will help them to become the adults they were born to be – before drugs and alcohol diverted them from the horrors they have had to face. We probably won’t be 100% successful (but I am determined to TRY to get 100%!!!!)
Over at Rafiki Mwema most of our girls are making great progress and we are building in home visits with them, keeping relationships alive with their families. We do however have one of our young girls who is causing us worry. She has had the most awful start to her life and has been heated and abused on a daily basis for the first 7 years of her life. This has had an impact to her brain development and her sense of worth. She despises herself and feels useless and unworthy. Her behaviours are a danger to herself and others. She turns to violence in heartbeat. She is a frightened baby girl, who at 9 years old has lived a million horror stories. We need to help her so we have restructured our staff to ensure we can help her to feel safer and connected. It will be through her relationship with her key worker that her life will change – it has to. The alternative is unimaginable. A life away from the way we support her would mean an admission to an institution for mentally damaged children which would probably involve drugs, beatings and no real change for our little one. So we will do the best we can and continue to be patient and loving. We have ensured she has two excellent key workers who will support her from the moment she opens her eyes until she falls asleep. We will be consistent in our approach and hope she is able to feel likeable and safer. She has to – there is just no other future for her. One day she will leave our care and take her place in a community. It is up to us to ensure she is ready and safe to do so.
Everyday with her reminds me of how much we still need to do to ensure her safety and the safety of the girls who share our home. We will be there as much as we can and sign her passport to a better future. Our staff are committed to her support, we are committed to them and with your support we will see her life change. It takes a village to raise a child – we are the neighbours and you are the village for this child and so many more.
We are learning to be a safe village, filled with love.
Thank you Rafiki Boys and Girls – you are changing our lives!