Part one: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
My work as a writer introduces me to many people around the world and I share their stories. Now and then, one of those stories burrows under my skin and alters me as a person.
The story of Rafiki Mwema
, a safe-house for little girls in Kenya, is one such tale.
Maybe it's because I am a woman that this story sank into my bones or perhaps it's because I have a daughter for whom I would fight like a rabid tiger if anyone tried to harm her.
This story is about girls who experienced the unimaginable pain that men can inflict on young, sweet bodies. These girls, aged between 15 years and barely more than babies are all victims of violent sexual crimes, sometimes at the hands of strangers, sometimes at the hands of family and sometimes at the hands of mothers who sold their baby girls for sex.
The youngest arrived at 18 months old.
Their stories are shocking, but what is even more gut-wrenching is that once these young girls have been violated once, they are often seen by their community as dirtied, and they are shunned, scorned, and regularly re-abused.
I live a fairly sheltered life. It hasn't always been easy, but I've never known these atrocities that break the body as they try to break the mind, so when my work took me across the path of an Australian and an English woman, Sarah Rosborg and Anne-Marie Tipper, who are rebuilding the lives of these survivors I was completely in awe of them.
By using Play Therapy the Rafiki staff help these little girls and young women to process what has happened to them. They pay their medical bills to rebuild their bodies if they have been injured by their perpetrators. They pay their court costs if there is the possibility to bring their perpetrators to justice.
More than anything that money can buy, they treat these girls with love and respect and show them that they are worthy and loveable. They help them grow into the women who are the next generation in Kenya, and through love and education they are trying to break this violent cycle.
The axis of my world shifted when I learned about these selfless people who work voluntarily and tirelessly to improve the lives of these innocents and I felt compelled to do something to help once I wiped the river of tears from my cheeks.
I sponsored a child. Her name is Joy*.
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She is one year younger than my daughter, Kiki. I look at her little face and wonder how anyone could ever steal her innocence, let alone how her mother sold it. Joy now lives with HIV, but her emotional wounds are healing. I don’t have a lot of money, and I am only helping one girl - it's a drop in the ocean really- but I know to Joy my contribution makes a significant difference.
When Rafiki Mwema announced a way that sponsors could raise money for all of the girls and also go to Kenya and meet them, I jumped at the chance. I would have swum the English Channel, or walked the Sahara, but instead they organised a most spectacular adventure.
Climbing to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The highest free-standing mountain in the world.
As a single mum of two, I initially feared the logistics wouldn't work, but they did. I'm taking two weeks out my life here in Australia to go on an adventure with heart in an effort to make a difference.
In January 2017 I will head off. Although the climb is not particularly difficult it is a ridiculously long way up and altitude sickness can be an issue.
As can the freezing conditions as nights can drop to -20C. I hate the cold, and I'm really not a fan of camping, or doing a 'nature poo' and burying it in frozen ground, but I can overlook these minor issues when I think about the big picture of what I'm doing. At the end of the climb I will go and hug my sponsor child. That’s why I’m doing this.
I set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to give to Rafiki Mwema, and I will pay all of my travel costs out of my pocket. Any money I raise goes directly to the girls.
I know I am but one person and I cannot change the world, but I can do something to help these angels of Rafiki Mwema who have crept under my skin and forever changed the shape of me.
This is part one of my story as I prepare to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Stay tuned for future updates.