Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Weight of Injustice

Dear blogees -

I'm so sorry it's been so long since I've written. It's been a whirlwind of a few weeks - we celebrated Chris's birthday with about 30 friends (we have 30 friends in Nairobi!!), we've been increasingly involved in helping lead worship at our church, I started tutoring a 6th grade boy, and the kids are growing like weeds. Amidst all the busyness, newness, and Dr. runs (several bouts of tummy bugs and colds over the past few weeks) this blog has been neglected.

And in my down time, I have been enjoying a bit of crafting, a bit of cooking (croissants & roast tomato/red pepper soup perfected!), and recovering from several sleepless nights spent hugging a vomiting Kai as the contents of his stomach ran down my back - oh the depths of a mother's love...and oh the needed increase for laundry detergent.

We are overall doing incredibly well, and are feeling more and more settled here.

Through a friend's connection & forwarding of my resume (as 90% of things happen here in Kenya), I was invited to attend a training on Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). I was incredibly excited, and attended my first day today.

Let me say this: It was potentially one of the most amazing experiences of my life (and I have had amazing experiences). Having the opportunity to discuss and learn about child & adolescent mental health development and trauma responses & healing with and from approx 45 Kenyan mental health professionals was/is absolutely exceptional. I learned so much in one day - not just about TF-CBT but about counseling in Kenyan culture, about contextualizing therapy, about the profound influences of culture/background knowledge/upbringing in therapeutic theories. I can confidently say at least 30% of what I learned today was not intentionally taught - but all observed.

Some humorous/endearing/truly Kenyan things from the training:
* we started and ended with a prayer, though the training was in no way religiously affiliated
* we did warm up exercises including singing a Christian children's song, and tracing letters in the air with our bodies
* the presenter would often leave open ended questions, which the class would end in unison: "so the client then experiences the..." class: "trauma" (please note the end of the presenters statement was always made with an upward intonation, marvelous attention getting technique)
* participants actively suggested rules, and changes to schedule - and the presenters accommodated
* we ate stewed bananas for lunch (delicious)

Some difficult things about the training:
* absolute prevalence of sexual abuse obvious in Kenya - every person in the room worked specially with Gender Based Violence issues
* normalcy with which counselors discussed severe trauma experienced by their clients - rape pregnancies, rape by family members/school teachers/close friends. The normalcy indicated the frequency and the widespread knowledge of the occurrence of these traumatic experiences
* the fact that Kenya has no laws on mandated reporting - it is perfectly legal to have knowledge of a child being actively abused, and stay completely quiet
* the stories that were shared about the trauma affecting children, young children, here. Where I live.

I've been in this situation before - I worked in this field for 3 years in Los Angeles. I know the stories. I haven't heard anything today that is new to me - I know abuse happens, and it happens everywhere. Any of the stories I heard today could have been told in Los Angeles, London, Chicago - this happens everywhere.

The dilemma lies here (alert - the following information may be difficult to read): one of the stories told was about a young girl who is abused twice a day by two separate family members. Other family members know of the abuse and have told her to keep quiet. The counselor knows about the abuse, and the fact the girl was beaten for telling the counselor. And yet, the counselor can do nothing. There are no immediate laws, no provisions, no safety for this 13 year old girl.

So tonight - as I write this & as you in the West wake up to your coffee, jobs, and to do lists (and arguably your own difficulties, traumas, and trials) there is a 13 year old girl, within 20 minutes of me, being traumatized. And I know. I know.

Knowledge is not always power, is it?

At my old job in LA I had the comfort of knowing the specific stories I was told had all ended in the child being removed from the situation - of course it could happen again, and of course it was at that moment, at this moment, happening to another child in every city in the world. But to hear the story today, and to come home with this knowledge tonight - this is a helpless feeling.

This feeling screams for justice, and is stifled in my throat - because what is my power?

My husband voiced his confidence in me - in my ability to change the lives of others positively, and to make a substantial difference in the well being of abused children. I appreciate his confidence, and I hope at the end of my life I can say that is true.

But, for tonight, that aspiration does nothing for the 13 year old girl, or for her younger siblings that watch & know. Tonight, I am helpless. And tomorrow, I may stand next to her aggressors at the grocery store - I may even talk to them, smile at them, receive help from them...and I will not know.

I know this is raw - I know this is offensive - I know some of you may think I'm speaking negatively about Kenya or Los Angeles or law makers. I know.

But I do not apologize. The world is raw, the world is offensive, the world contains negative things/people/places/events.

And it also contains me, in all my imperfection, and it contains you, in all of yours. Us - with our aspirations for better, our aspirations for justice, our belief that we will eventually triumph over those who use their power for selfish gain at the expense of those without a voice.

Let's not lose sight just because seeing is painful. Just because seeing is believing - and this belief is raw, and ugly, and overwhelming. Just because we, or our friend, or our children are not the immediate victim; it could be, at any minute. Maybe it is you, was you. Fight it - you have a voice.

I'm done depressing you for the night/day - and of course if I've offended you, and all that comes of you being offended is you being offended, and not some pause for reflection - I'm sorry. If this is/was you or your experience, and this post re-surfaces a difficult past, I am so sorry - I hope you know it is your courage to continue living that inspires courage in others, in me, and renews my belief this is worth me raising my voice.

If I've offended you, know I've also offended myself in some ways, to be perfectly candid. But I hope those ways continue to jar me out of my inclination towards complacency and ignorance - because that is where my mind peaceably wants to be. But that is not, absolutely not, where my God calls me to be, or where the 13 year old girls of this world need me to be.

You have a voice. I have a voice. Raise them. In small or large ways, in direct or indirect ways, to a crowd or to your spouse - raise them.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Sarah! I love reading your blog! I am always so touched by the depth of your thoughts and the elegance of your words. I think of you guys often. Galen and I were out to dinner on Saturday and I started telling him about your blog and how great I think it is! Don't get discouraged by others' negative opinions or harsh responses to your thoughts. Stand SECURE in the woman God created you to be and the passions he has given you. They were NOT by chance!!

    Carissa Haws (Fishel)


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