Almost every family who comes to Food for Thought has a very complex and difficult history. It is hard to remember which child is connected to which history. Sometimes the only way for my brain to understand these webs of family issues is to draw a family tree that appears to have been created by a drunken spider. The problems go deep, they are multi-generational, they are abuse filled, and are all related to endemic poverty issues.
In my eyes, one of the millions of contributing factors to the abuses that occur within the homes is the fact that so many people are living within small spaces. Large numbers of people are living within close proximity of each other. Add drugs and alcohol, macho culture, lack of money, and no state support, and you have a lethal cocktail that is ready to explode at any given moment. More often than not there are several houses on the same property filled with a mixture of cousins, uncles and aunties, grandparents, in-laws, and step-parents.
2 nights ago, I received a message from our child psychologist Carla. She had received a message from one of the mothers of a girl in Food for Thought. I’ll give them fake names because it gets complicated. The mother, Nicole, and her daughter, Tati, have some serious problems of their own. Tati’s father, Nicole’s ex, smashed down the door to Tati’s room in a fit of rage 3 nights ago. That is a whole other issue that I won’t get into right now.
The message that Carla received from Nicole stated that one of Tati’s new friends, Kelly, (they met at Food for Thought and are inseparable) has shown up on the doorstep asking to stay the night. This is a problem because Nicole understands Kelly’s home situation and truly wants to help but becoming involved as a refuge for Kelly could unnecessarily involve their family in the chaos that I’m about to explain.
Kelly’s father, John, is a violent alcoholic. His son (13 years old) moved out because he couldn’t tolerate the beatings anymore. John lives with 3 of his children, 15 years old, 9 years old, Kelly-12 years old, and John’s grandmother who is very sick and weak and who I don’t think has too much longer to live. On the same site, 1 meter away in another house live John’s sister, cousin-Trish, many children and other people who I don’t know (all of them are very young).
Kelly had turned up at Nicole and Tati’s place because her father, John, had beaten her with a belt. She has bad bruising on one of her legs. She obviously didn’t want to stay at home that night. The 15-year-old and the 9-year-old are safe enough in the house. The 9-year-old is safe because of her age and size, and the 15-year-old doesn’t get involved in the violence unless the grandmother tries to step in. The house with the sister and cousin Trish (we’re not sure exactly who) have previously laid charges against John for his violence. They are currently looking into charging him again.
Yesterday Tati and Kelly came to Food for Thought with Nicole. I had a good talk with Nicole about the situation, warning her to be careful, because if her ex, Tati’s father (who lives close by) and John should happen to cross paths, who knows what violent mess could unfold. So, from that point we began communication between, Carla, Nicole, Trish the cousin, and I. Trish is the closest family member who is getting involved to support Kelly. At this stage, Trish’s house is the only other place where Kelly can stay, even though there isn’t a lot of room.
So, yesterday during the time that Kelly was with us at Food for Thought, we were organising with Nicole and Trish to find a short-term solution. When we finished the day, I took Kelly to Nicole’s house where she would stay for a few hours until Trish could come and pick her up and take her back to her house.
The most frustrating part of all of this is that the situation will get worse if we involve the authorities. Taking kids out of homes is the very last option. State children’s homes are much worse than the situations that these children are currently living.
What lights me up is Kelly’s resilience. She turned up to Food for Thought, engaged in the activities, was smiling, and playing with the other kids. In spite of the trauma that she had experienced, she was strong and courageous enough to take on another day. I know for a fact that if I had been assaulted as she had the night before, I couldn’t show up and be present in the way that she did. I don’t believe in heroes or heroines but if you wanted to look into the qualities that one such person might show, Kelly would most likely fit into that category!