“Mama, somebody has to make that neighbor stop”

 National Health Blog Post MonthDay 16 – Friday, Nov. 16  Use a picture or video to inspire a post 

I’ve been waiting all month to tell this story.

It was a Friday evening and I was in the kitchen with my older two children following my every move (Charlie, 8; Caira 5).  I saw a Tweet from HEAL Africa indicating that a photo from their hospital was in Time Magazine’s Pictures of the Week Slideshow and I became singularly focused on finding it.  The kids both sensed my sudden distraction and asked what I was doing that was evidently so important.

“Remember when Mommy went to Africa to help at a hospital?”

“Yes,” they replied.

“Well, there is a picture taken at the hospital that is in this large group of pictures and I am trying to find it,” I said.  There were over 60 pictures in the Time Magazine slideshow and I was flipping through one-by-one on my smartphone.

“Can we help?”  Classic.

So we stood together sifting the images one at a time, until #35.  It was a girl, alone in the frame and looking downcast.  The exact caption was as follows:

“Oct. 16, 2012. A rape victim sits in the Heal Africa hospital in the eastern Congolese city of Goma. The patient, now 11, was allegedly raped at the age of 8 in the Congolese village of Ngungu in Masisi Territory. She refuses to go back home as she says she was raped by a neighbor. French Francophonie Minister Yamina Benguigui pledged 420,000 euros in aid to the hospital, which treats victims of sexual violence.”

Photo Credit: Time.com

I hid the exact caption from them, but my eldest immediately asked why she was at the hospital.  I took a deep breath and answered, “She had a neighbor that did bad things to her.  He hit her and kissed her in ways that were very inappropriate.  She ran away to the hospital because there she would be safe from her neighbor.”

Charlie looked at me.  “Why didn’t her family just move?” he asked.

That would seem a pretty fair question to a child accustomed to being safe in his neighborhood and surroundings.  “Charlie, that’s a great question.  You know your mommy and daddy would want to get you away from such a bad situation, but in her country there is a war going on and a lot of people don’t have enough money even to eat and have medicine.  It would take more money than that for her family to be able to move.  Getting her safely to the hospital was probably the best thing they could do in that situation.”

As he took all this in, concepts of war and poverty and insecurity that are likely still incomprehensible to him, my daughter spoke up for the first time.  “It is really good we don’t have neighbors like that,” she said.  What had previously been a profound interaction with my children became even more so.  Not only did she recognize the wrongness of this girl’s circumstances, but she was able to learn about it, talk about it, in ways that clearly indicated that she was completely secure in her life.  She didn’t ask if she should start to fear the neighbors.  She matter-of-factly delivered a statement of confidence in her own circumstances.

I was a humbled, contemplative and proud mama by that point in the evening.  Twenty minutes later Caira and I were alone in another room of the house talking about mundane and fun things entirely unconnected to our previous discussion of the girl in Congo.  Then she paused, looked into my eyes and said, “Mama, somebody has to make that neighbor stop.”

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