I knew walking into The Red Cross War Memorial Hospital would be hard. The last time I had set foot in this place was 20 years ago when I visited a 5 year-old girl with a terminal illness and, after 3 visits, I received the devastating news she had died. I was only 14 or 15 years old but, I can remember the feelings of loss and despair that were prevalent behind these walls as though it were yesterday. I knew I would see things nobody ever wanted to see and hear stories that would break my heart into a million tiny pieces.
What I didn’t know was that I would walk out of the hospital just over an hour later, a different person and with a heart stretched far wider than I ever anticipated. I never knew that in circumstances of such pain and brokenness I would feel such a deep stir in my heart to put a call to action to finally do something. To feel parts of my heart come alive, parts that have remained complacent for far too long, trapped in the lie that these stories are too hard to hear or fathom. Or that there was nothing I could do to put an end to the scope of pain and suffering. Because as hard as these things were for me to see, I don’t ever want to un-see them. I don’t ever want to get to that point of complacency again where I carry on my life pushing these social issues aside with my “Out of sight, out of mind” mentality.
Walking through the hospital for our tour with Abbey, Angela Rea and I saw first hand what really goes on in these wards and just how bad things can be. From children suffering terminal illnesses and heart conditions to severe burns and broken bones due to abuse and neglect, this is the reality and the extent of the suffering that permeates the very halls of this hospital. What I will say is how impressed I was with not only the quality of care but the excellent conditions of the hospital. Although such a sad and desperate place to be, this hospital is one that offers children a sense of happiness and peace, with its brightly coloured cots and the beautiful art and murals that fill the hall ways. The nurses are happy and caring and there’s a lot to be said about the heart of the people working there. Day in and day out to make a small difference in the children’s lives.
But can anything ever prepare you for seeing a child in a hospital bed? No.
At one point I sat staring through the glass into the eyes of a little girl who was no older than 4. I don’t know exactly why she was there but what I do know was that she was alone. She had no-one next to her bed telling her everything was going to be ok or that life had dealt her a rough hand, but that she was going to pull through and had so much to look forward to. There was no one to offer her hope or a promise of a better future.
Photo cred: Angela Rea, Our Sunshine Journey
i saw her sitting upright in her bed looking straight towards me and I felt a stabbing pain in my throat. Again, can anything ever prepare you for seeing a child so hurt and so lonely? No. The answer will always be no.
I cried. I tried my hardest not to, to swallow the pain in my throat but I just couldn’t. I sobbed.
Cases of abuse are the most tragic and obviously the hardest to witness. The fact that many of these children are lying in hospital beds because of abuse and neglect, some with broken bones, some with burns and gauze covering their tiny little bodies. There are far too many children whose lives are being affected by such tragic events and, it’s impossible to not feel a certain rage build up in your heart. My first thought is “How can such evil exist that one would inflict such hurt on an innocent child?” I literally cannot fathom such evil, especially as a mother to three children whose greatest challenge and mission is trying to ensure nothing bad ever happens to them. But while there is certainly no place for sympathy when it comes to abuse, there is something to be said about the very fine line that separates abuse from the sad reality of neglect. Not all these situations are black and white.
I had a moment of realisation while walking though the trauma ward, that there was so much more to these children’s stories than we know. The scope of destruction and despair that some these children and their families endure on a daily basis is far beyond what any of us can ever fully imagine. While I take a huge stand against child and women abuse of any kind at any level, I think it’s important we don’t sit on our privileged parenting pedestals judging the stories of neglect and situations of those less fortunate. The situations many of us know very little about.
I saw moms sitting at their children’s bedsides, many of whom have been there for weeks on end. Many of whom have to give up work (and pay) so that they can be with their children. This made me think of why so many of these children are here with gauze covering their entire little bodies due to burns in the first place.
Photo cred: Angela Rea, Our Sunshine journey.
We (Yes we, the privileged!) sit in our secure homes, driving off in our safe cars fitted with carseats for our children, to secure jobs. We drop our children off at licensed creches with the highest level of care and know they are going to be in safe hands and well looked after until we pick them up. We shop at Pick ‘n Pay and Woolworths and prepare dinners over our safely fitted stoves that we enjoy in our full and messy homes. We use toilets, only a few step away from our bedrooms and enjoy running water whenever we need it.
Yet this isn’t the reality for many moms in this country who struggle everyday to find work, support their families and watch over their children 24/7 in an environment far harsher than we ever could imagine. These parents often have to walk a distance to use a communal loo or fetch water, often unable to always keep an eye on their children 24/7. I’m thinking of the moms who try their utmost to protect and care for their children and make money to survive, many suffering at the hands of abusive husbands and partners. The moms who are so desperate to provide a safe environment for their children yet are still being judged when they fail them because they just don’t have the basic tools to properly protect their children in the first place.
You see, I’m just trying to take a deeper look than what we see coming onto these wards at first glance. No two stories are the same – what we may assume to be a situation of neglect, is very often just a case of heightened poverty and despair. Perhaps, instead we should turn our judgements, rage and energy into something more effective and constructive: sympathy and compassion. And armed with these two things, do whatever we can to help these children. Because for whatever the reason, these children need us. And we need to act as their advocates. Their mouthpieces.
For so many of these children, they arrive in the hospital with not much more than the clothes on their backs. They arrive in pain, scared and alone, often with their dignity hanging on a fine thread.
For 16 Days Of Activism, I am working with The Red Cross and some of my amazing fellow bloggers to help bring awareness to this overwhelming situation. We are trying to put together Child Protection Packs for children between the ages of 0 and 9 years. Please see below for a list of goods we are needing and I urge you to spread the word and encourage those around you to donate. It’s as simple as donating a pack of nappies or some noodles, I don’t need everything listed below, just whatever you can contribute.
We can’t stop the cycle of abuse overnight. But we can start by protecting the children who find themselves at the very core of the situation. We can stand together and say “NO MORE!” and act as these children’s advocates against such violence. We can soften the blow as these children are taken out of the homes of their abusive parents and put into foster care. And If we are really brave and able to we can offer them forever homes in a loving family. There are so many children who are waiting to be adopted by parents who will show them what a real family is.
You see guys, while this 16 days of Activism for abuse against women and children is such a significant campaign and one that I’m holding closer and closer to my heart, i’ve realised it’s only the beginning. This experience has simply scratched beneath the surface of what I feel is going to reward me in so many ways. I know now that I can’t look away any longer and not serve my community where it really matters. I know now that there’s work to be done by people like you and me. It’s only the start.
The Children’s Hospital Trust was established in 1994 to fundraise for the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital – the first stand-alone tertiary hospital in sub-Saharan Africa, dedicated entirely to children. The Trust is an independent, non-profit organisation that relies on the benevolence of donors to realise its aims. In 2011 the Trust expanded its fundraising reach beyond the Hospital’s doors to impact more broadly on the quality of healthcare provided to children at other levels of the health services.
To learn more go to their website, or check out their Facebook/Facebook pages to stay up to date with all their campaigns. Please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for donations to the Protection packs! If you are happy to, you can transfer money and I will buy on your behalf. (They will personally thank each and every person who has donated so I will be sure to make sure they know who has generously supported the cause)
All photos by the incredibly talented Angela Rea who was with me to capture these real and heartbreaking moments. Thank you for sharing this experience with me! xxx