She stood out in the dark night. Small framed and shivering, her eyes distant and countenance void of emotion. She seemed to be misplaced. Standing amongst girls and men much older than herself, she hung in the back several feet from the street corner where the older girls flocked around men and potential customers. She was wearing a short pink dress, but kept wrapping her traditional skirt covering around her to cover as much of her body as possible. As we approached, her eyes spoke of terror beyond words. She nervously looked over each shoulder and shifted her weight from leg to leg. We tried to small talk with her but she did not respond much. I gently put my hand on her shoulder and said, “Are you hungry?” She then made eye contact and slightly nodded. We asked if we could take her somewhere to feed her. She hesitated and again looked from side to side but then forced out a very quiet whisper, “ndio” (“yes”).
We took her a few miles away to a small outside restaurant. Although we could tell she was hungry, her physical pain kept her from eating much. Tears poured down her face at random moments, but when asked she would whisper, “I’m fine.” Her eyes would get stuck gazing out in the distance as if she could not hear us.
I have seen this before.
Dozens of times before.
With girls who have been deeply hurt.
We asked her where she wanted to go after she ate, she said she could not go home until she met her quota. So we paid the quota and drove her to this requested place. It was in fact, a half built building, with clothes being used as wall coverings, too many people crowded on the cold cement floor, and danger seemed to lurk in the atmosphere. We talked to her about some other options, but she insisted on going there.
This was a familiar place to our National Director. In fact, she went to this exact drug house last year to get a girl, only to have a man pull a knife on her.
Our hearts beat with an urgency to get her out, but at that moment she refused. We continued to pursue her several days this week. At one point her “friends” told us that they had not seen her for a few days. We began to worry. I whispered a prayer in my heart, “God help us find her.” Not even 5 minutes later as we are driving in town, I spotted that pink dress and red kanga in the midst of crowds of people. “There she is!!!” My excitement was building as I felt she was getting another chance.
We stopped and she easily agreed this time to come and meet with us. She said she wanted to get out of this life. She hated it. She had been in years of bondage. She shared many hard things.
And then she came home.
She was warmly welcomed by our girls and staff, but she quickly asked to lie down. Her body was twitching as the detox began. This was the first day in years she had not been on cocaine and marijuana. The pain her body was going through was unbearable.
Over the course of days, we began to see the effects of deep trauma. She would suddenly burst into tears, unsure of where she was. Her deep cries spoke of a pain we could not yet reach. Our hearts grieved by the atrocities done to this young 13-year-old child.
But sometimes the pain of healing can be too great to bear.
Yesterday we received a call from the staff at Courage House.
She had run away.
She had run back to a place of bondage.
The drugs called her. The love and safety were foreign to her.
And once again, we saw how the claws of darkness held on to such a small child.
But again, we pursue.
We will not give up.
We are working with the government to get this house shut down and the girls rescued.
We are believing that love will win.
We have seen so much incredible change with the girls at Courage House, both here in Tanzania and in America. But we know that the change has only come with incredible perseverance by our girls who daily choose to fight, and stay.
We know she, too, can find a life of freedom.
And so we fight for a child who does not know how to fight for herself... who does not believe she is worth a fight.
There are millions more out there.
This blog post was written by former Executive Director of Courage House NorCal and Courage House Tanzania, Melissa Herrmann.
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