Over a decade ago, Homes of Hope used to conduct "GEM Camps" (girl empowerment camps) where we would travel to at-risk communities in the Suva area and gather young women who were caught in sexual exploitation. We would whisk them away to Deuba for a week of education, awareness, ocean, laughing, and most importantly to impart a sense that they were accepted and belonged.
*Sheli was one of the girls from those camps and her story impacted me so deeply that my life and work have never been the same. Her story paints such a vivid picture of the lifelong impact and devestation of a broken childhood.
Science shows that life is a story for which the beginning sets the tone. That makes the early years of childhood a time of great opportunity, but also great risk. Children’s brains are built, moment by moment, as they interact with their environments. In the first few years of life, more than one million neural connections are formed each second – a pace never repeated again. The quality of a child’s early experiences makes a critical difference as their brains develop, providing either strong or weak foundations for learning, health and behaviour throughout life. https://www.unicef.org/early-childhood-development
Childhood abuse and her parents' broken marriage were just a couple of the adverse childhood experiences that were a part of Sheli's young life. After the divorce, Sheli's mother moved in with another man who did not accept Sheli. They kicked her out of the house at age 15; no other family members would take her. Out of desperation and the promise of all-things-are-better-in-Suva, Sheli left her home on another island and came to Suva, hoping to find a place to belong. The only “home” she could find was occupied by 25 other children, all of whom were being sold for sex every day by the five adult men they lived with. Sheli, still devastated from her mother’s rejection, felt hopeless and afraid.
At a Homes of Hope awareness camp, Sheli got a taste of healthy belonging and a sense of family. She gained awareness of her value and a knowledge of her rights. She saw that there was a different way to live and that she didn’t have to be sold. At the end of the week-long camp, Sheli had to go back to where she had been staying in Suva. Our staff tried to follow up with her, but this became impossible because of her transient living.
I think this story impacted me so deeply because I felt hopeless to help.
"Life" had already happened to Sheli, forming and shaping her into a young woman who saw herself as an individual with no value or worth.
Children growing up with toxic stress may have difficulty forming healthy and stable relationships. They may also have unstable work histories as adults and struggle with finances, jobs, and depression throughout life. These effects can also be passed on to their own children. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/fastfact.html
Adverse childhood experiences can potentially affect generations to come. This fact should be sobering for each of us.
If you are struggling with parenting your children - seek help. If you are a young person whose family is struggling - ask for help.
Fiji has FOUR toll-free helplines that you can call:
Child Help Line: 1325
Domestic Violence Help Line: 1560
Counselling Help Line: 5626
Lifeline Fiji: 1543 (crisis calls)
Other available services that you can check out on-line:
Medical Services Pacific; Fiji Women’s Crisis Center; Empower Pacific
Please visit our website, Homes of Hope Fiji, to join our team through prayer, giving, educating others, visiting, or volunteering.