#ConnectingHRAfrica – Day 4.
I feel really guilty about what I am about to write.
Today we visited the girls centre in Kampala. The rest of the team had already spent time here but, because the flight of the “London Three” was delayed for 24hrs, this was my first experience. The rest of our team had shared their very emotional experiences with us on the night of our arrival and I was truly touched by what they had seen, heard and felt; it was going to be a rollercoaster of emotions.
We travelled for an hour and a half on challenging roads, with extreme traffic and road works. It was also the day after a public holiday. Almost like the UK, it takes you three times as long to get to work the day after a bank holiday! It was fair to say that I was feeling decidedly ropey and had an essence of Casper about me when we arrived. There were squeals of delight and so many girls came to greet our mini-bus; the sound was deafening. The girls clearly knew, and remembered, the team that had visited just 3 days earlier.
We were offered a brew, some Nice biscuits (love these), and a tour of the centre. What struck me immediately is that the girls centre is significantly less equipped than both of the boy’s centres. The washrooms were outside, the kitchen was outside, there were few tables, chairs and spaces designed for the girls to sit, play or read. The classroom was a container, decorated inside with beautiful pictures that the girls had drawn, but not a single bench, chair or blackboard. Nothing. It was empty. The tour of the centre prompted the first question to myself; why do the girls not have the same as the boys?
The girls were dressed in beautiful clothes; they had gone to some effort for our arrival. Some of the girls, however, were dressed very provocatively for the age; which, given their experiences and the need to use their bodies to survive isn’t surprising. A small group were incredibly sexualised.
We had loom bands, bracelet making kits, books to read, basketball, balloons and play doh. So many activities that we could be involved with, to interact to play. Most weren’t interested in us. They were more interested in what we had bought for them. Some went to the lengths of stealing items, squirreling them away, and being quite nasty when they were challenged. In contrast to the boys, the girls were a lot more physical when examining my tattoo with some pinching it and punching my arm. How does one respond to that? I showed them that it hurt me, I said no, I asked them to be nice. A knowing smile. They knew what they were doing.
They use affection, emotional words to try and draw you in; hugs, a stroke of the leg, holding your hand, saying I love you. They don’t know any other way to get what they need; food, water, warmth, shelter, someone to care for them. And money. Basic human needs.
The girls have suffered immense trauma; more than any human being should ever be subjected to. They have had such horrific childhoods. We are talking about children aged between 5 and 17. They are hurting themselves inside. You can see it in the eyes of a many that were there; a hollow space and one so dark that it draws you in. Some may say that you’re not human if you don’t feel touched by it.
Yet, I wasn’t.
I felt very uncomfortable. It was almost as if they were displaying for us.
My life experiences, which led me to applying for Connecting HR Africa in the first place, had me thinking that I would have connected with this centre, more so than the boys, and I didn’t. I don’t fully know why and, for that, I am sorry. I’m sorry I lacked emotion, I’m sorry I don’t have an emotionally charged “I made a difference” story to tell. I’m sorry that this is the reality for these girls, and many more like them.