One of the most humbling aspects of having an opportunity to be involved with something like the Sandra Jones Village was to know that each of the children there (some 70 in total) represented a heart-wrenching story of unspeakable pain. Yet the place exuded an air of optimism and joy – of those precious kids rising above insurmountable odds and terrible circumstances to find a reason to live within their community of fellow travelers.
When we first went to the girls’ section of the Sandra Jones Village we encountered a girl writhing in pain on her bed because she was suffering from terrible tooth decay. It helped us to realise how important were the 500 Panadol we’d smuggled in past customs were going to be. Yet a few minutes later this same girl emerged from her bedroom with tear-stained cheeks because the whole group of girls wanted to sing us a song of welcome. It’s hard to describe how unworthy you can feel when something like that happens.
One of the most heart-rending tales of abuse in the Sandra Jones Village belongs to a girl named Sibongile. Her mother sold her into prostitution when she was just six years old. For six years she was forced to service the men of the mines, finally being rescued another lifetime later at age twelve. As if having her childhood ripped away from her in the most traumatic of circumstances wasn’t enough, the legacy of her years of being a sex slave is that she is also HIV Positive.
Now aged fourteen, Sibongile’s parents have both passed away and her life revolves around the Sandra Jones Centre. In her own words “I love it there“.
Sibongile will always remain in my mind as a happy, energetic girl with a wicked wit and a seeming capacity for leadership. One of the afternoons we were out at the Village, Sibongile took a group of girls across a dam wall and led them in dancing and singing. The wall was precariously placed above a sheer drop to some punishing drops below. You wouldn’t know it though given the way they danced and clapped across the wall, ignoring the yawning chasm that opened up below them. I tentatively ventured across a part of the gap to capture some of the moment on video, because it so captured the second life these girls are being offered at SJV. (And I mean I was tentative in crossing that wall – it was a precipitous drop below. There’s no way this Mukiwa was going to dance and clap above that).
Here is a girl, amongst others, who has endured unspeakable acts and things no child (or any human) should be forced to endure. Yet here she is at SJV thriving, re-starting life. Finding a new sense of worth as someone loved and valued. I think the video footage is the best way to tell this tale of redemption. What do you think?