Like many of our children, eight year old Elizabeth is shy. The first time I saw her, she buried her face in her hands. Smiling sheepishly at the floor, she refused to meet my eyes in greeting for fear of finding judgment in them. Unlike many children, Elizabeth suffers from a deep level of shame and lack of confidence, for she, even at her young age of eight, has committed a crime.
Elizabeth was the oldest child in a family rocked by poverty. Unable to handle the terrible grumbling in her tummy and feeling a responsibility to care for her siblings, she decided to take action to protect herself and them against the hunger that threatened their existence. Every day, she would sneak into a neighboring field, and steal just enough food to keep them alive.
One day, while Elizabeth was using her little barefooted feet to move stealthily between the rows of sugarcane and pumpkin leaves, trying to control her breathing so as not to be heard, someone spotted her with the food that she was prohibited to eat. Knowing that she was caught, she turned and ran, her little heels kicking up the dry dust behind her as she tried to get away.
She was knocked to the ground and beaten heavily by a man, and then dragged to a fire where her hand was held in fire, while the skin of her right hand melted into the flames. Villagers heard her screams and police officers stopped the beating while community development officers carried a hurting child away into the night, who was afraid for her life. The weight of the world was on her shoulders. Wondering what would happen to her now?
The social workers in our area have an unofficial rule. “If a child is abused, take them to Energy of Hope.” It is their best gift to bring blessings to bring back balance to the life of a child who has suffered.
Late at night, there was a knock at our gate. A little girl in raggedy clothes and a growling tummy, holding a wounded hand close to her chest moved her bare toes silently over the concrete of our front porch, and as she did so, the number of children who live in our house increased by one.