Over the past couple of weeks, I have really gotten to know a lot of the girls at Vision of Hope, the organization where I am volunteering. It's really striking how so many of the girls we work with are accustomed to tragedy. These young girls have been through a lot, and decompressing their stories has started to take its toll. When I got there today, one of the girls I interviewed earlier last week was lying down outside with a bandage on her head. She says she's 19, but the reality is that she has no idea how old she is. She has been living on the streets for about a decade, and has been dealt some pretty difficult cards. She is HIV positive, but overdoses on her ARVs. She has a third grade education, and uses drugs heavily to escape the harsh conditions of street life. Though Vision of Hope is a safe place for her to stay, her dependency on drugs makes it difficult for her not to return to the streets of Lusaka, where they can be easily accessed. This past Friday, she was kidnapped, gangraped, and stabbed in the head. She was beat up badly, and left to die on the side of the road. A Good Samaritan found her, and brought her to the hospital. For her pain, she was given aspirin and nothing else. Seeing this young girl was not easy for me. I knew her story. I bought one of the rugs she made. More importantly, she was a human being who was treated as somebody's means to an end.
I have had a lot of difficulties trying to understand things throughout these past few weeks. From discovering that fundamantal churches are fueling the anti-gay crusades in Africa to learning that there are a total of five psychiatrists in the entire country, I am at a loss for answers. I can't imagine being exorcised by my family for my sexual orientation or identity. I can't begin to fathom living in Zambia with a mental illness, and I struggle to understand why so many children don't reach the age of 5. In a country where over 60% of the population lives below the poverty line, it makes sense that addressing these issues is difficult. Still, some days are easier for me than others. We talk about compassion fatigue, and I know that it's something I'm confronting. I don't want to detach myself from people's stories and experiences, because to do so would be a disservice to their pain. That being said, I know that it's important to take a step back and think of ways that I can make a difference. When one of the girls at Vision of Hope told us today that she wanted us to know she would never go back to the streets, and thanked us for hearing her story, it solidified for me why I'm here. I may not have enough answers, but at least I know I care enough to ask.