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Faith, a true survivor against all odds

Timoci Vula
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

IN 2006, an 11-year-old schoolgirl gave birth to a boy in a health facility on Vanua Levu.

At that time, the then Class 7 (now Year 7) student recalls how grateful she was to God for her supportive parents during that experience.

The situation is a lot more complicated than one would think, particularly if one has not experienced communal living.

And with a situation like Faith's (*pseudonym intended), it comes with little surprise that she has become a stronger young woman today than others who may have faced similar experiences than hers but missed out on parental and family support.

For her, both parents were by her side from day one — perhaps several hours after learning of the tragic news.

Faith grew up in a communal setting, a melting pot of provinces, districts, villages; most inter-related; the working class and vice-versa; a semi-rural setting in Vanua Levu.

Public services and amenities were not much of a luxury given the convenient geographical access to the town area.

The year was 2005.

A so-called friend of the head of the household who lived in the same settlement would often visit as is the norm in villages and settlements.

But not until a motive developed when Faith remembers the man asking her one day if she needed money.

He visited the family as a cover again, she believes, because this time he gave her money.

Not something she was taught to entertain, and the subsequent sense of fear after taking and spending the money meant she kept silent about it.

The following fortnight, she received money again, and the fortnight after.

By the fourth time she was given money, the man forced himself on to her in some nearby undeveloped bushland.

At this stage, insurmountable fear was all she could feel.

Dusk was falling rapidly, she ran straight home and locked herself in her room.

She said she was so frightened that she could not even face her parents.

In the first week, she tried as much as possible not to come in direct contact with them.

Nor the man who had just sexually offended her.

Two weeks later, she had another encounter where the man forced her into his home for sex, doubled the money he had been giving her, and sent her on her way.

Faith said she felt lost and confused as she sneakily left that house, trying hard not to cry because she feared her neighbours would catch her out and start asking questions.

For nine solid months, Faith was forced into numerous other encounters with the same man, who at that time was in his very late 40s.

In the ninth month, Faith remembers being the subject of the women's curiosity who would utter public remarks of how she looked "different", like "pregnant-different".

Weeks passed until her mother and a learned woman in the area sat her down one evening to talk to her.

She said when they asked her the first question, whether she was pregnant or knew anything about pregnancy, she innocently said no.

Both women continued to calmly pursue what minutes later became a painful truth.

After her continued negative responses, and a gentle feel of her stomach area, Faith's mother broke down as she tried to make sense of what and how things had come to be.

Faith said she was so scared to death, she felt numb all over that she could not utter a single word.

She sobbed continuously.

But fear lingered as they awaited the return of her father to convey this horrific news.

In a description that told of the permanent memories forcibly engraved into her brain for life, Faith said she had never seen her father so angry.

She said she could still picture her father's face when he was told of what had happened. He was fuming with rage and madness that he pursued the man armed with tools.

Faith said she believed it was God who touched her father's heart that day and turned him back home before he could do anything he would regret for the rest of his life.

Days after, the family agreed to pursue legal action and after months of court appearances, the man was sentenced to three years in prison.

After the news broke out, there were talks and gossip.

Faith stayed indoors for the next nine months, only coming out on clinic and counselling days during that period.

After delivering her baby, she did the same. She became a stranger in her own surrounding.

"But I was lucky you know because I had my parents with me. My father always asked me if I was ok, if I needed something," Faith said, adding her siblings were also strongly instructed to take good care of her.

Time is a healer and so does someone's faith in God despite all adversities.

That was how her parents strengthened her daily, she said.

"My dad told me to be strong and that in time, people will come around, and to have faith in God because nothing was impossible to Him if I ask Him.

"I prayed a lot, asking God for His forgiveness, thanking Him for His love and grace, for my family, for my son who I did not dream I would have this way.

"I prayed for peace and courage to face the world and its challenges."

She said in time, she no longer felt anything about what people were saying about her or of her.

She added she did not care any more.

Faith said today, she continued to thank God for her son's life, now 11 years old, and he had begun to be the subject of stigma and discrimination by his peers, based on the young boy's unfortunate and blameless history.

She cries when her son tells her about this.

She said she would have to give some thought on whether to and when she would tell her son all he needed to know.

But for herself, over the years, Faith had decided to live a normal life and accept that she would not be able to undo what had happened, and deeper regrets would only darken the scar.

She focuses more on her son and her family, which she said she used her energy on to drown any thoughts or memories of the past that would pop up from time to time.

Faith says she is happy and grateful for every breath of life she is blessed with every day.

And she prays every day too that young girls in Fiji and all over the world are treasured and protected from any harm.

Speaking from her own experience, Faith urged children, young and old, not to fear their parents when confronted with any unwanted and abnormal, and or sexually offensive behavior from anyone.

"That was my biggest mistake. I did not tell my parents the first time he gave me that money. But it is a lesson any child can learn from, they need to tell their parents."

Faith said families, especially parents, were important figures during those times and must offer their full support to their children.

She said she had not met any other survivor of sexual abuse but said sharing her story could empower or even save one life too.

For now, Faith has shelved plans to further her studies or pursue other personal matters to take care of her son and one of her parents, who is now ill.

Otherwise, in her own words: "I am better than yesterday."

This author salutes Faith and her courage and bravery in sharing her account with us.

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