Today at the KOFAVIV Women’s Center that we’ve co-founded with our partners, I played with a three-year-old rape survivor. She smiled at me a few times, but her mother looked like she might never smile again.
I have met dozens of children here who have been raped and many more who have been forced into “survival sex,” made to trade their childhoods for a meal or a jug of water. The girls I met are the lucky ones, the ones who have made their way to KOFAVIV. Here at the Center, they are taken in by the women with hugs and smiles. They are fed, given clean clothes and taken to the doctor.
Then starts the hard work of counseling. We have been able to hire a psychologist who works tirelessly with the girls, and when she can, also with their mothers. But here, counseling is as much about creating a circle of friendship and support around the girls as it is about any professionalized intervention.
The girls live in the sprawling tent cities that blanket every available patch of land across the city. But each day, they come to the KOFAVIV Center. They gather in the shady courtyard and play. And they spend time with the women of KOFAVIV, who were themselves raped. There is a tremendous power in the way that the KOFAVIV women model survival for the girls. The women are fierce and smart and loving and the KOFAVIV Center is—amazingly—a place that is filled with laughter.