About a week and a half ago, one of my students told me her “secret.” I think I’ve mentioned this student’s name before, but since I promised her I wouldn’t tell anyone her secret, I’ll call her “Jane” in this blog.
For the first few weeks I taught class 4, “Jane” was pretty quiet. I didn’t give her any extra special attention until the week they wrote poems for composition class. Jane’s poem was about her sister. In the poem, she writes about how she beats her lazy sister with a belt to correct her when she does something wrong. Her other poem was about her “wicked” stepmother and how much she hates her. That’s when I realized there was something different about her, something a little bit dark.
A few weeks later, she gave me a note begging me to be her “elder sister” and to take her with me when I travel, because, she wrote, she doesn’t feel comfortable at home, where everyone tells her she’s “stupid, ugly, foolish, suck, a thief.” When I read this note, I thought perhaps she must come from a tumultuous, broken family life. Not long after she gave me the note, the first of Jane’s dark secrets spilled out when I was talking with her and some of her classmates.
“Miss Kate, my father is married to two women,” she burst out after a classmate complained that she hardly sees her father. “My mother traveled and is living abroad, and while she was gone, my father married another woman, my stepmother. I had a dream that she would treat me badly, and it’s true! She hates me and makes me and my sister do all the housework, like Cinderella, but her children don’t do anything. My father married two women, and my mother doesn’t even know!” She looked like she was about to cry.
Ah, so she does come from a broken family, something that seems to be much less common in Ghana than in America. As she told me this, I realized that she might be exaggerating when she said she had to do all the housework and that her mother doesn’t even know about her father’s second marriage. However, that doesn’t change the tragedy of her situation. She lives in a house where she feels mistreated and quite unloved by her stepmother and basically neglected by everyone else.
“Jane, when was the last time you saw your mother?” I asked.
“I don’t remember. She left when I was just a baby,” Jane said sadly. “She talks to me on the phone sometimes, and she sends me clothes and shoes from abroad, but I don’t remember what she looks like. That’s why I want you to take me with you when you go, because I want to see my mother. My mother lives abroad.”
“Where does your mother live?” a classmate asked.
“I just said, she lives abroad,” Jane replied.
“But where? You can’t just say ‘abroad,’ That’s not a country,” the classmate insisted.
“Yes it is! London!” said another classmate, quite sure of herself.
“Oh,” said the first classmate, slightly embarrassed.
“Miss Kate, isn’t the UK near London?” another student asked.
“No. London is in the UK,” I explained.
“Isn’t that near America?”
We need to work on our geography skills, don’t we?
Oh, my poor little Jane, an almost-motherless daughter of a broken home. Was that the reason for the notes she sent me? She has handed me a few very dark notes, talking about how the world was so unkind to her that she just wanted to die. She wrote that she would kill herself. She is ten-years-old! Of course it pains me greatly whenever I hear my precious students talking about wanting to kill themselves, but sadly, I’ve heard it from more than one student. However, none of the others were quite as intense as Jane. The other couple girls simply cried that they want to kill themselves during a dramatic moment when they were feeling upset or unloved. But with Jane... one time, when she was in trouble with one of the teachers, she came up to me quite calmly and told me she would take her father’s gun and shoot herself in the head. Everyone would be happier that way, she said. The world was so unkind to her.
“Jane, don’t say that! The world would be such a sad place without you!” I said, giving her a huge hug.
“No, Miss Kate. That’s not true. The only person who truly cares about me is my mother, and she lives abroad and I never see her. No one here cares about me so I’m just going to kill myself, okay? Thank you for saying yes.”
“No, it’s not okay! I love you. I’m your elder sister, remember?” I said, holding her tightly. “Jane, you’re beautiful!”
“No, I’m not. I’m ugly.” No matter how many times I insisted to her that she’s beautiful, she refused to accept it.
This girl clearly has problems. I honestly believed they came from living in a broken home with a stepfamily who tells her she’s ugly and who doesn’t show her the love and attention she so desperately craves. Oh, sometimes I wish I could go back to believing that. As sad as that reason is, it’s nothing compared to the real secret. About a week and a half ago, she told me the rest of her secret.
“Miss Kate, I’m ready to tell you my secret,” she said, coming up to my desk during snack break. I had a strange foreboding about this, and remembered the time little Georgia of Class 3 had told me her “secret,” that her father beats her, and that he beat her mother so badly she was sent to the hospital. I took a deep breath, preparing myself for something like Georgia’s secret.
“Okay, Jane. What is your secret?”
“Promise not to tell anyone?” she said. I nodded. Jane came close to me and whispered into my ear, “I’m not a virgin.”
My heart stopped. Brian came up to my desk, asking me about something, but I quickly shooed him away, silently praying that Jane didn’t know what the word ‘virgin’ meant. I pulled her close and whispered into her ear, “How do you know?”
She whispered back, “I know I’m not a virgin because I was raped.”
“What happened?” I said, and her story spilled out in frantic whispers. A man who used to live at her house named Kofi did it. As she started to describe to me the circumstances surrounding one of the times, when she and her brother were sent to visit him at his house in her home village, her eyes began to water, and she trembled until she couldn’t speak anymore. Listening to her horrendous experience, I wanted to cry. Instead, I held her close to me, rocking her gently, and whispered how sorry I was, that that was something that should never happen to a wonderful girl like her, that she was still beautiful.
“Oh, Jane, you’re beautiful, and God loves you,” I whispered.
“No, Miss Kate. You’re wrong. God doesn’t love me,” she replied.
“Yes he does!” I insisted.
“No, he doesn’t. God doesn’t love people who aren’t virgins,” she said.
Jane was raped by Kofi “no less than twelve times,” in 2006 and 2007, when she was six or seven. Since then, she has told her parents about it. She said that her father was very angry when he found out, and asked her why she waited so long to report. Her mother started crying when she found out.
“Now you know my secret. Don’t tell anyone. This is why I think I’m ugly. This is why I said I want to die. I don’t want to live anymore, because of what happened, because I was raped.”
It happened in the past, and now that her family is aware of it, I don’t think it will happen again. There’s nothing I can do about it except try to help her heal. This has had such a devastating effect on her life. I can’t begin to tell you how tragic this is to me! I’m 23, and I know I would be scarred for life if I were to be raped now... but to have to bear such a heavy burden as a little child! To have her innocence so disgustingly stolen from her at such a young age! My precious student, my “little sister,” Jane... I can’t believe it!
Since confiding in me her “secret,” she sometimes brings it up with me in quiet whispers and we talk about. “Miss Kate, how could God love me? I’m not a virgin. I’m a bad person.”
“No you’re not, Jane! You are a good person. You are a beautiful girl. What happened wasn’t your fault.”
“Yes, it was my fault. I let him do it to me. It’s my fault,” she insisted.
“No, no, no, no! It’s not your fault! I promise you. You’re just a child. You couldn’t do anything about it. You are innocent,” I said. “God is angry at Kofi for what he did to you.”
“How do you know? I don’t think he is. I think God doesn’t love me, because I let Kofi do that to me. It’s my fault.”
She sometimes threatens to tell the rest of the class her secret. I ask her not to. I don’t think it’s something the rest of the kids need to be thinking about. I don’t want to put these terrifying images in their heads. She admitted that she has already told a few of her classmates her “secret,” and she named each of them, but I ask her please not to tell anyone else.
The other day, a couple of the girls were talking about how on TV Africa, the late news was cancelled the night before because armed robbers had raped two of the female news reporters, so the other female reporters were afraid and the police were on the chase. I don’t know how true this is; this is just what some of the girls were saying. Jane happened to be standing next to me, and I watched the look of terror in her eyes. She put her little arms around me and hugged me tightly. Later in the day, she took me aside, and told her that when her classmates were talking about the TV Africa women, it reminded her of what Kofi did to her.
Why did that have to happen to her?
The other day, however, Jane ran up to me, quite excited about something.
“Miss Kate! Miss Kate! What you said is true!” she exclaimed.
“What? What are you talking about?” I said.
“When you told me I’m beautiful!” she said, and explained: “My stepbrother was teasing me that I’m ugly, that I have a face like an ugly yam, and my father said, ‘No daughter of mine is ugly. Jane is beautiful.’ So, you’re right! I am beautiful!”
“See? I told you!” I said. She told me this on my birthday. It was the best birthday present she could have given me.
Sadly, since then, she seems to have forgotten her father’s affirmation, and still believes that she’s ugly and damaged. She asked me today whether or not she should get married, because of what happened. I assured her that yes, she should get married someday, that even though she was raped, she can still live a normal life and be happy. Oh, God, I hope she can.
If I were in America, I’d spend several hours at the library pouring over psychology books on how to help child rape victims. However, given my lack of resources here in Africa, I don’t have the luxury of a library. So if any of you, my readers, have any kind of insight or advice about how to help this broken little girl, please pass it on to me. If you’re spiritual, say a little prayer for my student “Jane.” Jane isn’t her real name, but I have a feeling God will know who you’re talking about.