It Takes a Village




I was sitting in a cafe across from a couple when I noticed a little girl of about five years old began to explore her environment, as all curious little girls do.

She wandered the hall and was hugged and kissed by many strangers. The little girl then walked away with a waiter, and disappeared for several minutes. She reappeared again with no one the wiser.

Trust is a beautiful thing. A German friend of mine once told me that the reason she loves raising her children in Ethiopia is because she feels they are always being looked after by those around them. While this could be considered a beautiful thing within Ethiopian society, we also have to acknowledge the dangers that come associated with it.

The love and care adults show to young children is heartwarming, but the protection we equip them with vary from place to place. This is mostly because there are taboo subjects parents must discuss to address the problem. But when they fail to, children are put in compromising situations without the means to comprehend what the adult world can entail.

A young mother once told me that there was a TV programme she was excited to show her two children, because it was teaching them lessons she had not.

When I inquired what these lessons were, she said, “such as inappropriate touching”.

If children feel there is shame in having conversations around these topics, they will subconsciously hold them inside. Under such circumstances, we are putting them in even more danger of being abused.

I once read that adulthood was having to continually overcome childhood. In certain circumstances, this is true. We have many broken adults among us who are merely trying to bury the many hurts they experienced as children. The untold stories and the unhealed bruises create a dysfunctional society.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I think it also takes less to break one. We have watched and excused inappropriateness out of a cultural need not to offend. We have to open our ears and make sure that little girls and boys know that the adults they trust will trust their words.

It is hard to raise children, yet it is a choice many make. Parents must know that this choice comes with the responsibility of raising well-adjusted children that ultimately become happy adults.

Maybe this is being too cautious, and such things rarely happen in Ethiopia. Yet we all know that this is not true. Parents have a hard time believing anything bad could happen to their children. But facts are facts, and children do fall victim to abuse. Too many times this has been by the relatives that parents have taught their children to trust.

While a child should not have the responsibility of saving themselves from abuse, the preparation of protecting them with knowledge is important. A village can raise children that are free to trust and love, yet also know when boundaries are crossed, they can tell someone about it.

Educating young children can save them from further abuse. And this lesson must not only be for children but also for young adults. As children grow, there are new boundaries that have to be created in their socialisation that lets them know speaking out about such incidences is the right decision.

I had a friend who told me about her uncle who would often touch her inappropriately, commenting about how much she had grown. This seemingly innocent comment complimented with even less innocent gestures should be recognised for what they are. It is worth having uncomfortable conversations with people parents bring into their circle.

Even though it is parents that make the crucial decision to have children, the safety and well-being of children are responsibilities all of us need to share. We each must ask what type of safety we are providing in our own circles, support the parents around us and review those we are giving refuge.

 



By Hanna Haile (hannahaile212@gmail.com)
Hanna Haile (hannahaile212@gmail.com) is an Ethiopian writer and social worker. She is one of the organizers of Poetic Saturdays at Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and at Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, where a stage is open to those who celebrate art through performances on the first and second Saturday of each month.

Published on Sep 08,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 958]


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