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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Why would a father do that to a child?

My dad with Spencer and Chloe at the cottage at Watebeag Lake.

On Monday I had the privilege to attend an official event celebrating the International Day of the African Child.  The theme for this year is “Eliminating harmful social and cultural practices affecting children: Our collective responsibility”.  Prime Minister Dr. Barnabas Dlamini and Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku both gave outstanding speeches defending the rights of Swazi children and calling the nation to protect the children of the Kingdom, but it was the students themselves who spoke that took my breath away, and sucked all the air out of the room over and over again.

I write this blog in honor and memory of my father, Russell F. Willis who passed away on February 13, 2005.  He was a kind man and, while I was adopted by him and my mom as a baby, he loved and cared for me and protected me as a treasure given to him by God.  I wish all the children of the world could have a father like my father. 

This is another tough blog to write because what I heard on Monday was tough to hear.  I was hoping to get a copy of each speech given by each student so that I could post their words directly and not have to summarize them, but alas, that has not been possible so I will summarize what I heard a few of the children say about their fathers.

The issue of “Swazi culture” was spoken of in repetition. Each Swazi student reflected back on what Swazi culture used to be like before everything changed.  They spoke highly of polygamist marriages where a man only took another wife if he could provide for her and her children.  They spoke of growing up with many siblings from several mothers who all lived in harmony and shared the love of their father, shared his food, his property and his belongings. They spoke of love and marriage and the custom of a man seeking a woman’s hand in marriage and then giving a gift of “Lobola” (cows) to the woman’s father to thank him for taking such good care of his new bride and allowing her to remain a virgin.  They spoke of times when children may be orphaned, but the community would protect those vulnerable children against harm.

But then the culture started to change, fathers started to change and children became vulnerable.

I heard a young girl tell a story of being one of many children, from multiples wives that his father had taken, even though he had no job or money to care for any of them. She spoke of being hated by her siblings, by the other wives of her father and eventually hated by her father who spent his days drinking and abusing everyone around him.  This same young girl lashed out about fathers who have started having sex with their young daughters claiming that they are only doing it to prepare their daughter to be a good wife for her husband.  That same girl collapsed in tears behind the podium half way through her speech and had to be rescued and removed by a teacher and the head of the event.  She came back and finished the speech later, and it was heard in dead silence by the crowd who had gathered including the highest levels of government.

Prime Minister Dr. Barnabas Dlamini
I another young girl talked about her friend who was taken out of high school so that she could be married off to a man twice her fathers age. It is a practice called “Kwendzisa” and the girl said that having girl children has become good business.  It used to be that young men would court young women and the families would be involved in helping the young couple get established.  Now, fathers are selling their young girls for cattle so that they can increase their personal wealth with no regard for the girl’s safety or happiness.

Each student got up and spoke with such power and force that the room almost shook, but at the same time there was a deafening silence from the truth they spoke that made the room freeze.  These students spoke truth about THEIR culture to THEIR government officials and THEIR leaders and THEIR teachers and begged for help and protection.

I couldn't stay and listen any more.  I was confused, shocked, in pain and ashamed to be an adult sitting in that room.  But I was so very proud of the students who shared their own pain, grief and torment publically in order to have change made.

Just before I decided to leave there was a young man who got up and spoke about his parents dying and him being left alone to be cared for by his uncle.  He said his uncle beat him mercilessly on a daily basis often making him unable to walk.  One day his uncle came to him and said he was tired of beating him, so instead, he sodomized him.  There was a collective gasp in the room and all the air seemed to be taken away.  The boy went on to say that he was not able to sit on a chair for a week. The uncle came at him again the following week, but this time the boy fought back and then ran to the local officials to report this crime.  Rather than getting support from them, they beat him and rebuked him for reporting such a thing. They told him he was not being respectful of his uncle and that he should never say such things. Instead it should be “Tibi tendlu” or “swept under the mat”, “kept behind closed doors”, “don’t air your dirty laundry” or whatever expression one might use.

When the students had finished the leaders of the nation got up and hugged them and allowed the students to weep in their arms. It was a time of great emotion and I am thankful for their response to the words that had been spoken. I believe that change will come, not as fast as we want it to, but the children are speaking out and I, for one, am listening.  And now you are too.

Tomorrow is Fathers day and I weep for the children of Swaziland, but I also know that children all over the world are being abused, raped, enslaved, sold, mistreated, marginalized or even “just” ignored.  You might have had one or more of those things happen to you when you were a child.  You might be one who is doing those things to a child. But know this, El Roi, the “God who Sees” sees YOU.  He knows YOU and He sees all that happens.   

I am so thankful that my father was my protector and encourager.  I am so thankful to have married a man who loves our children and is their protector and encourager.  I am thankful that I am in a place to protect and encourage 33 children who have been brought to the El Roi Baby home and the children who will come after them.

Psalm 68:5 says that He is, “A Father to the fatherless, a defender of the widows, is God in His holy dwelling”.  For that I am thankful.

Live from Swaziland … Happy Fathers Day.


1 comment:

  1. I love you friend. Your voice and those childrens voices are being heard. Thank you for crying out on their behalf. Powerful things happen when the truth is brought into the light. You are making an impact on many levels.