So I would like to start off this post with an apology…Sorry! It’s been an embarrassingly long time since my last post. So much has happened during the last months of 2016 and even the beginning of this New Year. But let me not get ahead of myself. Let me tell you a quick story (WARNING: It contains some graphic content!).
A little girl around the age of six years old is walking home from school in her village in Enugu state. On the way, she sees a boy who is well known in her community. The teenager stops her and before she knows what is happening he pushes her down on the ground in the bushes and lays on top of her. He lifts up her dress and unzips his trousers and rapes her (well since she’s under the age of 18 years, the technical term is defilement). All the while she is helpless, too young to truly understand the gravity of what is happening. What she does know is the excruciating pain she feels—the boy moving inside her, the sticks and stones underneath her body pricking her skin. And then the shame that washes over her, the fear of continuing the journey home. When the boy is through he gets up and runs off, leaving the girl to waddle all the way home. She gets up the courage to tell her dad, a Pastor in the village, what happened and soon after he takes her to Tamar Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) located in Enugu town. The little girl receives the comprehensive (and completely free!) services offered at the Centre: first, an in depth session with one of the trained Centre psychologists, and second, a medical examination followed by the necessary treatments needed. While the little girl and her dad are being attended to a most unlikely person enters the Centre: the Governor of Enugu State. Honorable Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi decided to pay Tamar SARC a visit, and when he heard about the little girl’s trauma he blessed her and her father with 100,000 Naira to assist her on her road to recovery. This story is a heart-wrenching tale that I wish I had made up. Unfortunately, (though fortunately for this family they received a fairly significant amount of financial assistance) I saw many similar scenarios throughout the year serving with my place of primary assignment (PPA), Tamar SARC.
Well technically my PPA was Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL), an NGO promoting democracy and human rights, primarily through a legal clinic that upholds family values and protects the rights of the most vulnerable in society: women and children. They have a team of lawyers, political scientists, and other advocates who work on issues not limited to good governance, sexual and reproductive health, gender, and women’s rights. Due to the high number of sexual assault cases they were receiving at the legal clinic, in 2014 they opened Tamar SARC, which is a joint initiative between the Department for International Development (DFID) through the Justice 4 All project; the Enugu State government through the Ministries of Health, Justice, and Gender Affairs and Social Development; and the Enugu State police command. This collaborative network tries to ensure that the maximum number of sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) victims receive assistance and that justice is served. My time working with WACOL (and Tamar SARC, its subsidiary) was a truly rewarding experience. I could write an entire book, but I doubt you would want to read it. So instead, I will talk about a few of the highlights from my year serving with WACOL – Tamar SARC.
Social Activism via Art
On March 8, 2016, the entire world set aside the day to celebrate women. In Enugu, the Deputy Governor, Honorable Cecilia Ezeilo, joined WACOL to unveil a billboard that loudly declared rape to be a vice, admonished perpetrators, and gave hope to victims. The event brought together various human rights/justice partners, law students, the press, and others. Afterwards, the crowd headed over to Alliance Française (the French Centre in Enugu) for the inauguration of an art exhibition against sexual violence of women and children. Students from three regional universities (UNN, UniZik, and and IMT) submitted art in the form of diverse mediums, and a panel of judges awarded prizes to the 3 top works of art. The exhibition ran for about one week, and I helped with the preparation and coordination of the exhibition. I already had good relationships with Alliance Française executives and staff, so I truly enjoyed splitting my time between Tamar SARC and the French Centre for this project. It truly was a dream come true, since I had been working in France the previous year.
Another inauguration. This time more than 100 people representing faith based organizations, students, politicians, entrepreneurs, media workers, activists, etc. came together to create the Gender Equality Movement (GEM). Our goal is to push for increased numbers of females in politics and leadership roles in Enugu State. Part of our effort included leading advocacy trips throughout the state to traditional rulers and politicians seeing how they could lend their support and power to help us reach our goals of empowering women to lead at all political levels within Enugu state.
African Women’s Day: March & Makeover
On African Women’s Day, WACOL took the opportunity to march in support of gender equality. We all convened at Okpara Square and walked down to the National Assembly all the while holding signs and making our presence known. At the House of Assembly we urged the Speaker of the House to uphold gender equality in the state’s legislative body and to share GEM’s vision. From there the group proceeded to WACOL’s new building for the launch of their new office location from Chime Avenue to New Haven Boys. The Enugu State Governor officiated the event.
On that note, I’ll wrap up this post. As I stated above, I decided to take this opportunity to highlight some of my fondest memories working with WACOL – Tamar SARC. Although I didn’t get a chance to truly describe the impact that both offices are making in Enugu, the Southeast, and the entire country, I can’t conclude this post without a plug. WACOL aims to resolve inheritance, marriage, child custody, and other family-related issues. They have a wonderful team of barristers that are trained to resolve and mediate misunderstandings. Are you familiar with the global, annual #16daysofActivism campaign (the most recent one was held from November 25 – December 10, 2016)? It aims to fuel conversations about GBV, create a safe space for victims to break the silence, help victims deal with their trauma, bring perpetrators to justice, and find ways to end violence against women. This is literally what Tamar SARC and WACOL do every day of the year.
For those in the area needing assistance I’ve listed their contact information below:
WACOL: 12 Mathias Ilo Avenue, NewTown, Behind New Haven Boys, Enugu
Tamar SARC: FSP building off of Abakiliki Road, Opposite Shoprite & College of Education, GRA, Enugu. Hotlines: 09091333000 and 09092777000
BREAK. THE. SILENCE!