After a long night of the baby crying, 12-year-old Annabeth awakes to the 28 girls in Casa de Buen Trato scurrying along trying to get to school in time. Annabeth gets up slowly knowing that again, just like every other weekday, she will be staying behind with the other mothers. She wonders why the baby won’t stop crying. She wishes sometimes she could just leave her with one of the perfectly capable women at the shelter who manage to take care of all of them well enough. But then after the sinking feeling in her stomach she realizes she needs little Josie as much as she needs her. Foggy headed, she makes for the tiny kitchen she shares with another young mother. She fixes some bread and jam for herself and then sits down once again to feed the baby. She hopes this will be the feeding that finally puts her to sleep long enough for her to get through her sewing class in 10 minutes.
They are learning how to make baby clothing. She’s now working on kitting a sweater, but she is distracted. The group of Americas volunteering at the shelter for the week have arrived for their second day of work. She watches them as they paint and joke and laugh with one another. Part of her wants to join, only on the sideline, so that she can be a part of their happiness. Why did they come all this way just to paint some buildings? They don’t even speak Spanish. But this is the case for every group that comes here. She has seen them come and go since she arrived six months ago, still she never gets close enough to know more. Not that it matters, they would all be leaving and back to their own lives doing God knows what with their families and friends in a week anyways. Better to stay inside with Josie.
By the next afternoon Annabeth notices some of the Americans in the recreation building making something with a few of the other girls. She is bored and can’t help but admit that she may just be curious enough to walk over and see what it is they’re doing. She walks in, young women start asking her her name and the baby’s name and how old she is and if she wants to make a bracelet. Or at least she thinks that’s what they were trying to say. She waits for one of them to ask who the father of her baby is, why she’s here, where her family is…but none of them do. She puts Josie in her stroller and sits down waiting for instructions on how to make one of these thread bracelets. She gets started, the girls are singing and laughing and attempting to communicate with them. Annabeth appreciates the effort anyways. She notices a smile on her face. When was the last time she smiled like that? As quickly as it came it disappeared just as fast. Josie was crying again. Times up, she had her moment of fun. She picks up the baby and walks out, frustrated with the ones who get to stay. Angry that the other girls didn’t end up with a baby from all of this. Jealous that at least in some way the other girls still get to be children. But not her, she lost that a long time ago, and she fears she will never get it back.
Each afternoon Annabeth joins the group of Americans in the recreation building with the other girls. She continues on her bracelet and by the fourth day she trust some of the American girls to hold Josie when she cries so she can continue working. They look to be having the time of their lives holding the babies, more power to them. She becomes more comfortable with them and she even approaches some of them throughout the day while they are working. Some of the other girls act like they’re best friends with the Americans. They hug and ask them to write letters for them in their notebooks and cry when they leave. But not Annabeth, she knows that they are going to leave just like every other group. She knows that in the end they are different from them. They have families to go back to and college and a nice safe home. They will probably forget all about us when they go home. They should know better than to get to close, they should know that the only real person you have in this world is yourself.
When the day comes for the group to leave Annabeth is surprisingly sad to see them go. Not sad enough to cry but enough to wish they could have stayed longer. As she watches them dance and play and say their goodbyes she wonders if she will ever be as happy as they all seem. She thinks about being in her home and her life there and how badly she was hurt, she never wants to go back there. She would do anything to have a different family, one that takes care of her instead of doing what they did that brought her here. She would do anything to change her story but knows that she can’t. They only thing now is to try to change things in the future, and she hopes that God will allow her that simple prayer.
-This story is one from my time volunteering with a short term missions group from Ohio in a town called Huanuco in the Andes Mountains. This is my interpretation of the inner thoughts and emotions of a young girl (whose name was changed for her protection) in the shelter for sexually abused young women. There are 30 people in the shelter, 9 mothers generally between the ages of 12-15 and the majority are girls aged 9-18 who have a long history of sexual abuse. Annabeth is in fact 12 years old and she does have a 2 month old baby. Her abuser is unknown to us but for most cases it is a father, brother, uncle, or another family member. She was an incredibly shy young girl who you could see on her face that she wanted to be a part of the activities but didn’t know if she should. Each girl in the shelter acted differently towards us and it makes me wonder in what ways our presence impacts the girls at the shelter. What I want to be known is that we will never forget the impact these girls made in our lives and the truths and realities that were brought to us because of our time there. These are young girls whose youth was stolen from them too soon and whose lives will be a struggle every moment solely because of the family and country they were born into. Just like every person I have met throughout my journey here in Peru, Annabeth will hold a spot in my heart forever and will continue to be the motivation I need to keep doing what I do.