16 Days – #DontLookAway

It seems unlikely that you would be here and not know how riled up I get about the fact that car passenger deaths are the fourth leading cause of unnatural death in South African children. I’m a person who always wants to save the world, #CarseatFullstop is the way I have chosen to take that on. And then, every now and again, I am reminded that there are (one or two) worse things in the world. Where often a child without a car seat is a lack of understanding, and other times straight up neglect, there are people out there that maliciously and intentionally hurt their own, or other people’s, children. Abuse. For 16 days, from the 25 November to the 10th of December every year, people across the world work together to try to raise awareness and oppose violence against women and children.

I hide from the news. A lot. I am a hugely empathetic person and when I can’t save the world, it leaves me gutted and hopeless. As you all know, South African news in particular can be soul destroying for anybody. Most especially for those of us with children. Car seats are almost a “safe” way for me to make a difference. Because I can still make a difference. When there are people who genuinely don’t realize they are putting their babies in danger, I can make a difference. By increasing the demand for safer seats and working with amazing brands like BeSafe (and their SA team Born Fabulous) who meet that demand with a DECREASE in their seats prices to help the education process… I can make a difference. The abuse of women and children, the rape and murder of babies… It is an overpowering tide that doesn’t feel stoppable. So usually, I avoid it. But when my incredible friend Nikki, who is one of the superheroes over at the Children’s Hospital Trust at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, asked if I would help support this project for 16 days… with the core tenant of #DontLookAway, I could never have said no.

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I have a friend who I adore. A beautiful, smart, driven, hard-working, incredible mom and just all-round amazing human being. I have met this friend once in real life, through one of her own save-the-world projects. And we have been online friends for a few years. One night, I saw something she posted online. Nothing overt. Something that I don’t think other people picked up on. And I felt I had to reach out to her. To check if she was ok. I am so glad I did. From that night, I have been able to be an ear for her through her own incredibly traumatic abusive relationship. I am hugely relieved, that after many years, she has finally stood up for herself and her little one and gotten him out of their lives. She is not somebody you would ever think would “end up in that situation”. Because it isn’t about HER!! It is never about the abused person and never ever about the abused child. It is completely and wholly about the abuser. The victims of these everyday monsters deserve to have us not look away. They deserve to have us see them and stand up for them and let them know in every way that we can that this is NOT their fault. I am adding my voice for her for 16 days.

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Abuse is everywhere. Right in front of our faces more often than not. And we don’t look. We avert our eyes and we try to protect our hearts. Well, not everybody gets to do that. Certainly not the specialists and doctors at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. For a bit of context, the Red Cross is where other medical professionals send the “serious” cases. The cases that need surgeries or long term care. You can’t get into Red Cross with bruises or basic cuts or burns. Only the worst of the worst cases ever make it to this place, where some of the world’s leading pediatric specialists and surgeons work and teach. Children come here from all over Africa, and sometimes from outside of Africa. Children that might not make it. So when I say that the Red Cross treats at minimum 600 cases of abuse a year; 40-50 cases a month, with a sharp increase over the “holiday seasons” or long weekends… I’m saying that over 600 little children have arrived at the Red Cross in a severe or critical condition. So I think, for 16 days, we HAVE to look! To listen! For those broken hearts and broken bodies of our babies. They deserve to have their stories heard. I am adding my voice for them for 16 days.

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The stories. A mother who poured boiling hot porridge over her infant because she was angry. A baby stabbed multiple times and another shot multiple times at point blank range – that “survived”. A man punishing his girlfriend’s 3-year old for wetting the bed by hanging her on a hook behind a door and beating her, sellotaping her mouth shut, slapping her and the following day, raping her. The parents who used their one year old as a shield and then a weapon in their drunken violence; breaking her leg. They waited two days, drinking more, before bringing her to get help. The horror of babies – 4 months old, 3 years old, 3 weeks old – raped by family members. I am adding my voice for them for 16 days.

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The unit at the hospital that deals with these horrors that come through the trauma unit, is called the Child Protection Office. After the doctors put their little bodies back together, somebody has to try to find a way to put some semblance of a life back together for them. Most often by ensuring the abusers are locked up and the children are taken away and sent somewhere “safe”, if they are able to leave the hospital.

If you are still reading at this point, thank you. I know it is impossible and the overwhelming instinct is to immediately look away. Because there is a huge swell of helplessness and rage that comes over us when faced with the pure evil that is a child abuser. Add your voice to say NO to violence against women and children for 16 days.

What can we do? How can we help? The devastating truth is that too often there is very little we can do. But, we can support those that CAN do. The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital treats these children. They keep them safe. They fight for them when nobody else does. They do everything they can to save their little lives, and then to save their futures. Many of these children come from homes that have nothing, or at least nothing for them. They arrive in what they are wearing and they may have to leave in less, as the clothes they come in may have had to be cut off them or removed from them to prevent further injury. The burns unit is beyond what any baby should have to endure. Many of these children will be in the hospital for a very long time, with repeated surgeries and hopefully time to heal and learn to process and cope with their new realities. For a LOT longer than 16 days.

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Extreme cases of abuse or neglect will mean these traumatized little souls will be going into places of safety when it is safe for them to leave the hospital. One of the small but incredibly meaningful things that the Child Protection Office does is to put together a small child protection pack to send with these children when they leave. Something for them to call their own. A few hygiene products, a small toy and a snack. So here is something you can do that will carry through and past 16 days.

As we start preparing for the holidays, pulling out our Christmas trees and decorations, watching our little ones light up in anticipation of the big day.  We order the special toys our kids have painstakingly drawn in their letters to Santa. If you are anything like me, surprising your child with all the magic that Christmas has to offer is one of the highlights of your year.

As the Red Cross starts preparing for the holidays, trying to find little ways to bring a bit of happiness and light into the holidays for the lost children that will be brought in. The little children who don’t have schools to escape to, the little children whose parents are home all day and all night, too often drinking and taking recreational drugs while they “unwind” from the hard lives they have been dealt. The numbers of children coming into the hospital increases dramatically…

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Accidents, children being hit by cars as they play unsupervised on the side of the highway while their parents drink. Hit by somebody excitedly heading out of town for the holidays, not thinking that a three-year-old may run into the highway after a stray dog. Travelling that little bit too fast after the office Christmas party, never expecting children to be running around in the twilight or the dark of night. Children who suddenly become more “accident prone” with angry, intoxicated parents and other adults around all the time. Drunk or drugged adults losing the last semblance of moral decency and treating children like objects.

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The festive season usually brings a massive influx of sad and broken children who cannot be sent “home”. With that, there is too often a critical shortage in the number of protection packs they have to give these little ones. If you want to contact the Children’s Trust directly, please email Nikki on nicole.lincoln@chtrust.org.za.

So there IS something you can do! When you are in your local store and stocking up on Christmas crackers and themed paper plates, throw in a small pack of brightly coloured facecloths. When you are buying the extra snacks for the family that will be spending warm and loving quality time together through the holidays, throw in a pack of biscuits, a little pack of juices, a few packs of 2 minute noodles. You don’t have to create a whole care package yourself, just add a R6 soap and a small toy to bring a smile. You can drop the items at the Children’s Hospital Trust Office in Cape Town. If you stay far away, you can donate any amount of money you can spare to the hospital so they can make up the packs on your behalf. If you have any other questions, you can contact the Children’s Trust directly, email Nikki on nicole.lincoln@chtrust.org.za.

So if you are looking for a way to help others this holiday season, why not work together with a group of others and collect the items to make up these protection packs. Create a call on your Facebook page, make it a family tradition, make it your book club year end project, get the people in your church or your mosque or your fairy circle to each work on something small for these packs. These children aren’t looking for anything. They have learnt the hardest way possible that they shouldn’t expect anything. They don’t need a big Christmas party or fancy presents. A toothbrush, tissues, a couple of nappies.

Share this article on all your platforms and maybe somebody else will do the same. If enough people share and enough people try, there could be something for every child this holiday.

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There are many ways you can support or get involved with the Children’s Hospital Trust to support the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.  You can make a difference in the lives of children who have been injured, are critically ill and have nobody to sit with them or hold their little hands.

You can find out more on how you can make a difference here – http://childrenshospitaltrust.org.za/category/how-you-can-help/get_involved/

or email Nikki on nicole.lincoln@chtrust.org.za

Sending you all the love xxx

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