by Lo, Children at Risk DTS student
I have to tell her story, even though it hurts. She deserves a voice.
The first thing I noticed about her was her eyes: big, watchful, beautiful.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“I’m Lo,” I said.
“Love?” she asked.
“No. Lo, L-o.”
She paused. “I will call you Love. Love Auntie.”
I smiled. I liked the sound of that.
As I struggled to remember all the kids’ names later that day, I thought of the girl who named me Love. I tried to recall her story from the profiles I had read, but hers just wouldn’t come to mind. The next morning, a few of my team members and I talked about how sweet the kids were and how excited we were to be with them.
I realized I hadn’t met one of the children whose profile had touched me so profoundly: Monica. She had been rescued from a brothel by our team three years earlier. I didn’t remember meeting her in the group of kids. Where was she now? What happened to her? Was she one of the children who had been taken back to the streets or brothels by her family?
I asked Paul, who was with the team that had welcomed her into the children’s home in 2009.
“She’s still here,” Paul said. He told me the name she now goes by.
I couldn’t believe it! I had already met her! The little girl who called me Love Auntie was the same girl rescued from the brothel.
A few days later, my team went to that brothel to reach out to the women who remain there. It was strange visiting “Monica’s” former home. I couldn’t imagine going through what she did when she was so young.
The brothel was a dark building made of cold cement. The air felt damp and thick. Heavy. Little light was let in. The women worked in tiny rooms–like bathroom-sized stalls that held a bed.
When I looked at the room, all I thought about was Monica. She slept on that bed, or curled up in a corner. She had no toys, nothing a child should have. That brothel is all she knew.
She was eight years old when she escaped the brothel. Eight.
It was a relief to leave the brothel and return to the children’s home where Monica lives. Now she’s a soft-spoken eleven-year-old, radiant and beautiful. She loves pink and headbands and holding her baby doll.
When I asked her about her life before she came to the children’s home, I was surprised. She shows no inclination that she remembers what went on in the brothel where she grew up.
“I lived there with my grandmother and a lot of women,” she said.
She didn’t know what went on there. She didn’t know the brothel madame was grooming her for her retirement. That she would soon be an errand girl, sent to get tea or cigarettes for the customers. Slowly introducing her to the men.
Instead, she told me what she does know: “I know I’m so special to God because he saved me.”
Those words brought light into her eyes and a smile I wanted to hold forever. I believe God graciously took those memories away and I am both relieved and very grateful. I couldn’t bare knowing she had to relive those memories each day. I so badly wish I could scoop her up and take her home with me.
Every moment with Monica during my weeks in India were the best thing ever. The way her searching eyes tried to find me whenever I came home. The way she blew me kisses goodnight. Or maybe when she said she likes living with me, that’s what I love most about her. Her words are pure and true.
If being with Monica those three weeks was the best thing ever, saying goodbye was the worst.
I looked her in they eyes as she let one tear escape. She had been trying so hard not to cry. I cradled her face in my hands.
“Remember what I’ve told you,” I said. “You’re important. You’re valuable. I love you.”
“Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go!” she cried.
Tears slid down my face, too, but we both knew I had to go.
I hugged Monica for the last time, blew her a kiss from the bus window, and like that we were gone.
I soaked in everything on the drive, as if it would be the last time I saw the place. Nothing blurred my vision–the tears were gone. It was a moment too sad for tears. But one hope lined my sadness. A secret I shared with Monica, something I told her to remember when she was sad. A promise: I will see her again.
How could I not return?
India is a part of me now. Monica holds a part of my heart.
Now, as I sit and process my time with her, God reminds me that my love for her is only a glimpse of how he feels about her. I realized Monica is my link to the heart of God.
I’m reminded of something I heard the last week of DTS classes: I can’t imagine what millions of orphans and trafficked girls look like, but I can imagine millions of Monica’s, and that drives me to action.