Before leaving for my vacation to Ethiopia, which I will soon blog about, I had the pleasure of spending a week surrounded by talks of promoting discussion of various topics from witchcraft to stereotypes to sexual abuse. It is a topic important to me because the simple act of promoting discussion is what opens doors for action and change to be made. We cannot fix what we do not discuss.
I was honored to be part of the Secretariat for the 2nd International Conference in Africa on Child Sexual Abuse. The host organization was the one that I work for, AMPCAN, which financial support for the conference coming from our regional office in Kenya, Plan Ghana, and Plan Netherlands. From beginning the conference with a call from local students to help children in need, to the closing hopeful dance of the same students, it was three days of incredible discussion on many controversial and “taboo” topics. It was wonderful to see people from all different professions, some from the private and others from the public sector, as well as so many countries represented. Delegates came from all across the globe, from the U.S. to Madagascar to the U.K. It was a global showing for what is quite certainly a global affair. The presentations were thought-provoking and all conversations were in the spirit of sharing across countries and continents. There was also a strong spirit of sharing in the stories of those who were participating, which is probably one of the strongest tools of opening discussion on hard topics.
A woman from Nigeria told one story that I remember best from the conference. During the opening ceremony, she was invited to speak about her past. She bravely got up in front of a room full of strangers and opened up to us the honest and heartbreaking story of herself as a young girl who was almost destroyed by the years of sexual abuse at the hands of a respected family friend. When she got to the part about how the man gave her an abortion himself since he was a doctor when she got pregnant at 14, I could only grip my notepad and imagine the kind of pain one goes through in times such as those. That woman lives in a society in which telling a story like that one is not welcome. In fact, she said that her family basically disowned her when she told them what was going on. But she told it anyway. And that type of knowledge that the consequence of telling is less important than who she can help by sharing her story is what not just opens up the door to discussing such topics, but can physically knock it down.