This past Tuesday, I was able to visit Regional Haven Institute for girls, a place where woman go who have been raped or molested, and are currently in the middle of court cases, and aren’t allowed to leave the facility until their court is over. Oftentimes, girls are stuck here for years and can’t do anything about it. What started out to be a simple day delivering Nutrition Lessons to these girls, ended up being so much more…
When we arrived at the center, the girls were very shy and barely spoke to Laurel (the other volunteer who was teaching with me) or I. We started off, as planned, preparing our snacks for them to eat, as we were showing them an example of a few healthy snack options, since their choices of chips and banana cues didn’t really make the cut. After, we moved on to the bulk of our lesson, where we discussed the different types of food and food groups, and what benefits and effects they have in one’s body. During this part, we had a game where the girls got Velcro food items and had to pin them to the board in the correct food group, they really enjoyed this one.
Once we were finished with our lesson, things got really interesting, but in a good way! We ate lunch in the room with all the girls, and Alissa, another volunteer that invited us to come over, invited one of the girls to come and eat with us and share some of her stories. Not the stories of her past, but stories she had been writing. You see, she is 18, only gets schooling once a week and still has the ability to write. Now saying she could write would be an understatement, she brought Laurel and I to tears with her words. Her poetic essays about life were so incredibly honest and brave that I had never read anything like them before. My personal favorite of hers was “What is the meaning of Life?” It seriously made me evaluate my life choices and education, even though this girl, who was younger than me, could barely even remember life outside of the gates in this government institution. Here is one of my favorite quotes from her writing:
“I would rather be out enjoying the simple things than pondering them”
Coming from someone who had never really lived according to my standards, was detailing something that I thought didn’t exist. It blew my mind to say the least, and caused me to think deeper about what simple things she was talking about, seeing as her simple things and my simple things were completely different. Then I realized, they don’t have to be. It’s the small smiles and actions you make that really make the difference. And instead of standing back, she willingly showed me her most vulnerable pieces of writing for me to enjoy. Another one of her pieces was about her giving away her baby when she was 16, because she knew she couldn’t take care of him. She has pictures and knows his birthday, but in her heart she knows she will never see him again. Reading her work, I didn’t even recognize the teardrops falling on the page were mine because I was so bounded by the words on the page. After countless more pieces and pictures and tissues later, Laurel and I were able to slap a smile on to play with the kids for a while, because we knew how much we felt for these girls who were in so much pain.
The kids there are such a breath of fresh air though, to the dark reason for the existence of the place. Just playing with them for five minutes made us forget how emotionally drained we were. The pure joy and innocence in these kid’s eyes brought us back us to realize that despite all the pain that these women have been through, it’s the simple things that are pushing them forward. They are able to write and express their feelings through different outlets, and take comfort in the happiness that the volunteers and the children bring everyday.
All of the girls at Regional Haven are my heroes for their strength and bravery, and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to teach them and be where I am today.