By KETRA KALUNGA
She was in an abusive marriage for six years but took a bold step to leave the toxic relationship 18 years ago.
When she left the hurtful marriage, her first daughter who was in grade one but unfortunately stopped going to school because the father refused to pay the fees.
And because she was out of employment at the time, she could not afford to take her daughter back to school.
Due to mental and verbal abuse from her husband, she decided to leave the harmful marriage for her own happiness and that of her girl child.
She founded Vision Of Hope to promote the rights of girls especially those who come from broken families and land on the streets for survival.
Chitalu Mulenga, a victim of abuse at the hands of her former husband founded Vision of Hope in July 2009 so that she could promote the rights of girl children especially those that are vulnerable.
Q: Who is Chitalu Mulenga
A: Chitalu is the founder and director of Vision of Hope. A social worker by profession and an activist of the rights of children with a bias towards the girl child as the most vulnerable.
Q: When did you start Voice of Hope?
A: I started Vision of Hope in July 2009 to give hope to the vulnerable girls in society who due to various circumstances find themselves on the streets where they are exposed to all sorts of abuse more especially sexual exploitation. I formed the organization because I wanted to protect the rights of my children first and the girls who are vulnerable in society.
As a safe home for girls, we get girls abused sexually from the Police, Immigration Department and direct from the community through the department of social welfare.
Q: How did you get where you are?
A: I was a victim of abuse in my marriage and being a mother of two girls I wanted to stand up for the rights of the girl child.
I left the marriage18 years ago. At the time, my first daughter was a school drop out in grade 1. As I was out of employment I was not able to get my daughter into school so due to mental and verbal abuse, I decided to leave.
It was not easy at all because I practically became a squatter with two daughters, we were moving from one place to another until I finally settled after finding a part time job as a social worker caring for children, a job I have loved to this day because I adore children. I would say it is my calling.
Q: Do you always see yourself as a mother of many
A: Yes, the children and young people I work with address me as mummy Chitalu. When they are in our custody we provide for their needs (physical, emotional and psychological) that is clothing, food, medical referrals etc.
We literally take them as our children, they are very sensitive to how they are treated by caregivers or adults. We try our best in managing their trauma and depression among others due to what they have been through. Care, love and support is prime in helping the children heal from their past lives.
Q: What are some of the most traumatic moments you have gone through in your life as a social worker and as one who is now dealing with rescuing girls from abuse?
The most traumatic moments I have gone through is seeing a child facing the culprit of sexual abuse or rape testifying in court how she was abused. It is a very trying moment for me first of all as a woman, mother of the girl children and their caregiver.
It is always a traumatizing moment both to us as caregivers and the victim. The girls are traumatized when testifying in court facing the predator especially during cross examination the abuse becomes fresh, you visibly see the child shaking as she tries hard to testify.
In some cases the girls would cry throughout the court session without saying a word and the court would adjourn the case to allow the child more time to be ready to open up.
It is like you have escaped death and then you meet the person who wanted to take your life, it is a different atmosphere altogether.
It is even more traumatizing in instances where the sexually abused girls contracts HIV in the process then she begins to testify in court that she was not on Antiretroviral therapy but after being abused I am now HIV positive and on treatment.
Seeing an adolescent girl dying from HIV/AIDS due to knowledge gaps is very is sad. Information gap on HIV/Aids is real and is a matter Vision of Hope through it’s partners is trying to address so that we help save lives.
Q: What are the most common cases you encounter from the girls you rescue and how do you deal with them?
A: The most common cases encountered are sexual exploitation and abuse cases including human trafficking of children and young women.
We had a case where a 10 year old girl was almost raped by her half-brother. She reported the matter to her mother but the mother favored the son. She then reported to neighbors who took action and reported him to the police but the case didn’t go anywhere because the suspect ran away.
The mother scolded her badly and rejected her for reporting her brother to the police so we took up the responsibility and took her to school until she was 16 years old when she reunited with her father’s family.
The increased rate of alcohol and substance abuse among the young people is one of the common cases. Most girls including those under our care have been raped and impregnated in the process because of being engaged in such vices.
Other services we provide as Vision of Hope include education support, counselling, skills training in crafts and tailoring, economic empowerment programs such as village banking to women in our catchment areas.
We also work on family reunification with the children and young girls under our care. We believe that the best environment for every child is the family.
Q: How is your collaboration with the government?
Networking with government and other stakeholders is very good and this has helped us in running the day to activities at the center.
We are in partnerships with the government ministry of Education, Health, Community Development and Social Services and other line ministries.
We also work closely with community based organizations, the church and international agencies which include among others International Organization for Migration (IOM) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Q: We notice some girls have children, where they were born here or they came with them?
A: Some girls are referred to us by partners while pregnant especially those who are victims of sexual exploitation while others come with very young children.
Q: And how do you deal with the babies and the children?
A: Some of the babies are under our care and support while other babies depending on the nature of the case are referred to baby homes with the help of the department of social welfare under the ministry of Community Development and Social Services.
Q: What is your advice to women who like you are in abusive marriages?
A: To the women in abusive marriages, don’t let go of yourself and don’t let anyone make you feel you are worthless. Dream big! You have the power to make a difference.
Establishing yourself as a woman after coming out of an abusive marriage is not easy because it requires courage and confidence that on your own you can make a difference.
It took courage and self-confidence for Chitalu to pick up the pieces and make a difference in her life and the lives of the girls and young women who are victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse through Vision of Hope, an organizing whose main object is to promote their rights.
Thanks to Chitalu’s resolve to make a difference in the lives of the vulnerable girls in society, over 65 helpless children and girls have access to food, shelter, clothes and health. Two girls who went through Vision of Hope are training in journalism and rescue and safety.