“The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela
Suppose a nation is a body, then its children will make its spinal cord. Just like the body entering a state of permanent paralysis when the spinal cord is injured, how the nation’s future turns out, is in the hands of the children. In the present day, child abuse has turned into a recurring and crucial phenomenon, which due to the cultural and social pressure factors, is addressed very rarely by the victims and witnesses alike. And that’s why we, the Rotaract Club of Faculty of Science, University of Colombo, and the Rotaract Club of SLIIT got together, to address this extremely sensitive topic in a way by which we can ensure an impact on our society. The innocent victims of child abuse in both urban and rural communities of Sri Lanka needed a voice, and so project Let Them Bloom was initiated to become their voice and make their stories heard.
As the project focused mainly on taking a stand against abuse and ensuring the peaceful and wholesome upbringing of children of our country. The preliminary phases were to be conducted in a sub-urban yet underprivileged school the project embarked under the avenue of Community Service and the secondary avenues of Marginalised communities, peace & reconciliation and anti-discrimination & co-existence. Project “Let Them Bloom”, the unified march of RACFOSUOC and RACSLIIT in battling child abuse and allowing all children a chance at equal and sound upbringing portrayed the Sustainable Development Goals of Partnership & Reading Inequality. The project was concluded in 3 phases as follows to broaden the range of impact on the society;
- A seminar to raise awareness among school children in an underprivileged sub-urban school.
- A virtual webinar to raise awareness targeting a large audience of all social categories
- “Stories From Vault”: a series of short stories, based on the real-life incidents shared anonymously by survivors and eye-witnesses of child abuse.
Before the commencement of the 3 main phases, a few posts were shared on the Instagram page created specifically for the project through which it was attempted to hint at the objectives of the project without giving out much information prior to the logo reveal video; which came as an innovative glimpse at what was to come during the course of the project.
The project was geared to a very successful start by the seminar at Janajaya Maha Vidyalaya, Moratuwa. Along with members of the organising committee of both clubs, the team upon visiting the school was given the challenge of successfully completing the seminar while both ensuring and testing the achievement of maximum impact on the students. The seminar was conducted by Mrs Kumudini Jayathilake of the National Dangerous Drug Control Board and spanned two hours while educating the 65 students of ages 12-to 16 on the various ways abusers use to approach and prey on unsuspecting children. The many tactics to be used in uncomfortable situations which students would face in their day to day lives that would lead to mental or physical abuse and the ways to reach for help and safety were also explained by Mrs Jayathilake. Questions were raised during the session by some of the students who attended which made the session very much interactive as well as impactful. During the break given, the students were given a milk packet each which were bought ahead of the seminar by the club members.
The final session of the day was no doubt the most significant as the students were divided into 5 groups according to their age groups and were given the task of putting together a short yet informative drama and presenting it in front of the speaker and all the attendees using the information and knowledge gained on child abuse. Although reluctant and shy at first, with the motivation of the club members, the student groups showcased their hidden talents in a marvelous way by creatively displaying the message of standing up against child injustice; leaving the speaker and the organizing committee speechless. The true impact we had made on the lives of these students was clearly shown through these original and inventive dramas and being able to successfully share the real message of ‘letting children bloom’ brought humble joy to everyone who contributed to making the day a victory in its own way. This chance at the beautiful portrayal of skills of the students who engaged in the seminar as well as promoting peace among children of marginalized communities allowed the team to effectively achieve the sustainable development goals of quality education and peace & justice strong institutions.
Following the seminar, a short 2 min video was put together by the team and posted on the project Instagram page as well as all social media platforms of both the clubs which managed to gain a total reach of 1500+ views and an overflowing amount of comments on the strong impact of its emotional take on the topic.
The second phase of project Let Them Bloom, our online webinar was graced by the presence of 4 honourable speakers highly knowledgeable on the topic of child maltreatment and abuse. Dr. Lakshika Liyanage, a senior lecturer at the Department of Social Sciences at General Sir John Kotelawala Defense University stressed on the importance of spreading awareness on sexual abuse, the psychological impact it has on victims and the various ways to prevent it from occuring. Her eye-opening experiences as a survivor of child abuse, the trauma that it imprinted on her life and how she overcame it to reach great heights were shared by Ms Kumuduni David, survivor and a social advocate, who also added the emotional touch to the evening by her message to any victim, survivor of abuse who is scared to voice their issues. The audience was enlightened about the legal framework against the perpetrators and the extent of punishment against abusers available in Sri Lanka at the moment by Ms Sajeewani Abeykoon, Director (Law Enforcement) at the National Child Protection Authority. Mrs Hazel Rajiah, representing the Emerge Lanka Foundation was keen on touching on the aspect of mental health of victims & survivors and the numerous methods including various organizations, hotlines, and government personnel/ authorities that are available for reaching out for help. Together with these four knowledgeable figures, the evening was concluded with greater success than anticipated by the organizing committee with positive feedback from many participants on the insightfulness of the webinar and the impact it had on their lives. Not only did we manage to gather a large audience of over 125 participants, but through the session, many aspects; mental, legal, socio-cultural, etc were covered but above all, it was a night of hope, rebirth and power against all forms of injustice against children.
After successfully concluding our online webinar, in the midst of appreciation and love from so many, the third phase was initiated with the name “Stories from the Vault”. Our last chapter was also the most heartfelt chapter. Via a google form shared across all social media platforms months prior to Phase 3, the members of both clubs as well as the general public were asked to share any real-life experiences both as victims/survivors and witnesses of child ill-treatment and abuse anonymously with a promise of safeguarding their identity and privacy. To our surprise, many stories were incoming via the google form, social media pages and also through messages to the members of our committee from both rotaractors and non-rotaractors possibly due to the promise that we would keep.
These heart touching yet somewhat gruesome experiences received were then penned into short stories while preserving the originality of the statements reported by the victim/witness by the editors. Thus came to life phase 3 of the project, “Stories from Vault”. Although being a mentally challenging phase, with none of those stories being easy to deal with, our venture had depth – child abuse through time had come a long way as perpetrators made safe grounds in victims’ silence, and the team was driven by the goal of both invading it and breaking it. Altogether 12 stories were filtered, penned and posted on platforms to give as much of a reach as possible in order for these stories to be heard. It was made sure that all stories were shared following a trigger warning to any victim/survivor who might be disturbed by the contents of the posts due to their own experiences to prevent any distress caused. Much attention was received by the series of posts as positive feedback was received from near and dear and strangers alike who were touched by the terrors of the incidents shared by anonymous victims and witnesses. And finally with phase 3, “Stories from the Vault”, we believe that some form of justice was brought to victims by revealing their stories while also encouraging any silent child victims to come out and seek justice. Amidst all these major phases, the short videos and awareness posts series was successful in bringing hope, power, facts, statistics and essential knowledge on our topic all to one table.
Along with the spotlight on the rotary focus areas of peace/ conflict resolution, maternal & child health and economic & community development which was evident from the aims of the project and its planning, the community of the targeted audience of aim were approached in multiple ways through “Let Them Bloom”. The selected set of students in a community prone to child abuse was addressed via the seminar and everyone willing to learn about child ill-treatment and help take a stand against it were approached via the webinar, awareness posts and short videos. Through all these efforts we believe that we also managed to let the victims and survivors know that they are never alone and the various sources of help were shared post each phase. We wanted them to know that they are not alone as even though being a victim is not a choice, being a survivor truly is. Moreover project “Let Them Bloom” inspired many children below the age of 18 whether they are a victim, survivor, witness or potential victim to become a fighter. To fight one’s own rights, safety and to take their right place in Sri Lanka’s future.
By Rtr. Tharini Cabraal