The dirty underbelly of Samoa sees our children being abused in the worst possible ways from people who often times themselves are products of generations of abuse. A long term volunteer worker at SVSG tells her first hand story of why this shelter is crucial to helping Samoa's most vulnerable kids.
Sene with one of the children at SVSG
Sene Lima originally went over with a missions team from HillSong Sydney a year after the devastating tsunami in Samoa to see what they could do to help. They were referred to SVSG.
As a result of this mission trip Sene went back & forth at least twice a year for 2 years on more short term mission trips and established SVSG in Sydney with other women. She then moved back to live in Samoa and was onsite with the children as a longterm volunteer and worker for 3 years full time.
This interview has been updated by Sene following the initial story 2 years ago.
This is Sene's story:
SVSG was set up in 2005 as a professional service to all survivors of crime. The organisation was set up by a team of young lawyers who had returned to Samoa and identified the difficulties faced by victims who did not have support from family members. The lawyers still fight the cases for the children in the shelters.
There are 3 or 4 houses or shelters set up in the SVSG complex.
One houses the babies who are mostly abandoned or there because of neglect & abuse. Then there are the babies who have been born to the girls who come in to the shelter. Sometimes the abandoned babies have been found & brought to us, maybe from hospital or families or a mother may just have a baby and give her baby in.
We have a ‘no questions asked’ policy because in the past we’ve actually found babies abandoned in the bushes so we feel that it’s better if they know they can just bring them into the shelter. It’s actually been awesome because this has then brought down the rate of dead babies found abandoned on the side of the road or where ever.
Sene with some of the babies in the shelter
There is a separate house for the new mothers and also the Ray of Hope house.
Most of the kids in this shelter are there due to neglect, domestic abuse or sexual abuse. Most of them that are in there now are under the State so they’re children of the State. They’re referred to SVSG by the police or by lawyers. We have kids there from 3yrs old up.
Girls in the shelter playing group games.
Sometimes in the shelter they’ll have families who really just can’t afford to look after the kids and so they have to be put in the shelter because a lot of them live kua (back villages) and so are not educated or just don’t have the means to keep the kids. A lot of them have a lot of kids and so they’ll try and put some in the shelter.
We have one matron and then most of the girls can actually cook and help out as well. Then we have the volunteers who come in and help.
The children are referred to SVSG either by the court, police or family members (99% its not the mothers) it’s the aunties that refer or a distant relative, or the neighbor. The children are then in SVSG’s care until their cases are heard. Sometimes the kids have run away because the more they get the word out there now, people actually have the boldness to come.
Kids are finally hearing that there’s a place they can go. We’re finding more and more girls standing up and more and more women rising up knowing that they have a voice now and no longer need to stay in abusive relationships.
The majority of the time the child tells the mother but the mother tells the child to shut up and just take it and no doubt the mothers have experienced the same thing too and the cycle just continues and there’s emotional abuse too. No matter how brutal the situation is that these girls have gone through, there’s still a longing for family you know?
All the children are assessed by a doctor when they are brought into the shelter and reported to the police if they are cases brought directly to the office.
So to be sheltered, even though it’s great for them and it’s safe, a lot of them are still young and are trying to make sense of whats happened and you’re just like ‘What do you do?’ and the cases they have are just so hard.
Usually an Aunty will bring them or the neighbour because the neighbour has seen or a teacher BUT what happens is when a girl confesses, most of the time she gets kicked out of the family and then she gets kicked out of the school because they’ve never known what to do so they just kick the child out - the poor kid – the one getting abused gets kicked out of their home because they’ve said something and then they get kicked out of school!
So SVSG have established the 'School of Hope' which was launched in Sept 2013 so that the kids can go to school while they’re there. We tried to put them back into mainstream schools but it just didn’t work out.
In terms of the number of cases that are brought to the shelter - they'd probably have at least one a week. There can be all sorts of cases come through not just sexual abuse and abandoned kids. For example we had a girl walk into the office who had just been bashed by her boyfriend, and she had a really bad black eye. Her aunty had brought her in so we walked her through the case and then took her over to the police to make a statement.
Each case is different and are taken on a case-by-case basis.