5 January 2013

Zambia: A Moving Speech I Will Always Remember


'Making speeches can be a tricky affair, especially if you're not used to delivering them or have never made one before. The novice speaker is often overwhelmed by stage fright. Not so with MULENGA CHIYENGE PHIRI, who made an impromptu or off-the-cuff speech on child sexual abuse and, curiously, received something of a standing ovation for her effort...'

H, my God! I could not believe what I'd done. Did I really do this to myself? Do I hate myself this much? This is what I did. As a department, Art With A Purpose (AWAP) was supposed to present a sketch and a song in church, but we did not practise due to reasons I cannot explain.

As their leader, I decided to do a presentation in church on their behalf.

The presentation came in the form of a speech.

An unprepared speech. It was about child sexual abuse. Now I know this may sound crazy, but hey, sexual abuse is real, it's happening and someone has to talk about it, but did it have to be me? And in church? Well, I took the risk.

I started thinking about the people in church, the elders, my in-laws, my fellow youths, married or not. How would they take it? What would they think of me? I tried to write down how I would deliver the speech, what I would say, but I don't know how many times I changed my mind about it; all I can recall is that there were countless paper balls in my room.

Finally, Sunday came and I got extremely nervous and worried because I didn't know if it would be considered "right" to talk about sexual abuse in church. My name was called out and, plucking up courage from somewhere, don't ask me where from exactly, I walked up to the podium.

And then I shot straight from the hip. "When I started writing my book about sexual abuse,"I began, "the story that came to my mind was about a girl who was being sexually abused by her stepfather from the time she was three years old. Her mother knew about it, but could not; did not do anything about it."

I noticed that the congregants were eager to hear more so I continued.

"In a west African country which my missionary friend visited last year, there's a traditional practice in one of the remote villages where if a child is born with a defect, it is killed and thrown away."

At this point, everyone was looking straight at me and so I had to gather every once of confidence as I continued: "A woman in that village gave birth to a daughter with a defect on her left hand. According to their beliefs, this was a bad omen from the spirits, but her mother loved her and she wanted to keep her child.

"She talked to the men of the family and they agreed to spare her life on this condition: that every man of that household who was intoxicated with desire should relieve himself by sleeping with her daughter." The congregants, warming up with unmistakable empathy, shook their heads in pity and I saw that they wanted to hear more and so I rose to the occasion and went on:

"The mother accepted because she thought the men would wait until her daughter had grown up and that before then she would come up with a plan, run away and save her daughter. But the men started when she was a baby and it went on until she was five years old.

"She became very ill and was taken to a clinic. After that the mother decided to take her to the orphanage where my missionary friend had been volunteering. The child stayed there for six months, but still whenever an adult entered the room in which she was kept, the poor child could just open her legs."

I went on to inform the church that the girl was like a robot programmed to open her legs at the sight of every adult man.

The congregation was moved and I now truly opened up to tell them more about child sexual abuse, its process, the forms, the consequences of being abused, signs that your child is being abused and protecting our children from sexual abuse.

I told them about what I call the SRAN campaign which I would like to embark on as soon as I mobilise some resources . SRAN stands for scream, run away, avoid and say no to sexual abuse. I told them I was working on a book on the subject of child sexual abuse which, in fact, is done though it's in soft copy only. I intend to give it out for free to schools, churches and communities through community based organisations so that the children may be well informed.

I also intend to give it to deserving parents or starting a weekly column in a local newspaper so that this information can reach as many people as possible, I told them. I talked about counselling and that it's the best way to go if your child has been abused.

"Don't pretend it did not happen; that won't help your child at all. Do something about it, by taking him or her for counselling. Thank you, for listening." The congregants clapped, in fact, clapped is an understatement; they gave me what they call a standing ovation as I walked back to resume my seat.

That Sunday a horde of people congratulated me, talked to me about sexual abuse and they asked me to do it again. It was at this point that I realised that what I did was right and it did not mean I hated myself. It showed me how precious the children are and it reminded me of the immense love I have for little children and that is why I took the risk. It was a risk worth taking. More importantly, perhaps, it taught me a valuable lesson of life that, whatever the circumstances, do your best.

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