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A CHILD SURVIVOR FINDS FRIENDS AT CHRISTMAS

December 19, 2012 · 

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One Christmas day during the children’s Christmas party at the Preda Home for Girls, I noticed the youngest group of three little girls (average 9 years old) who are survivors and making a great recovery sitting around; one very sad looking girl is called Angeline. They gave her their miniature stuffed toys that they had received as part of the surprise Christmas gift package they had pulled out of the lucky dip bin.

I watched as they gave her a stuffed Kermit the Frog, a teddy bear and a yellow Big Bird. Not an easy thing to do for small children to give away their toys, I wondered why. Then one-by-one, they hugged her and that sad frightened face broke into a big smile and she put down the toys on the floor and hugged each one back. Then they all took up the toys and scampered away across the hall holding hands to play happily as friends in a corner near the Christmas tree and talk among themselves, sharing some secrets most likely and promising to be friends forever as children do. I nodded to the Preda social worker who had been comforting Angeline earlier to no avail and she too had noticed the exchange and how the children were healing each other.

A little sharing and self-sacrifice had been done. Friendship had been made, love was shared, gifts given and a bond had been formed. They had found happiness that Christmas day and hopefully or many days thereafter, even for their whole lives. They who have been loved and valued as children are the happiest, most successful people in later life. Those who survive deprivation and unhappiness and heal through friendship become an even greater success. Angeline and the other children, all survivors, had been long denied that love in their childhood by their families and were abused instead of being loved and cherished. The resilience and courage of little children is amazing as they slowly recover from some very bad experiences.

Angeline was a new arrival, a victim of some terrible abuse like the other 45 children finding safety and happiness at the Preda children’s home. It was taking time for her to adjust and find friends and feel at home. She was not eating normally. This is not unusual for new arrivals but as I found out later she was especially depressed, because of the Christmas gift she had pulled from the gift bin.

Her stuffed toy was a wicked-looking smiling snake with a red tongue. She was shocked as it reminded her of something and someone who had hurt her many times. Angeline broke into tears and ran weeping to hide in a corner. Margarita, the social worker, immediately went to her and held her hand and tried to comfort her. When that failed and Margarita went to get a glass of water for her, the three children went to Angeline to give her their gifts. It was their sharing and friendship that lifted her out of depression and misery and brought Angeline a gift of hope and the possibility of trust.

After a childhood of betrayal by those supposed to love her, it was the goodness and silent understanding of those who had endured the same hurt that restored her childhood and brought her to a world of friendship and happiness and put aside the painful memories. Later I saw her joining in the games and eating a hearty Christmas meal. She was then on the road to recovery.

Children can help heal a broken world but they need their parents’ loving care and protection to grow up to be strong minded people, capable of loving others, of being affectionate, gentle and yet strong, disciplined and positive achievers. Yet Angeline found friendship and became such a person against the odds, against the possible cruel effect of rejection, beatings and abuse, she embraced love and did not become a bitter hate-filled adult. So many unloved children grow up filled with a desire for revenge so many young people sadly and tragically turn to violent acts against others especially children.

The first Christmas of Angeline at Preda was the start of her new life. In the emotional release therapy conducted over eight months, her repressed hurt and pain came out in emotional outbursts of crying, howling and shouting. “Why, why did you abuse me, instead of loving me, you are parents, I am your child”. She was reliving the suffering but getting it out of the deepest recess of hidden hurt. Her new friends were there in the therapy room with the therapist to support and strengthen her through the ordeal.

In the affirming, supportive and empowering influence of the Preda caring family, Angeline’s capacity to learn grew quickly and she went on to finish high school, became the valedictorian and graduated from college with a degree in psychology. She returned to Preda to work and help the other children that had suffered assault and abuse. She is happily married and Angeline will be here to guide and help the new arrivals experience the welcome and happiness of the first Christmas at the Preda children’s home.

Email: shaycullen@preda.org

(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

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