One of my favorite things to do in Guyana is to go running… and no, I don’t mean running after ice cream trucks or delinquent school children. I gave that up for lent. Going for a jog is my opportunity to escape for some peace and solitude and also enjoy one of the most scenic paths of nature. Of course I am not always alone in my run. For instance, the same ugly dogs attack me every time I pass a particular house, or a man with a camera blatantly films me even after I ask him not to, or the Village Crazy approaches me brushing the dirt(y sweat) off my shoulders with his fingers.
One afternoon I was jogging in the usual sand lot when I came upon a student who used to attend my school that was also searching for tranquility. At first she sat quietly breathing in the silence, but on my second lap she decided to take me up on my offer and join the run. I asked her what she was doing here alone, and she responded saying she had problems to escape from. We jogged at a slow pace for about 300 meters when she stopped to put her shoes back on and started walking. Normally I would have continued my run in order to beat the rapidly setting sun, but I sensed there was something deeply troubling her, so I decided to walk alongside the 16-year-old girl.
Me: So, your problems you mentioned… would you like to talk about them?
Student: Well Miss, I’m the only girl in my family and it’s a big problem.
Me: Yeah? How so?
Student: Well I’m surrounded by boys and they take advantage of me. It started when I was 12 and a teacher told me to go over to his house for lessons. I went over for help and he… you know… felt me up. I was too frightened to tell anyone. Then a couple years later my cousin did it me. And my neighbor did it too. I didn’t want to tell anyone, but finally told his wife. She was the only one that believed me. She said it sounded like something her husband would do.…….I had a sister you know. She died when she was 9 months old and sometimes I wish it could have been me. What’s wrong with me that people keep doing this to me?
As she continued to describe even more occurrences, my heart sank a little more, and my anger at the incidences compounded. I knew I couldn’t advise her to go to the police since these issues are too widespread here and no proper actions would be taken. For example, there’s an older staff member at our school who has often been linked to various Primary and Secondary female students. He happened to be caught in one of the incidences and thrown behind bars for less than a week, only to return to the school and continue his pedophiliac ways.
My reaction at the moment was to empower her to not stand for anymore sleazy disgusting men, and urge her to tell someone else she could trust. I’m not sure if my words made an impact, and that thought haunted me for the next few days. I didn’t know where this girl lived and I didn’t know whether I would see her again. In the classroom, as difficult as it is to get through to the children, I know I’m at least doing something. This was the first time I felt completely powerless to help a student in need. The only thing I could think of was to write about it.