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A R T I C L E S* &* S P E E C H E S

by Andrea Johnston
President and Co-Founder Girls Speak Out Foundation

Note: Andrea will be writing a monthly column for Feminist.com. One month will be about girls ages 8 and up and one month will be for girls ages 8 and up. Please contact Andrea at www.girlsspeakout.org to ask questions, react and otherwise spread wisdom.

Past columns:

Girls Speak Out About Girls:

Girls Speak Out: For Women:


When Little Matters

I have a story to tell you that you can help give a happy ending. It begins with a seven year-old girl who has a brilliant smile and a playful spirit, both of which seem to be captured here. Her name is Saffi, and she comes to us through Kim Kitchen, a woman who traveled to meet women and girls living in a place that vests life-shaping power in male hands and genitalia. Kim learned about a grassroots’ women’s group via the Internet that is across a continent or two. It provides services to girls and women whose rights to health, safety and happiness are invisible, and she decided to work with them.

So Kim trained to bring Girls Speak Out in her suitcase along with some medical supplies and the spirit that keeps her three daughters and husband connected with affection to their farm and the harsh climate in her country. Kim knows about spring, too, and painting and art grants and caretaking ill friends and growing food and watching the antics of a new pet pig because her life is allowed to be as rich and varied as her family designs. After working double duty for six months to earn money to buffer her family during a three-month absence, in September 2007, Kim arrived in a place where malevolence is the official currency towards girls and women. Kim found a home with Rutta and Marina, a husband and wife connected to MAdeA, the agency that welcomed Kim; their next-door neighbor is Moma Jaki, mother of four daughters, and the second youngest is Saffi.

So here they are, this new family of people brought together by a passion for life and challenging belief systems that can breathe fear into their lives. Kim listened as Moma Jaki told Saffi and her sisters how to take care of themselves because it isn’t safe, especially for young girls, where they live. Good men like Rutta reject other men’s beliefs such as creating wealth by taking the body of a young-girl virgin, and he knows that rape is a landmine in the roads surrounding their neighborhood. Kim came together with her new chosen neighbors to help create a Women’s Safety Program that incorporates some of the safety practices instilled in girls and women, and they sought funding and support locally to help spread their teachings. They must, they say, increase the safety net from their homes to the paths that blow dust around and on them as they walk to gather food, wood and experiences. Despite the dangers that could outweigh a love of life and nature, as Zora Neale Hurston writes, “Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to 'jump at de sun.' We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”

Saffi had jumped on her path to school on March 31st when she disappeared into darkness. Kim was back home and I, too, was thousands of miles away. Rutta organized a search, doing the best he could without official support, because such disappearances are “inevitable,” and Girls Speak Out sent e-mails to individuals and organizations and posted appeals for help on our website. When a week had almost passed, and Tania Bien-Aimé and Faiza Mohamed of Equality Now and Jane Shuma of Human Rights were gathering information for help on the ground, Rutta told us what we have to call good news, which is a disappointing measure in some ways of where we are now in Saffi’s story.

After seven days, someone who knew her family found our seven-year old huddled at a bus stop. Saffi has been raped, and is in what is called “distressed condition.” Her return is enough of a rare occurrence to be a miracle, and the emotions are complex yet welcome. Saffi told her Moma that there was a TV where she was taken, and she saw the advertisements for her return. That moment of being visible in the middle of trauma is going to help anchor Saffi as she heals. But there are no support services on the ground, and providing medical attention such as HIV/AIDS follow-up and counseling are remote possibilities.

Yesterday a friend donated part of “President Stupid’s” stimulus check due next month to support Saffi, and another told me that the only people who replied to voluminous forwarded e-mails about Saffi are women victims of childhood sexual abuse. In my experience, we are triggered for many reasons and they’re often very personal, which is something that has to expand as our world grows more intimate and we are free to virtually move about the planet. Too many of us feel that we can’t do anything, which means the bad guys are winning. While this is not good news times in this country, it is in contrast to remembered good times. Saffi, who needs good times, has more hard times ahead of her, Rutta and the others are depleted financially from the search, and while I reluctantly used “good news” in the subject line of the e-mails announcing her return, it is a sad lesson in relativity, which brings me to another point that I hope you are open to reading because I know you have your own problems.

Saffi is not our daughter or niece or neighbor, and that just about erases the chances resources or time to include her healing will be set aside in the schedule of most of the people who read this article. We are conditioned to believe Too many like her anywhere, and too much to do.

I ask you to look once more at her smile before you scroll and click away. I ask you to help bring that light back to her and her family.

Change is making one girl’s life better. $7.00 for Saffi will help make her smile. It’s embarrassing to not give it if you can afford it. Give $7.00 if you have a young girl in your life or you remember needing something you didn’t think would come to help you. Find your own way to help her and others like her who are close or far and you will have put your arms around her. Do something that animates and makes your spirit visible.

Whatever you do, be grateful that we have the technology to reach Saffi and tell her story. That’s the first step. She’ll know when you take the next one.

Visit www.girlsspeakout.org to learn more.


*How to reach us: [email protected] or www.girlsspeakout.org

Note: Anyone can read this column, but alternate columns are written for girls. We hope that readers will write us and we will publish their writings and drawings. Please suggest ideas for columns, ask questions or describe what it means to them to be a girl. Girls Speak Out® is a program, book, organization that supports and connects girls, and an online column where girls can find each other. We invite you to join us.

Copyright © 2008 Andrea Johnston


ANDREA JOHNSTON is the author of Girls Speak Out: Finding Your True Self and the founder of the Girls Speak Out Foundation, an advocacy organization working with girls and their supporters on five continents. A 30-year veteran of public and private school teaching, Andrea convened and helped organize the First National Girls Conference at UNICEF House in New York in 1997. She has appeared in a Lifetime documentary, on CNN’s Talk Back Live!, and on local and national radio shows. She has also been a frequent keynote speaker at YWCA youth conferences, on college campuses, for parenting organizations, and in the General Assembly and Trusteeship Council of the United Nations. She has a son, Jesse, and lives in Northern California. Visit Andrea's web site at www.girlsspeakout.org.

Read an excerpt from Girls Speak Out: Finding Your True Self