When I was in Kigali last week, I was sharing a room with a wonderful woman called Consola. On our last evening she shared some of her story with me and she has very kindly allowed me to tell it here. She is a couple of years younger than me, but it seems like she has lived twice as long.
When Consola was a child she lived with her aunt for 7 years, a normal practice in many parts of Africa. Her parents were far away in Kagera. But the years wit her aunt were unusually brutal: she was made to sleep in the store cupboard and woken with cold water every morning; her aunt beat her with wire brooms and fed her rotting food from the dustbins. She loved school but was made to walk her younger cousin to a different school further away every day, so that she was only in school herself for 2 hours out of every 8 hour school day.
When she got to 11, her aunt told her she was a girl and didn’t need to go to school anymore. This is not unusual in Tanzania – it is around that age that girls are taught instead how to manage a husband. There was man, who had a business selling magazines, and her aunt had arranged for him to marry Consola. Consola had not even hit puberty yet.
And so Consola prayed. She prayed that God would spare her and rescue her, and she wrote God a letter. If he would rescue her, then she would give her life to serve other vulnerable young girls in her country.
God did rescue her. She didn’t get married, and her father wrote a letter to a friend who was an official, which meant she was accepted into a good secondary school without exams, despite having only a basic ability to read, write and add and subtract. Up until then she had been begging for school fees at the town offices, and been refused, and accused of bring a prostitute.
Her aunt found out where she was at school and bribed a few of the teachers so that one day as she arrived at school she was beckoned into a private room where her aunt was waiting. The teachers locked the door and she was beaten by all three teachers and her aunt for 8 hours. At the end she was in a horrific state. She knew she had to leave.
Her only hope was to make it to where her parents were. She somehow avoided the police who were looking for her, and made it to the far distant city in the north-west of Tanzania called Mwanza. In the bus she met a man who claimed to be a resident of Mwanza, and seemingly trustworthy man who promised to accommodate her in his house where he was living with his family. Instead he took her to a motel where he produced a condom, assuring her that she wouldn’t get HIV if she slept with him. She refused and praying to God for protection. He attempted to force her but when she screamed he pushed her outside.
Miraculously she made it back to the bus station and on to Kagera. She was with her parents only a short time before she was admitted to hospital where she was a patient for six months, to recover from all her injuries.
It’s incredible to believe that the woman I am talking to has really endured this. ‘I could never tell the story without crying all the way through,’ she says, ‘but now I have been able to forgive.’ It’s amazing.
Since then Consoler has been to university, and completed a BA in Sociology and an MA in Social Work. She has defied all of the doctors’ predictions and warnings and has married and conceived 2 children, although she is under close medical supervision and still struggles with ongoing head and back pain.
More than that, she has dedicated her qualifications, her time, her energies to setting up a project in Dar es Salaam called New Hope for Girls, which works with vulnerable teenage girls, facing many of the same circumstances she endured. It’s a small operation and she does not take a salary. Many of her friends have urged her to find more lucrative work, but in her heart she knows that God has called her to this work and he will provide for them.
If you’d like anymore info on the project, just send me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org