Helping the children that are hardest to reach this Christmas… girls
Helen Shepard is a fundraiser with the international charity Railway Children, as well as a mum of two. She talks to Parental Choice about the organisation’s current campaign to reach girls around the world that desperately need our help.
‘As a parent, it is always hard to think about children around the world that are suffering. And it is a sad truth that there are millions of them surviving day to day without the love, care, protection and affection they all deserve. Working for Railway Children and having been privileged to visit projects in both India and Tanzania means I am all too aware of the terrible circumstances these vulnerable children face. I also know that some of them are even harder for us to reach and help than others… girls. While all the children the charity supports desperately need our help, it is often harder to find and support the girls and the reasons why are terrifying.
Hidden away in brothels, forced into early marriage, sold as child labour or groomed and lured by predators – these girls disappear and become trapped in a life they cannot escape. The impact of these experiences on girls is extreme. They are left physically and emotionally destroyed by a level of trauma that is almost impossible to recover from. They might be pregnant, or suffering from sexually transmitted infections. They are often shunned by family and communities. Some have long-term health problems after being forced to work in hazardous conditions while others are trapped in abusive marriages. Many have been groomed so much that they are totally controlled by those they think care for them.
This Christmas the annual campaign from Railway Children, This Girl Can’t, is changing that. We’re asking our supporters to help us reach these girls before they are lost for good. Our outreach teams in Africa and India know what to look for, how to spot the signs of a girl in danger and how to make them safe. We also work in communities to educate families about the need for education and the dangers of child marriage as well as helping parents provide for their children. In the UK we work with the transport industry to find the girls running away before they are lost for good. We give counselling and therapy to them and their families and work with them until we know they are safe and won’t run away again.
And it is working. Neema is just one of the girls whose life we have been able to transform. She was just 13 years old when extreme poverty at home in Tanzania forced her to run away. She thought she would be better off looking after herself on the streets, scavenging for food and fending for herself. But here she faced daily dangers of violence, abuse and exploitation. But one third of girls in Tanzania say their first sexual experience was forced and on the streets girls are constantly at risk. Our outreach teams found Neema begging for food and took her to one of our centres where she was safe. She could eat properly and sleep safely at night for the first time in months. We’ve been able to contact her family and work with them to rebuild their relationships and help them improve their income to support their children.
We know how to spot the girls in danger and can reach them before it is too late – offering shelter, food, support and advice. Making sure they are safe and working with them and their families until they know how to stay safe for good.’
- Please support Railway Children however you can this Christmas, and together we can reach these girls. Find out more at www.railwaychildren.org.uk/shecan, make a donation if you can, and share the message with your friends and family too. Alternatively you can text SHECAN to 70500 to donate £10 to Railway Children.
Railway Children is Parental Choice’s chosen charity this Christmas. We will be donating our Christmas Card budget to the charity to support it’s work around the world.