I remember when I was a young girl how I used to get so excited about going to my dance classes. There are few little girls who don’t enjoy getting dressed in a beautiful, pale pink leotard and tutu. My mum used to brush my hair and tie it up in a perfect bun. Then I would slip on my pretty little ballet shoes, ready to dance to my heart’s content and I loved it, truly loved it. The delicate movements, the graceful spins, all of it. Some of my most joyful childhood memories are of dancing.
Having shared these joyful memories, you may now understand more the heartbreak of this story.
I was still living in La Antigua, learning Spanish and preparing for my move to the City when one of my colleagues told me something that gave me chills and left me feeling cold.
One of our beautiful girls had come to the centre one day and was clearly exhausted. Not her usual energetic, bundle of joy and affection. When asked why she was so tired the heart-breaking truth came out. The night before she had been forced to dress up and dance all night for a man.
She is only 11 years old!
The stark contrast of my experience and hers makes me feel physically sick. When I was a little girl I was getting dressed up in pink tutus filled with excitement and joy about dancing. Spinning around the room like a princess and the thought of being used or not being safe never once crossed my mind. Why would it?
But this little girl’s experience of dancing is completely different, tarnished with the sick, dark evil of a world that unfortunately is not all pretty pink tutus and joy! She was forced into an outfit that I can only imagine was not appropriate for anyone let alone a child. And then made to dance for a man several times her age. The kind of dancing won’t have been pretty spins and graceful footwork. I dare not imagine the thoughts or actions of the man as he watched. My heart wants to stop and not think about what he might have been thinking or doing, but my head tells me that the reality is that this is a dark and troubled world.
When I heard this, as I was sat in my room in Antigua, I was too angry to even cry. A week later I moved to the city and was sat upstairs at the centre playing with the children.
This same girl came over to me, chatting and happy as if she didn’t have a care in the world. My heart ached for her. She sat for almost an hour gently plaiting my hair, for this pocket of time she was content, she was safe.
And now what? What do you say to a girl who tells you this? How do you respond? What should you do?
What can you do?
Unfortunately, I do not have any of the answers. And unfortunately I can’t fix everything.
But I am here, in this place and I will love this girl. I will show her that she is special, cared for and precious. I will do all I can to make her safe, and to bring change for her. And I pray that her future is not defined by her past and that one day she will dance because she wants to. One day she will dance with joy.