Spotlight on: Natasha
Spotlight On: Natasha
I watched her as she played volleyball, hitting the ball with enthusiasm, cheering as her team made a point, trash-talking the other team, and killing herself laughing at some behaviour of her team-mates. Her face was somewhat familiar, but I wasn’t sure who she was.
“Who is that?” I asked a staff member. He looked at me strangely.
“That’s Natasha, you know, Ivan’s sister.”
Of course I knew Natasha: she had been attending the program for well over a year. But I didn’t recognize her because she was like a different girl …
When Natasha first started coming, she was only 10 years old. She stuck out even from the other sad-looking children because she was the saddest, most depressed-looking child we had ever seen in our program. She never smiled, she walked around hunched over like an old woman, and she always looked like she was about to burst into tears. If you spoke to her, she never made eye contact, and gave monosyllabic answers with absolutely no inflection or expression.
Of course, when we learned her story, we realized why she was so depressed. Her father was sick for a very long time and then finally died in 2011. Her mother was also sick, and therefore could not earn a living or bring in any income, let along take care of her children and complete the household chores. Given the culture, and the fact that she is a girl, much of the care of her younger siblings and household chores fell to Natasha. In addition, there was the daily worry about where their next meal would come from. The combination of losses and responsibilities squeezed out any little girl that might have been left in Natasha.
However, as Natasha began to attend the Let’s Give Them Hope program, things started to change. No longer did she have to worry about food. Another source of anxiety - school fees - were also taken care of through the help of a sponsor. She started to enjoy the activities and games and the friendships that she was making. And with the help of the girls’ support group and the mentorship of a female staff, Natasha started to blossom and come out of her shell. This was a long and very slow process, but over a period of months, there was a noticeable change.
What emerged was a confident girl who was full of life and full of glee, had a great sense of humour, and was never afraid to give her opinion. And her laugh … what a laugh!!! To hear her kill herself laughing – something none of us would ever have thought possible when she first came – was enough to make me start laughing every time. Natasha has truly become a different girl: a far cry from the child we had first met, but much closer to the girl she had been created to be. A person full of promise and full of hope.
Natasha in February 2012.
Natasha in May 2013
And the best part is, Natasha’s story is just one of many exactly like it.