She was sitting on a vinyl covered straight back dining chair in the middle of the room against the horizontal dual shaded, peeling wall. Above her a sketch of Jesus with a cross behind was hand painted into the aged white wash. The sun outside was temporarily hidden behind ominously dark clouds, but every now and then a stream of sunlight, formed into an accusing finger by the dust in the air, arrowed through the barred windows and pointed at the bundle in her arms.
A small bundle two weeks into existence in this cruel world, swaddled in clean borrowed linens and with a fresh donated white woollen beanie covering her head. The new little baby girl lay still, content and asleep in her 13-year-old mother’s arms.
This place is home for a number of women and girls who have been rescued from abusive, trafficked or troubled contexts. But Shanthi (not her name) sits in this dormitory room by herself; her long hair falling around her face framing her bowed head – her large dark eyes, fixed and unmoving on this little bundle, were pools betraying a hybrid mixture of fear, awe - and shame.
Raped by her father, rejected by her mother, family and community and pushed out onto the city streets. She hid in the shadows and dirt, but survived until, heavily pregnant and obviously in desperate need she was picked up by the police and bought to the Salvation Army’s rescue centre at one of the busiest intersections of life in Colombo.
Two weeks ago she gave birth to little Shanthi (she gave her baby her own name) and today both are well, both are clean and both are fed – but what next? Normally girls and their baby’s cannot stay indefinitely at this place of rescue. But she has no home to go to – family don’t want to know her but even if they did, her abuser father is due for release any day soon.
I wonder, how do we help this baby - and her baby? The Salvos have done so before and I have no doubt will find a way around ‘system normal’ to do so again. But Shanthi is not unique, too many girls are out there, being trafficked, being abused and left as rubbish on the city streets.
So, for today, Shanthi sits alone in a hot room infused by streams of accusing dusty sunlight fingers - staring at a little bundle in her arms – what is she thinking?