Another program funded by Keep a Child Alive is Operation Bobbi Bear. And while the adorable stuffed bear serves as a mascot, it’s also a tool.
The primary mission at Bobbi Bear is to aid vulnerable children, and particularly to address rape and sexual abuse, and the HIV infection that can result. The bear is used as a statement or evidence in court after the child, working with a counselor, marks it up to show what was done to them. That bear remains with the court, and another goes home with the child as a protector and friend. This is tough stuff, but what a brilliant and sensitive solution to a devastatingly difficult situation!
In addition to the bears, the program’s success is also based on relationships with the police, as well as prosecutors, educators and clergy. And once there is a report, there is urgency, based on the need to get exposed children on medication within 72 hours.
The Bobbi Bear location is 20 miles south of Durban, primarily serving people of Zulu origin who live in rural settlements. The work is done by a compassionate and loving team that is available 24/7, with several vehicles necessary, as very few of the cases come to them. And dealing with a reported incident is just the beginning. In the end, many of these children are orphans requiring placement. In addition to care at the Bobbi Bear facility, staff members are known to have numerous children in their homes at any given time. That’s what I mean by love and compassion!
I was there on a Saturday, so I witnessed ‘The Tree’, a weekly gathering in a field, with a magnificent tree as the ‘magnet’ that draws children on foot, or by any other available transport. It’s support group Bobbi Bear style, and there’s playing, talking and distribution of sandwiches and juice. This is the highlight of the week for many of the children, and probably the best meal some of them receive. Many serious things are worked out in that setting. But it felt to me like a party, celebrating fresh starts and new lives.
I’ve seen so much need during my three weeks in Africa, but I’ve also seen caring people making a huge difference. I haven’t kept up with the daily news, and I think that’s probably a good thing. After the Habitat build and my visits to three KCA programs I definitely return home feeling better about the world . . .