Warning: contains mentions of sexual and gender-based violence that some readers may find upsetting.
Millions of us have been told to stay safe and stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic. But what happens when home is not a place of safety? Ella knows what that’s like. Now she’s helping others access the support they need.
Ella* was taught from a young age that, as a girl, she had little value beyond getting married and caring for a husband and children.
When she was growing up in a small village in rural Liberia, her father insisted that sending her to school would be a waste of time and money. Instead, when she was just eight years old, Ella was sent to a secret female society, which was aimed at preparing young girls for marriage.
Ella experienced female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) as part of the initiation into the society. She then stayed with the society for two years and was trained in household tasks.
When Ella returned to her village, her family held a celebration to welcome her home.
However, after the party, Ella was brutally attacked and raped by a man from her village. When she confided in her parents, they told her she would now have to marry her attacker.
Traumatised, Ella ran away into the nearby forest. Scared and alone – and still just a child – she had no safe place to go.
After a few days, Ella met a hunter who took her in and let her stay with his family. But it wasn’t long before she was forced into a marriage with the hunter’s son – she was only 12 years old, he was 25.
Soon after, the Liberian civil war began. This forced her and her husband to flee to the safety of the capital city. However, coming from rural communities, they didn’t know how to survive in the city.
Over the years, Ella had seven children. The family lived in extreme poverty; Ella would go to a nearby creek to catch fish for food while her husband would work as a day labourer cutting grass in people’s gardens.
After a lifetime of abuse and trauma, Ella was worn down and losing hope. She began to turn to alcohol to escape feeling helpless and worthless.
Finally finding healing
Then Ella was invited to a Journey to Healing workshop run by Tearfund’s local partner. She met other women who had similar stories of suffering and abuse, and who also had no self-esteem left. Ella was finally able to share about her childhood trauma for the very first time.
As Ella and the women shared their stories, they found love and care within the group. They started to hope for a better future for themselves and their children.
The group of women also save money together and work on projects together that will help them earn an income. Ella started planting rice and peanuts close to her house in an open space. Now her children have enough food to eat each day, and Ella has a supportive friendship group.
For the first time in her life, Ella is starting to know her true worth and is positive about the future.