‘If I think that I can remember my life on the streets as a tiny child, it makes me realise where I have come from and how strong I am,’ says Caitlin, 17, from Cloetesville, Stellenbosch. She lived on the street with her alcoholic mother until age three, when her grandmother took her in. When Caitlin was 11, her neighbour’s husband tried to rape her but she managed to run for help. She had to face him again in court, where he was sentenced to six years in jail.
‘After this I got very depressed. My marks at school dropped, and girls at school started bullying me. I was threatened by one with a knife,’ she recalls. A school friend encouraged her to report the incident and seek help at Community Keepers, which provides psychological and social services to schools. Here, from April 2015, Caitlin found a safe place where she could talk about her issues: ‘The lady I spoke to was very kind and gave me a lot of support.’ They worked on her self-esteem first, then past traumas and fears surrounding her attempted rapist’s release this year. ‘I was also encouraged to do well at school so that I can go to university and make a better life for myself,’ she says.
Today Caitlin is a spokesperson for Columba youth leadership programme. ‘I am so confident now. I’m doing well at school – I just passed Grade 10! – and really want to be a life coach or something like that, trying to help people change their lives. I no longer need to see the lady at Community Keepers, but I like to visit the office now and then and say hello.’