A young woman in Mumbai. Some estimates suggest more than a million women in India survive sexual assault every year - Photo courtesy of Steve Evans

A young woman in Mumbai. Some estimates suggest more than a million women in India survive sexual assault every year - Photo courtesy of Steve Evans

Shilpa is a survivor of sexual abuse. When she first came to the Redlight Greenlight aftercare home, she struggled to participate in school, group therapy, dance or art. She would compare herself to the other girls and say, "I can't do this right," before getting angry and then giving up altogether.

As she approached her eighteenth birthday, the staff at Redlight Greenlight started making plans for her transfer to a partner home for adult women, as Shilpa had no safe place to go. However, the carers at Redlight Greenlight were concerned about her relational skills and whether or not she would be able to relate with others at an adult level. Just days before, she had yelled in frustration at a Redlight Greenlight counselor, "I've decided just to be ‘bad' and cause trouble wherever I go, here or in the other home." But as the counselor calmly listened to Shilpa, she opened up and said, "I'm so afraid to fail that I don't even want to try and fit in."

The counselor then reminded Shilpa of the many new things she had learned to do since coming to the Redlight Greenlight home: dancing, drawing, passing a school exam, sharing her opinions, listening to others and forgiving a friend after a fight. She encouraged Shilpa to reflect on these changes and challenged her that she did not have to choose to be "bad."

A few days later, Shilpa returned to the counselor and said, "I have been thinking about what you said, and I feel that God told me, 'You have forgiven others who hurt you, but you need to forgive yourself.'" She made a list of many things she had said or done in the past that made her angry at herself. She decided she would now forgive herself for those things.

When Shilpa turned eighteen, she was finally ready to move to the adult aftercare home. There she is continuing her studies and has the opportunity to help others, including HIV-positive children who live in a care home nearby. The girls and team at Redlight Greenlight were sad to see her go and gave her a farewell party. In return, Shilpa wrote a special card in Hindi:

Dear Redlight Greenlight team,

When I move on from here, I will remember you always.

I am so happy you opened this aftercare home, and I am glad that I came here. You have been like a mother and father. I am so thankful for your help.

God bless you!

Your daughter, Shilpa

For all those girls still experiencing abuse in South Asia today, Shilpa's thank you note could be a letter from the future - a future in which a whole new identity separate from abuse is possible.

A $65 donation to SIM's Redlight Greenlight project will give a girl like Shilpa medical care, legal assistance and education for one month in an aftercare home.

Learn more about Redlight Greenlight and give online here.

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