When Sara* was raped at age 12, she dropped out of school and fell into a life of drugs and prostitution. But the people who loved her wouldn’t give up on her.
When Sara was a little girl, she loved to wear pretty dresses. She loved to sing, and she loved to dance. She loved to talk about God with her friends at the Compassion centre, so they would call her “Little Pastor.”
But that changed when she grew up, all too soon.
When Sara was 12, a friend invited her to a party. She was just a child, so she never thought that it might be dangerous. At the party, she was given a drink that left her unconscious. Sara was raped and abused, and her life was never the same.
“I felt filthy,” says Sara. “I was ashamed to be with my friends. I started to meet new people, bad people, and started to use drugs and do terrible things.”
Sara’s mom also used drugs, so when Sara started down this same path, her grandmother threw them both out of the house. Sara started living on the streets, and she gave up on school.
But the staff at the Compassion centre who knew Sara so well refused to give up on her. They pleaded with her grandmother to take her back in, but Sara was too ashamed of her lifestyle to live with her grandmother. The staff continued to pursue her and encourage her to return to school, but Sara couldn’t stick with it. Even so, the staff wouldn’t abandon her.
“In spite of my problems, I had something at the centre that I did not have in any other place: people who listened to me and encouraged me, people to talk with, people who were not going to judge me, and people who loved me.”
The Compassion workers would scour the local parks and streets to find Sara and encourage her that she had a choice other than drugs and the street.
Despite their persistence, Sara continued down a dangerous path.
“They found me wherever I was. I attended the centre because they looked for me all the time, but I was lost in the darkness,” says Sara. “I do not know why I forgot God; drugs made me forget everything. I had no reason to live.”
One day, Sara accepted a friend’s offer to visit another town to become a prostitute. She went three times and prostituted herself. But she knew she didn’t want to live like that. She looked to Lucía, her Compassion tutor, who was always there no matter what. And after hearing Lucía’s advice, Sara decided not to sell herself again.
“Many times she came to the centre desperate, and we prayed to God together for help. I advised her, and we provided her with sociological help,” Lucía says. “Sara was changing, and there was a moment when she made the decision to be different.”
After years of wandering, Sara grew sick of her situation.
“One day, after much pain, I stood in front of the mirror and said I needed to change,” says Sara. “I accepted the psychological help at the centre, and my mom and I received treatment. The psychologist told me that God had great plans for me and encouraged me to return to school. I looked for help in Narcotics Anonymous and left drugs. I have gone one year and four months without using drugs. It was hard because my friends looked for me to give me drugs, but I had the strength to not accept them. I also went to church and spiritual retreats with the centre, and I am sure that God never left me alone.”
Sara is now 19. She has returned to school and is in the eighth grade. She loves studying and has plans for where she wants to go in life.
“I want to graduate and become a chef. I also want to study English and be a psychologist,” Sara says. “I know that with God’s help I will do everything. God gives me a peace that I never found in drugs, alcohol or parties. The centre has been an important help for me. Without it, I do not know where I would be. The centre was always there for me, and that is priceless.”
Sara attends the Compassion centre with the 18 to 22 year olds. She tells her friends that she is an example of overcoming.
Despite all that Sara has gone through, from rape to drugs to prostitution, Sara is a survivor. Along with the help of the people who have so persistently loved her, she will continue to fight for and dream of a better life—a life empowered by God’s love.
*A pseudonym has been used to protect her identity.
Story and photos by Lina Marcela Alarcón, Compassion Colombia