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  • Published November 9, 2010

    Tanja Futter always knew she wanted to gain international nursing experience.

    So when she received a heart-wrenching email about a girl who had suffered severe sexual abuse in Kenya, she began packing her bags.

    Tanja, a registered nurse who had been working as an Emergency Department nurse, committed to volunteering at Ripples International Hope Centre for a minimum of three months; she stayed for two-and-a-half years. The Hope Centre provides shelter, counselling, medical support and legal support for girls up to the age of 17 who have faced or are at risk of sexual abuse, forced child marriage, female genital mutilation, child labour or severe physical abuse.

    When Tanja returned a year ago, she joined The Scarborough Hospital and works in the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre (SACC).

    A Scarborough native, Tanja says she grew up surrounded by people with different cultural backgrounds. Her volunteer work in Kenya gave her insight into one part of the world, she says.

    “My experience in Kenya gave me much more of an understanding of our global community,” says Tanja. “I’m able to apply that to what I do here at The Scarborough Hospital.”

    Today, The Scarborough Hospital’s Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre maintains a relationship with the Hope Centre, sharing policies and procedures, educational materials and access to online training modules. The Hope Centre’s founder and director, Mercy Chidi, recently visited the hospital’s facilities to learn more about providing care to sexual assault victims.

    “We’ve always been on the cutting edge of new initiatives and working with the community,” says Shirley Broekstra, Patient Care Manager of the SACC. “This is another opportunity for us to share our experience and knowledge with a diverse community.”

    When in Kenya, Tanja says she quickly realized that nursing is very different there. Here, decisions are often based on diagnostic tests, but with little technology available in Kenya, decisions are almost entirely based on nursing assessments.

    At the Hope Centre, Tanja says she was exposed to many things not common in North America, from diseases like malaria to different forms of sexual violence. One challenge was accessing services.

    While volunteering at the centre, Tanja says she was amazed by the power of human resilience.

    Tanja recalls a 14-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted by her step-father and had become pregnant. She was disowned by her mother and had been kicked out of school. At five months’ pregnant, she came to the centre. After a difficult birth, her child died.

    “She was a broken spirit. But over time, I saw her healing. She really needed time to heal from her very violent background,” she says. “Now she is in school—top of her class—and she and her mother have made amends.”

    Although prosecuting such cases in Kenya is still relatively new, the girl’s stepfather was prosecuted and received a significant jail sentence.

    Shirley says the hospital will continue to support the initiatives in Kenya in whatever way it can.

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