EL ALTO, BOLIVIA – When 5-year-old Rocío* scanned the crowd gathered for her kindergarten graduation, she saw several members of the audience who had come especially to celebrate her: Her mother; Roxana, an IJM Bolivia social worker; and Jeshika, an assistant with the aftercare team.
Rocío has grown close to the IJM staff over the last year. She meets regularly with her social worker Roxana for trauma-focused therapy, and the little girl is learning how to have a strong future. This happy graduation celebration was a reminder of how far she has come from a past of devastating abuse.
One night a year and a half ago, Rocío's mother woke up to find 4-year-old Rocío in terrible pain. Rocío would later tell how her own father had raped her in the middle of the night, while the others slept. The small girl had been suffering silently for years.
Afraid of her husband, who had been violently abusive in the past, Rocío's mother waited until he left the house the next morning, and then fled on foot with her children. She carried her baby, some clothing, and led Rocío and her brother to safety. She said later she wished she could have carried Rocío because of her little girl's painful wounds.
Right away, IJM helped Rocío's destitute family move into a new house where they would be safe from their violent father. Roxana set up critical hospital visits and accompanied Rocío to get the care she desperately needed – the little girl had contracted a sexually transmitted illness from the assault.
Rocío's mother had taken her and her older brother out of school, because she was so afraid her husband would kidnap the children. IJM helped them transfer into a new school system, and slowly the family started to resume a normal routine.
IJM Bolivia also made sure a warrant for Rocío's father's arrest was issued. In April 2012, IJM investigators located the father and helped coordinate a complicated arrest. After filing numerous bail applications, her father was unfortunately let out of prison. He is now under house arrest, and IJM will continue to advocate for Rocío to make sure her father is restrained.
A Long Road Ahead
Over months of therapy, Roxana and Rocío have grown close. Because Rocio is so young, Roxana tailors her therapy, communicating through playing games, playing with dolls or telling stories.
In late 2012, Rocío's mother called Roxana and asked her to come to Rocío's graduation as her madrina, godmother. In Bolivia, godparents are traditionally named for important life events, like a baptism or wedding. By asking Roxana to be Rocío's madrina, she was essentially asking her to watch over and shepherd Rocío through her academic life.
The three-hour graduation ceremony was filled with special music, speeches and certificates for each child. Afterwards, Roxana gave Rocío simple gifts – shoes, a doll, a rose. And Rocío proudly introduced Roxana, her social worker and now madrina, to her young friends.
Although the road ahead will be hard for the family – and the case against Rocío's father continues – Roxana explained that the graduation was a milestone. "There is so much brokenness in this family," Roxana said, "But when I saw Rocío smile and hold her graduation certificate, I saw so much openness, so much possibility." She added, "That day we met the new Rocío. The happy Rocío."
*A pseudonym has been used and images have been obscured for the protection of this IJM client.