25 August 2012

Remembering "Little Rock" - Two Years On

I remember this day two years ago so clearly. Lisle Augis, a little girl my organisation, CHW, wanted to help in South Africa, lost her life in a road accident.

I first met Lisle in 2009, when she was ten years old, through one of the organisations we work with in Cape Town, The Future Factory. Its director, Anne, had been supporting Lisle. When she was seven, Lisle was sexually abused by one of her father's friends, and he then hit her over the head with a rock, stabbed her and set her alight. Unbelievably, she survived! She suffered burns and scars and had reconstructive surgery on her face. She was known in the media as "Little Rock." Anne worked with Lisle in the following years to help her put her ordeal behind her. When I met her, I wouldn't have thought she had been through something so terrible. Anne said to her. "See, now people from abroad are coming to visit you!" and her quick reply to this was "Now all that's left is for me to go abroad!" She told me she wanted to go to Disney Land, and that she would also like to study abroad one day.

Whilst I was in Cape Town, The Future Factory had some funding to buy paint for the outside of the shack where Lisle lived, along with her parents and younger brother. I spent the day with some volunteers and the family, painting. Anne mentioned that as Lisle was growing, the scarred skin on her body was stretching and hurting her, and we thought that maybe my organisation could fundraise to cover the costs of skin grafts, but it was never to be.

Lisle, painting, along with her little brother.

During my last day in Cape Town in 2010, Anne came to the house and said that Lisle's schoolbus had been in an accident. I went to the hospital with Anne, but Lisle was not there. Anne said that we had to go to the mortuary. The family arrived, as did the families of the other children who were killed in the crash. The wait at the mortuary seemed to last for ages, and I kept thinking that it couldn't be Lisle, and there had to be some mistake, but it was her. It was devastating.

I raised the money for the funeral through my organisation and sent it to The Future Factory. My colleagues at the University of the Western Cape also did a collection once I told them the news.

The accident could have so easily been avoided. The minibus (called "taxis" in South Africa) was approaching a train line, and the barriers were coming down. The driver skipped the waiting cars and went ahead over the line, and the taxi was hit by the train. Earlier this year, the driver was given a twenty-year sentence for charges of murder and attempted murder.

Yesterday, the parents of the children who died in this crash, joined with parents whose children died in another accident last year for a joint commemoration service. My sincerest condolences go to all the families who lost children. I just cannot even begin to imagine what they are going through.

Lisle was the only child involved in the accident that I knew personally. Lisle touched many people during her short life of eleven years. She showed real bravery and was an inspiration to many. This article includes an interview with her from a few years ago, and points out how she was a symbol of hope within her community. I saw her smile and laugh despite everything she had been through and I will remember her always. I will end with the words that Anne wrote nearly two years ago, after attending a school memorial service for Lisle:

"Born on 4th of June 1999. Lisles favourite bible verse Psalm 121 verse 1- 8 and her favourite song GOD WILL MAKE A WAY... 
She taught her teacher that if life give lemons, you make lemonade."

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