Melinda Tankard Reist has dedicated her life to speaking up for the vulnerable. As we share stories of highly vulnerable children this month, Melinda provides a firsthand account of meeting Lia, a young girl from Indonesia who has been assisted through Compassion’s Highly Vulnerable Children’s fund.

Some of the most profound, moving and life-changing experiences in my life have been encountering girls and young women who have survived some of the most horrendous things that can happen to a human being.

I’ve spent time with trafficked girls in Cambodia and Thailand, prostituted young women in the sprawling brothels of Mumbai. I’ve visited a refuge in Hyderabad, India, which had three levels of discrimination in the one building: level one—the abandoned female babies with a disability, level two—girls pregnant as a result of men helping themselves, level three—the unwanted widows, judged as worthless by society.

I’ve cared for discarded baby girls in China, victims of the one-child policy in a country which privileges boys. I’ve met young women who have survived female genital mutilation, their bodies still bearing the marks of the violence.

Children, by nature, are vulnerable. But children born into poverty experience a level of vulnerability many of us cannot fathom. This vulnerability exposes them to danger, and leaves them helpless, defenceless and alone.

I’ve spent most of my working life mobilising and equipping individuals to stand up for the rights of the vulnerable. It can be extremely disheartening to see firsthand the dark sub-culture of this world which encourages the sexual, physical and emotional mistreatment of children. But it can also be extremely encouraging to meet individuals and churches who are giving a voice to the voiceless.

It was on a trip to Indonesia with Compassion Australia that I met a young girl named Lia, *who despite her unimaginable circumstances, has found her voice.

It’s difficult to comprehend that a girl can be abused for more than a decade by not just one man, but three, and all of them related to her. “That house was like a hell for me,” Lia said as she shared her story with me. The abuse started with her uncle when she was about five, followed by her stepfather. It got worse when her brother began abusing her as well. For many long years Lia prayed for it to stop.

Lia finally received the love and comfort she craved when she was registered with Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program, but staff didn’t know what she was enduring at home.

At the height of the abuse, she prayed for someone to help her. She even asked God to let her live in a nearby orphanage run by Compassion’s local church partner. That prayer broke my heart. How horrific is a child’s home life when they pray to live in an orphanage?

Then one day, a neighbour overheard her stepfather and brother having an argument over Lia. The neighbour went straight to Compassion and staff started an investigation into the abuse. The Compassion East Indonesia Child Protection Specialist worked with a centre staff member, lawyer, pastor, psychiatrist and the police to help Lia. They moved her to the orphanage. Finally, she was safe from the abuse.

The legal process to prosecute those who had hurt Lia was difficult but Compassion was with her every step of the way. Lia’s mother (due to her compliance with the abuse), stepfather and brother were eventually found guilty and went to gaol. Costs were covered through donations to the Highly Vulnerable Children’s fund, a fund used to protect children on the brink of harm, or to rescue those like Lia who are victims of predators.

Lia is a remarkable young woman. The leader of the student association at her school, she has a beautiful voice and has won many singing competitions. Her rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ bought us all to tears.

On the trip to East Indonesia I saw for myself that Compassion is more than educational supplies and nutrition programs. I understood that it takes personal one-on-one attention, care, prayer and encouragement for a child to be released from poverty. I was impressed by just how extensive the care and support given by Compassion is—it is up close and personal, given by people who live in the community and are part of the daily lives of those within it.

Lia says God is her rock and healer. She has hope because Compassion, a neighbour and her local church stood up for her and gave her a voice.

We must all take a stand against the unacceptable. We must all speak up and change the way the world allows our most vulnerable to be treated.

Help protect highly vulnerable children by donating to Highly Vulnerable Children's Fund.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

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