Palucia is a 22-year-old young mother. While her baby of 9 months, Dalo Leo, is sleeping – “an active and intelligent boy who requires much attention”, according to his mother – we can interview her with a little more calm.
Palucia has a bright smile, that reflects her finally peaceful mind: Her tragic past is little more than a shadow that veils her eyes with emotion only when we relive her story together.
“I came here to the House of Smile because I have been through abuse” – she recounts – “Dalo Leo had been born only for a few months. I suffered from depression. I realised that what was happening in our home was a problem for his safety, even before mine: The abuse I have been through also led me to take it out on him, who clearly felt all my discomfort and my suffering. That’s why I decided to cry for help”.
Escaping from her son’s father, Palucia first sought help from a friend, promising him that she would have left the moment she would have found a safe place to stay. She then went to a Catholic institute in Cape Town that works with women and children who are victims of violence. Through many referrals and after a two-week quarantine, she finally came to the House of Smiles amidst a global COVID-19 pandemic.
Here, Palucia and her child have been welcomed with open arms and she immediately found a mother-like comfort in Quendy, one of the operators of the House. “She’s a mother too and she tries to be an example for me in everything she does. She encourages me and scolds me to take out the best of me”.
For a woman, South Africa is one of the less safe countries in the world to live in. Between 2019 and 2020, 53,293 sexual crimes – for the most part, rape cases – and 2,695 femicides – o average one every three hours – have been reported . The phenomenon – still rising – has further increased due to the pandemic: The lockdown measures have in fact prevented many women to flee their homes to seek help. A network of gender stereotypes and trampled dignity and humanity that Palucia, fortunately, managed to wriggle out from.
“Here at the House of Smile me and Dalo Leo have found everything we need. Safety and protection, food and psychological counselling. Here I have realised that I was living in the middle of a foggy field, thinking I was worthless. Now, I have finally found myself again, I have learnt to put myself first and to focus on being a strong and present mother for my son”.
This transformation is a result of the many group and individual meetings that Palucia could take part in, together with the calm and quiet environment of the House of Smile. Through these meetings, Palucia opened herself to others and confronted other mothers, finding once again the smile she had lost. Palucia has also attended a training course to become a security agent so that she can also become economically independent.
When we ask her to tell us her dreams for the future, we can hear the answer of a completely changed woman: “Dreams are the essence of life. I truly have many projects for my future. I want to understand more and more who I am and the person I am called to become; I would love to study to become a social worker and help refugees; I also naturally wish to become independent, afford a house and take care of my son Dalo Leo. He’s the one who inspires me every day and gives me strength to go on with my life”.
Photo of Gianluigi Guercia