The girls were alone. Their families were dead, or gone, or lost in the broken landscape of southern Sudan. They had nowhere to turn, and no one to turn to. Some lived in the market, others in the cemetery.
When Cathy Groenendijk saw them, she couldn’t help herself. She offered them tea, then some food, then a place to sleep in her guesthouse.
“In the morning, we would sit together and talk about what had happened the night before,” Groenendijk remembers. “And what I heard I could not believe. I could not believe it.”
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One girl’s father had died, and after the funeral, she never saw her mother again. She was living on the streets with some other kids when four men started chasing them. The other girls were faster. She fell behind and was caught and raped by all four men. Groenendijk knew a doctor who repaired the physical damage, saving her life.
Another three girls, ages eight, six, and one, lived with their mother, but they all slept in the open. Groenendijk helped them build a tarped shelter, but the hot sun ate it away. One night, a man snuck in and tried to assault one of the girls. After that, Groenendijk let them sleep on her veranda.