Life just got a little more complicated.
While here in Trinidad I have been working at a well-known organisation that homes abandoned and abused children. All in all everything was going pretty well. The kids are nice (especially when you consider their often heart-breaking circumstances). The staff (in general) are pretty nice and my bosses (manger and board directors) are pleasant to say the least… all except one.
You know when you meet someone and you just don’t get a good vibe. They talk nicely to you and seem polite enough but something is just… off? Yeah, we all have at least one of those at work, right?
Ok, so this is where my soap-box gets pushed to the middle of the room and before I jump on top, I just thought I would give you a little warning.
1. This is going to be a long post.
2. I was told once (by someone who I now recognise to be an asshole), that I complain too much. While that might be true, as Lesley Gore would say “it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to”. This is my space and if I want to complain, I will. So there. Don’t like it? Click the little X at the top of the left/right hand corner of this screen. Consider yourself warned.
Now, to the rest of you who don’t mind my ramblings – Here goes.
The worker who we’ll call Karen (don’t really know why I’m protecting her identity…) has never liked me. I mean never. From the word ‘go’. I can’t figure it out – she has no need to be threatened by me. I get paid less then she does and she gets to spend more time with the children that I do. It never really bothered me since my job at the home is to tutor and council the children. I in fact spend only a few minutes in her company – when I arrive and when I leave.
I have never let the kids know how I felt about her since that would be mucho unprofessional and besides, my problem is not their problem.
After my first week I was in the kitchen asking one of the girls how her day was at school – in strolled Karen and interrupted our conversation to tell me that volunteers and visitors were not allowed in the kitchen and that I would have to continue my conversation elsewhere (I paraphrase, she didn’t put it quite so nicely). I informed her that I was neither a volunteer nor a visitor and that I was in fact a paid worker like she was (not paraphrased). She replied, “well, I didn’t make the rules I just follow them”. I decided to leave the kitchen before I lost my cool.
Later that same afternoon the kids seemed to be less bubbly then they had been before. I asked them what was wrong and one girl told me “nothing, it’s just, you know Aunty (they call us Aunty as a sign of respect) Karen’s working today…” when I prompted a fuller explanation they laughed and said “Aunty Tara, you’re new, but you’ll figure it out.”
I never understood what they meant but decided not to push any further. About a week went by and I refrained from entering the kitchen when Karen was at the house, until one day when two of the board members came over. I particularly like one of these board members. She is warm and genuine in her communications – the kind of woman you wish was your own Aunt (we’ll call her Sara). Sara and the board member who hired me (we’ll call her Paula) arrived to check up on food and resources for the kids. While Karen stood in the kitchen I greeted them and talked to them about my work with the children so far (all about 5 feet from Karen). As Sara was thanking me for taking the job she told me that I was to take whatever food I want and to help myself to anything in the house (as a small token since they are not paying me much). As I was about to bring up Karen’s mildly threatening rule recitation one of the younger children tugged at my sleeve and asked me to get her a drink. I turned to her and said “you’ll have to ask Aunty Karen because I’m not allowed in the kitchen”.
Nice, right? I know.
Paula spun around and exclaimed “What? What nonsense is that? Tara who told you that?” As innocently and non-threatening as could muster, I turned and gestured to Karen. Paula marched towards Karen and said “Karen, Tara works here, she is a member of staff. Only visitors and volunteers are not allowed in the kitchen, bedrooms or bathrooms. Tara is allowed everywhere.” She turned to me. “We expect you to take an active role in the children’s lives. You are to help them in all aspects not just academically. How can you do that if you can’t go in all the rooms? Pour the child a drink”. Without looking at Karen or saying a word I nodded respectfully, took the little munch-kin by the hand, led her into the kitchen and poured her a glass of water all while Karen’s eyes burned a hole in the back of my head. I know it killed her watching me go into the kitchen.
That was mainly the end of us. I was polite but I made sure our time in the same room was brief. She’d nit pick occasionally, you know the sort of thing – undermining my authority in front of the kids, or going over my head and disrupting activities I had planned with her own impromptu demands. She even went so far as to tell me not to pick up one of the crying children.
I understand that lifting up children too often can spoil them but this particular child is 2 years old and at the time she was crying because she missed her Mum (she’s 2 years old and doesn’t understand why she no longer lives with her Mother at home. Instead she’s surround by lots of strange kids and adults in a foreign house who have changed her routine). Now call me old fashioned if you must, but I believe that babies (yes, 2 years old is still a baby to me) need to be held and they need to be made aware that someone will comfort them if they are hurting.
A few months went past and this is how it would be. Karen would make some kind of remark or order and people were expected to jump. The kids, I learned, are terrified of her. I’ve seen, myself, how verbally rough she can be on them. I learned that she has certain kids who she routinely picks on and humiliates. One of the boys is not very popular with the other kids or Karen for that matter. For some reason he just seems to grate on them. Today one of the girls confessed to me how terribly he is treated. She said, “Aunty, you know I don’t like him at all. That boy annoys me so much. But no one deserves to be talked to the way Aunty Karen talks to him. I wouldn’t speak to a dog the way she speaks to him”.
No doubt about it – she needs to be reported.
When I told the young girl and boy that they would need to tell the manager – they exclaimed with a chuckle, “Aunty Tara, Aunty Karen and the manager are good friends – she’ll never believe us.” The young girl turned to me and said “It’s easier to just keep your head down and stay out of her way.” I asked how long it had been going on for and they told me that she has been like that with them ever since they’ve been at the home (Karen has been there for 11 years). They told me that the verbal abuse was just the tip of the iceberg, and that she was a cruel woman who bullied all of them, although she clearly has her favourites.
As I tried to convince them that I would help them deal with it and that we would go to the board and log a complaint, they sighed and rolled their eyes. “No one will ever believe us. And even if they did it would mean we would be sent to another home… a worse home. Plus she could make our lives much harder if we complained and nothing came of it. Aunty Tara, you’re forgetting… You get to leave, but we live here.”
I tried to persuade them that it was the right thing to do. And even if it failed maybe the board members would be forced to pay more attention to what is going on in the home.
I am horrified that this has been going on under my nose for months… and longer. I asked them why they hadn’t told me and they shared their fear that I would just be another adult who didn’t believe them.
These children have been abused and abandoned by the people who are supposed to protect and love them only to be placed in a ‘safe’ environment where another, more subtle, but just as damaging, type of abuse is being inflicted.
I am over-whelmed by the situation and don’t quite know how or where to start putting information together for the board. I am sure of one thing.
I am going to raise Hell…