Katharina turned, surprised, as the girl’s laugh rang into the air. It was a sound she hadn’t heard in a long time from one of the girls in her home. Esther* is now a teen, but when she first came in 2012, she was, as Katharina describes her, a “wild and quite happy girl.”
“Esther loved to dance and play, and was always excited to go to school,” explained Katharina Akpa, Director of a Back2Back partnering children’s home. “As she got older, she seemed to lose the quickness to her step and her lighthearted nature.” Esther struggled emotionally and brought a level of negativity with her, no matter how much she was encouraged or shown love.
Katharina and her husband, Israel, gave Esther space, understanding she was processing changes in her body and mind, but a difficult conversation was impending. Every year, each child in the home receives a handmade outfit with fabric chosen specifically for them. It is a momentous time and one the children often look forward to, but Esther’s reaction was lackluster, at best. Katharina and Israel were disappointed with her lack of gratitude and decided to ask after her changed demeanor.
“I feel sad and I’m not really sure why,” Esther confessed to her house parents. They gently responded, “Seeing situations in a negative light leave us sad.” Together, they discussed what might make Esther feel better: Was she burdened by something regarding her biological family? Was there a situation at school upsetting her? And finally, they encouraged Esther to take note of when she felt most sad and ask herself what was happening within her that was leading to sadness. They walked away from the talk prayerful Esther’s heart would soften and she would return to the happy girl she once was.
Over time, Katharina and Israel saw Esther’s demeanor lighten. They would catch her smiling and engaging with her peers more, and finally one day, she laughed out loud for the first time in many months.
The power of conversation, and of safe space for teens from hard places to share, is possible thanks to sponsorship, advocacy, and prayer. Esther knew her answers – even if they weren’t happy – would be heard by her house parents. By giving her space to process out loud and gently suggesting ways she could feel better, she was empowered to use her voice and address her needs.
Esther has now returned to the joyful young lady who lives and laughs wildly. In the coming seasons of growing, she knows who will walk beside her – safe adults who allow her to feel and process. At Back2Back, we count her laughter as a sound of celebration, evidence of her healing.