Last week we told you a bit about what girls experience when they arrive at Seven Sisters Home. This week, we’ll be sharing about one of the most important things we do when we receive a new girl: home study.
As we try to understand our girls’ pasts and help them plan for the future, an essential step is to locate their family—if they have one. We try to gather as much information as possible from the girls themselves: names of family members, address, and neighbors. Often the closest thing we can get to an address is a village and district name, maybe a couple of nearby landmarks: a bridge, a store, a school. Relatives’ names are hard too because “house names” or nicknames are common in families. A girl may not know an uncle’s or even her father’s name. Using the information we do get, we check maps and call local organizations. For a country with 1 billion people, India is surprisingly well connected. Often somebody will know somebody who knows somebody in the girl’s family.
Of course, sometimes it’s more complicated. Like the time we travelled to a Muslim village of 10,000 looking for someone named Muhammad—one of the most common names in the world—and followed a few false leads before finally locating the right family. Or the time we travelled by train to another city to visit what we thought was a community on the outskirts of this same city, only to learn that what we were looking for was actually a remote town seven hours farther away! As we retraced the road back to our girl’s home, we wondered how our little bit of a girl managed the journey.
Once we reach a girl’s home, we try to put the family at ease while being extremely careful what we reveal. We want them to open up to us, speak the truth, help us to find out what role, if any, they played in getting the girl into the exploitive or abusive situation. Usually the girl’s story and her family’s story do not completely match, but we are learning to discern when it is in the family’s best interest to hide something. Sometimes on a home visit, the pieces fall into place, at other times we leave with more new questions than answers. Ultimately we want to know if it is safe for her to return home. Always it is a sobering experience.
We’ve only been able to restore two girls to their families, but we have hope for more safe homes and reconciliations in the future.