It’s a beautiful autumn day in Melbourne and you’re walking calmly, towards the tram stop. Your travelling companion is an 11-year-old girl called Jasmine. You see Jasmine once a month as part of a Big Brother Big Sister program, and it really is a highlight in your life. You know that Jasmine and her little brother are already with their third foster family, you know she is struggling academically and is being bullied at school....
After a first couple of nervous meetings, the two of you are getting along beautifully. She’s a bright-eyed, curious young person with a flair for drawing. Today you’re taking her to the NGV, a new experience for her.
You’re on the tram, happily chatting; she seems genuinely interested and you’re feeling that life just couldn’t get any better. Suddenly you hear a metallic bang and a loud female voice cursing “Ah ssshhhit! just busted me bloody phone?!” In a second your bubble is burst. Happiness is replaced with anger and (truthfully), with some apprehension. You glance up to see, as you knew you would, a very dishevelled woman in her mid-30s who is clearly intoxicated (by her appearance you assume that is normal for her) and looking pretty pissed off at the world . . . which you also assume is normal.
“Why did she have to get on this tram!? Will she ask for money? Is she dangerous? What’s wrong with people these days!?” Everything about this woman annoys, even disgusts you. You know it shouldn’t, but it does. You wrestle with the judgement of it. She’s clearly vulnerable, probably had a shitty life, certainly needs help, but your heart is devoid of compassion at this moment.
Then something very strange happens. The motion of the tram and the movement of everyone in it slowly comes to a complete stop.
You realise that you are having a supernatural experience.
A ball of light appears between Jasmine and this woman, and as you watch, the ball slowly elongates until it is a beam, connecting Jasmine and the woman. They look up at each other and both smile gently, knowingly. You realise in that moment, that the woman is Jasmine. This woman is Jasmine after 3 school expulsions, 17 foster homes including 2 group homes where she was sexually abused, and after 15 more years in and out of the prison system (mostly on trafficking charges to pay for her addiction).
Between ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’, will Jasmine get the support she needs?
The answer to that question, to a great extent, rests with the not-for-profit sector and those people who would support it. Will she receive integrated mental health, addiction and legal support? Will she be listened to? Will a skilled professional look directly at her and ask “Jasmine, what do you need? How can we help?”
And . . . here’s another question. If Jasmine the child deserved your
compassion/energy/commitment/love, is there an age at which she became unworthy of it? The fact that so many of us struggle to empathise with or instinctively care about a woman like the clumsy phone-breaker on the tram is hardly surprising. She doesn’t seem to hold dear the things that are so important to you and me: self-care, caring for others, making a contribution, making the world a better place. But here’s the truth, she does hold those things dear. But she needs help to achieve them, because she is in pain and she has suffered terrible trauma.
At First Step we believe that everybody deserves every chance to turn their lives around. We have the multi-disciplinary, specialised team to achieve towards recovery and social re-connection.
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