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Laura (Burke) Stirling

I was not sexually abused by Dave B. or by anyone else during my lifetime, and for that I am very thankful.

I arrived in Fanda at age 11 in 1993 and was sent to the dorm within 3 weeks of arriving in Senegal for the first time in my life.  My parents requested extra time to spend with us kids, but were denied it by the field committee.  Although I was excited to be in Senegal, it was very difficult.  My dorm parents at the time told me I was a bad influence on the other girls due to the fact that I had just come from Canada.  Consequently, they blamed me for many things that I did not do.  My dorm dad had an anger problem and repeatedly took me into his office and yelled at me to such a degree that I would cover my face, but I would refuse to cry as I did not want to give him the satisfaction.  He also threatened to expel me from Fanda many times.  My dorm mom accused me of being a Lesbian at one point and also neglected me when I was sick, which was often that year.  I found the atmosphere at Fanda to be judgemental and harsh and my self esteem was damaged through my experience there.  It has taken me a long time to rebuild a positive self image.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at Fanda, I heard vague stories of what Dave B. would do to the girls.  This was difficult for me to process as a young girl.  In 1997, the field committee discreetly recognized the fact that several girls were sexually abused in the dorm, but did not provide any support for the children at Fanda to process this terrible crime.  In fact, it was brushed under the carpet and I remember being told that “God was in control” and that all would work out “to his glory”.  Perhaps these statements are true within a qualified context. But as a result of these statements I came to mistakenly believe that God must be cruel, forcing girls to undergo sexual assault (as he was in control) through circumstances beyond their control. These thoughts may seem unreasonable now, but to a 15 year old who was not given proper teaching, they were only logical. I began to feel out of control of my life, as if I were a pawn controlled by God, predestined to do “his will”. As a 17 year old when I returned to Canada, I mentally broke down and had to go on antianxiety medication for 2 years.  I also attended counselling sessions with a cognitive therapist as well as a psychologist.  Both of these professionals helped me to restructure how I perceived my life as well as the lives of others.  They helped me to realize that I was in control of my decisions and my life and that some ambiguous god was not.  What a relief it was and is to know this truth.

What terrible crimes Dave B. and other people committed when they abused children at Fanda.  Their crimes severely affected the children directly involved, but they also affected other children who listened to the abused, wanting to be a support, but also being inadvertently damaged. NTM needs to take responsibility for their lack of action at the time (as well as now) and also for the general damage done to children sent to their boarding school in Fanda, Senegal.

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  1. miriam c.
    July 23rd, 2009 at 13:01 | #1

    i just wanted to say, that i know what you went through i also had a breakdown about 4 years ago. it was as though i was reliving my life in Fanda only years later. i had to get counselling and my therapist told me that a part of me got stuck in FANDA, i grew up fisically, mentally, but emotionally and spiritually i was still like an 11 year old child angry and confused. that part of me that got stuck there manifested when i found myself in a situation like fanda. it was a very difficult time for me and i often have to fight to not let myself be that child in many situations.

  2. Viv Palmer/Harvey
    July 18th, 2009 at 13:57 | #2

    Laura,
    I am so glad you have been able to tell this much of your story. That is a powerful step towards healing, but only a step. As a survivor of Mamou Alliance Academy in Guinee, (then) FR. West Africa I can relate to much of the spiritual, physical and sexual terrorism in which you’ve lived.
    What you and others have experienced is criminal behavior. My dream and prayer is that these in-house criminals be brought to justice..somehow, someday.
    Together our voices will make it impossible for these perps to hide. Keep talking..keep telling your story and stick with it through the hard times..OK? viv

  3. Bonnie
    July 17th, 2009 at 10:19 | #3

    Laura, thank you for posting your story!
    I can attest to the dorm parents you speak of. The dorm dad was a very angry person – I can remember him just shaking in rage sometimes. I remember vividly, a time when he thought I was guilty of something that I wasn’t – he came barreling down into the girl’s wing of the dorm, shouting, red-faced and shaking – I actually cowered, I was so afraid.
    His wife also told me that I would become a lesbian – because some of the girls and I were square-dancing in our bedroom.
    I’m sorry for the things you’ve gone through, and I’m so grateful to my God for bringing you through them.
    Love,
    Bonnie