The Girl in the Red Dress

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I will forever be haunted by the story of the girl in the red dress.

I sat in a Rohingya refugee tent in Myanmar, listening to horrific stories of murder, arson and rape. One woman was telling me how her baby was snatched from her arms and thrown into the burning remains of their home. She told me how her husband’s throat was slit in front of her eyes. She told me how she had been raped for 15 days. Listening to her story, it was all too much to bear.

And then I saw the woman’s daughter, sobbing silently in the back of the room. The girl was about 12 – the same age as my own daughter – barefoot, and wearing a filthy red dress. As I looked at her, my heart stopped for a moment. Her tears were telling me so many things, revealing so much of her own pain, her own trauma. It was likely that she had been sexually abused herself.

Back in Canada, my daughter worries about volleyball tryouts and what to get for her friend’s birthday. She bristles over the injustice of the lack of a girl’s rugby team. The girl in the red dress will forever be haunted by her father’s murder. She will have to survive with a mother who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, in a community of hundreds of thousands of other traumatized survivors, in a makeshift refugee camp, trapped by geography and political deadlock.

I never got the girl’s name, but her eyes will forever be seared in my memory.

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