Consequences of Stress on Children’s Development.

I just found out that one of my high school girlfriends went through a harrowing childhood, exposed to violence, starvation and none of the students knew. I just read her book where she documented her whole childhood and it made me really sad that she had to go through that and could not talk about it to anyone. Our education system was based on the British system (Kenya was a British colony until 1963) and we had teachers come from England to teach in our schools. I went to one of those boarding schools that were  originally set up for the British children.  This is where I met my friend Liza. Liza grew up with her mother on a rural farm where her father had abandoned them and moved to America to further his studies. They went without food and decent clothes and she had to keep all this to herself because her mother did not want anyone to pity them.This was a  big burden for a child to carry. In the poor rural area this did not set her apart because everyone was poor in varying degrees. Liza never let anyone know what she was going through. While she was out, she never reacted to food as though she was starving. Her mother told her that they had to keep up appearances because they had to protect her father’s and the family’s “reputation”.

When her father finally came back ,he had married another wife and went to live in capital city of Nairobi. He brought Liza to live with them and that was when she saw exposed to more than enough domestic violence. Her father started drinking and would beat up his new wife nearly every day and the neighbors had to intervene all the time. This lifestyle left Liza very stressed and afraid. She became an introvert and did not socialize much with the other students because she did not want anyone to know what was going on in her life.

When she got to high school it was a great relief for her because it was a boarding school which meant that she would now be away from the violence and have some respite every three months. Our vacation months were April, August and December. She missed being with her mother and was always worried and wondered whether she had enough food.While at school she became close with our history teacher who became her confidant and helped her deal with her emotions. She seemed to thrive with this connection and went on to graduate high school, graduate from Nairobi University with a First class Bachelors degree and she earned a full scholarship to England for her post graduate studies. She now has a Doctorate and is a professor at a British University. Her story goes to show how  some children with  different stressors in their lives sometimes try to hide them from everyone and  this makes it worse until someone observes them, figures it out and gives them the help and services to remedy the situation. In Liza’s case the teacher was there to talk to her, guide and comfort her and also help her focus on what was important.

I picked India as my region in the world because I lived there for three and a half years while studying for my undergraduate degree and made a lot of friends who are now doing great work helping poor girls to have access to Education. A lot of Indian girls from poor families never get an education and are forced to beg, get jobs and support the family. Girls are considered a burden because they have to accumulate a huge dowry to pay the bridegroom’s family when they get married. If they do not satisfy the grooms family, they are abused, beaten and sometimes killed. Many of them commit suicide. The World Bank reports that the world has 872.3 million people that live below the poverty line, of which 179.6 million live in India( 17.5 % of the world’s population has 20% share of the world’s poorest people). There is a common practice whereby young girls are mutilated so that they can elicit more pity and therefore get more contributions from sympathetic passersby. They have their limbs amputated, their eyes gorged out, I personally saw a woman put an insect in her child’s eye to destroy it and make her look more pathetic. The Indian government and various non government organizations are focusing on rescuing girls that they think are in danger from these poor families and setting them up in hostels and ensuring that they get an education. This uncertainty facing the girls makes them less confident and less social. The boys also go through hardships but not as severe as the girls own. The lack of basic essentials such as safe drinking water, sanitation, housing, health, infrastructure and malnutrition affect all children because they end up getting diseases of all kinds, transmitted by the family or through the environment. In India a lot of poor children miss out on just being children because of poverty.

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2 thoughts on “Consequences of Stress on Children’s Development.

  1. Hi Fidelis – what an amazing and touching story of your friend. She overcame many struggles and was fortunate to have an amazing teacher to help her in her time of need. I always tell my children that they are so lucky to have the problems they have – that it could be so much worse. Stories like your friend’s put so much into perspective. So happy she is doing so well now!

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