20 years ago, Jackie Branfield was leading a youth group meeting at church, listening to children and teenagers confide in her about the abuse and trauma of their childhood. The more they began to open up to her, the more her feelings of frustration grew in knowing she had no tangible way to help them. She knew they needed support, and she was determined to change the trajectory of these forgotten-about children, beginning her life’s mission to help them heal, return to wholeness and lead a life far beyond being a victim.
Jackie began actively attending government training sessions, and her reputation as an activist and leader in the community quickly spread. She soon realized that government protocol for abuse cases was practically non-existent, and when she was approached by the police to meet with a 16-year-old girl who had been raped, she was horrified at the way the girl was treated by the police and by the healthcare workers at the clinic she was referred to. In 2001, Operation Bobbi Bear was established in Amanzimtoti, just outside of Durban in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, and one-by-one, the respect and dignity that these children deserve is being restored.
Recognizing that for a child, verbalizing and reliving the trauma of abuse is practically unbearable, Operation Bobbi Bear provides them with a less invasive outlet to communicate their experience. Children can draw and place bandages on their stuffed bear to show what happened to them, eliminating the burden of having to describe the injuries on their own body. It removes simple communication barriers, allowing children to speak up without having to actually speak up.
With Operation Bobbi Bear, vulnerable and abused children are cared for through rescue, outreach and awareness-raising programs. The rapid response unit provides shelter, transportation, medical expenses, food and other emergency supplies, and child safety officers provide individualized counseling and psychosocial support so that children can heal and become whole again. HIV medication is provided the moment the abuse is reported, significantly reducing their chances of infection—a tremendous advantage for children living in an area of the world with one of the highest HIV infection rates.
In addition to physical and mental rehabilitation, the organization fights relentlessly to see that perpetrators are brought to justice, working closely with the police and community leaders. For many years, Jackie has collaborated with the South African court system, which now officially recognizes the bear as approved evidence in abuse cases.
The extent of Bobbi Bear is far-reaching. Every Saturday, Jackie hosts weekly support meetings under “the Tree” that are attended by an average of 300 children and women. Individual visits are made to vulnerable households, and ongoing awareness-raising programs include education and sensitization on sexual abuse for local schools, police, and community groups. With the love and support from everyone at Operation Bobbi Bear, these children become fighters, not victims.
Please help us in congratulating Jackie Branfield on her outstanding accomplishments as our 2017 World of Children Protection Award Honoree!