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July 14th, 2009
04:40 PM ET

Born to be neglected?

Ashley Judd visiting families in her role as YouthAIDS Global Ambassador.

Ashley Judd visiting families in her role as YouthAIDS Global Ambassador.

Ashley Judd
Actress
Global Ambassador, PSI

I admit I was shocked last month when I read that one in four South African men surveyed admitted to raping someone. But, of all the things I’ve learned about this issue, these five lines disturb me the most:

For what was I born? To be abused
I was born to have no future
I was born to be used as a slave
I was born to be neglected as an orphan
And those who died know I was born free.

It’s the beginning of a poem written by a girl named Tempeste. She lives in one of the poorest townships in South Africa, just outside of Cape Town. As a child, she was raped by her father – regularly, repeatedly and viciously. When she was 12, a sexually transmitted infection left her feeling feverish and ill. The teachers at her school noticed something was wrong and sent her to the hospital, where doctors discovered the infection. Then they discovered she was HIV positive.

Her father was arrested and later sent to jail. Her mother remarried a man who, thankfully, treated Tempeste more kindly. But that life was temporary. Her mother died of AIDS complications and, not long after, her stepfather died as well. Tempeste was sent to a local orphanage – one of the few good ones in the area.

What’s even more disturbing about Tempeste’s story is that Tempeste counts herself among the lucky ones. Thanks to the teachers at her school and the caretakers at the orphanage, she no longer lives in fear of her father or of continued abuse by the men in her life. At 15, she’s found her calling as a peer educator for an HIV-prevention program called YouthAIDS. She speaks to other girls in her high school, talking to them about how they can make smart decisions to help them avoid contracting the disease. YouthAIDS is a PSI (Population Services International) program and is run in South Africa by PSI’s affiliate, Society for Family Health. I’m one of the board members at PSI and that’s how I became lucky enough to know Tempeste and her story.

I don’t want to sermonize in this post, but I do want to highlight the ongoing challenges girls like Tempeste face. More than 600 million girls live in the developing world. Poverty forces many of them to drop out of school – sometimes because their families need them to fetch water in the days, sometimes because they’re married off for a small dowry, and sometimes because they’re sold into a life of transactional sex.

If Tempeste had been one of those girls forced out of school, her life would have completely changed. The teachers wouldn’t have discovered her infection, her father would never have gone to jail, and Tempeste would not now be helping others like her avoid a similar fate.

At PSI, we try to touch the lives of all women, at every age, providing them with the knowledge and tools to make healthy choices: We teach them about both abstinence and condom use to keep them safe from HIV; we teach them about family planning and nutrition so they deliver healthy, happy babies; and we provide women and their children with simple tools like insecticide-treated mosquito nets and safe water treatments to help them prevent malaria and water-borne illnesses like diarrhea. Perhaps more important than all of this, we develop programs that empower women within their communities and allow them take control of their own lives and the future of their families.

But we are just one part of a much broader picture. The last few lines of Tempeste’s poem remind us how interconnected we all are and what we all must do to ensure that girls like her are given the opportunities they deserve.

I have a natural name Tempeste
A name that came from Italy but I am not Italian
The meaning of the name means a beautiful women that is strong
That is why I am strong
Even stronger than the storm
That is what I am born for!!!

Editor’s Note: Ashley Judd is an actress and humanitarian who has served as Global Ambassador for PSI’s HIV education and prevention program, YouthAIDS, since 2002. PSI  is a global health organization with programs targeting malaria, child survival, HIV and reproductive health. Judd has visited slums, brothels, schools and clinics in Thailand, Cmabodia, El Salvador, Rwanda and many other countries. She has met with diplomats, heads of state, religious and political leaders to promote humanitarian causes on a political level. For more on Judd’s work, and the mission of PSI.

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Ron & Jean Amodea

    I am a professional, career musician (vocalist and gutarist, from NY)with four gold records to my credit.

    I would like to compose and record a song from Tempeste's poem, for you, Ashley – to use for promotional and awareness campaigns about the plight of these young women – all children of God.

    Would you like this done for you?

    July 15, 2009 at 10:27 am |
  2. Tina

    Thank you so much, Ms. Judd, for your well-written post about one of the greatest evils in the world. I, too, wish I could do something really constructive to put a complete end, if that's likely, to the rape and whatever abuse of girls and women everywhere. I, however, feel impotent, because as a woman, I don't even have the power to stop one rape in my neighborhood, much less all rapes and abuses everywhere. Stil, you did some good by writing about this. It may not seem much, superficially speaking, but maybe it can start an explosion of feeling in more and more people, especially in those who really have the power to do something constructive about this. Hopefully, other famous people will also use their fame and possibly also their fortune to help put right the wrongs in this world.

    July 15, 2009 at 5:47 am |
  3. Nora

    We need to join together to educate women across all nations about the abuse and where they can go to for help. Using strategies to help these girls/women empower themselves .
    It is so important to broadcast this girl's story and many others for all to hear and see. Many people are unaware or forget what many women in other parts of the world endure daily. Perhaps this could be a CNN documentary?
    Thanks for sharing this and the reminder how blessed I am to be an American women.

    July 14, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  4. Gina

    Ashley Judd should be praised. Tempeste should be hugged forever.

    July 14, 2009 at 8:49 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    For all the lucky ones like Tempeste it is sobering to think of the multitudes of girls who aren't lucky and whose lives are short and filled with cruelty and abuse. I hope more will be able to be saved from the people who use them like animals and slaves.

    July 14, 2009 at 8:33 pm |
  6. JC-Los Angeles

    Ashley, I commend you for your tireless efforts on behalf of the disenfranchised children of Sub-Saharan Africa, unfortunately, there are countless similar instances here at home.

    If we don't provide an example of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness here at home, how can our words a continent away have the appropriate meaning?

    How about creating a program where for every child helped on a different continent a child here at home receives similar goodwill.

    Eventually, we will become one.

    July 14, 2009 at 7:27 pm |
  7. Michelle Allen

    Ashley,

    Your blog is very eloquently written. I too have many stresses and hardships in my life and was having the most challenging day I have had in a very long time. After reading your blog, I am reminded, that I have my freedom and although my life has thrown me a few tragedies I too can overcome as Tempeste has in her life......I only need to hope and strive to overcome my tragedies.

    July 14, 2009 at 6:30 pm |
  8. Isabel • Brazil •

    Ashley Judd is fantastic! I love your work and I don't lose her movies.

    As a citizen, she is fabulous too. Good to read her post and know how she is engaged in humanitarian causes, and know that she spends large amounts of time to eradicate poverty and education to prevent AIDS.

    It is difficult to understand and accept that innocent children are raped and have their lives destroyed in this way.

    Ashley Judd is an example!

    July 14, 2009 at 6:10 pm |
  9. Eugenia - San Francisco, Ca

    Too much we take for granted here in America!

    @ Jean: The law of life should be an eye for an eye

    July 14, 2009 at 6:05 pm |
  10. Dustin

    The good thing about corporation manipulated recession is, that if we cut personal spending we can actually be among the more prosperous of the poor, Whoopee! However we have all been raised in the image of our corporate government, which drives into us the need for the accumulation of evermore possessions, to what purpose?, the more we possess the less we value it anyway.. Start raising our own food, and we can begin to make a financial hole in commerce. In what other ways can we learn to live without corporation? Remember we , the people who dont matter to corporation, hold their lifelines in our pockets, without our money, they would have to clean the streets of gold and announce that our paper money is worthless.

    July 14, 2009 at 5:25 pm |
  11. Jean Vaughn

    I wish so much that God would slay all the men who do these things to children and women.... and they would have a better life somewhere, somehow down the line.... God bless them all.... It breaks my heart...
    Jean

    July 14, 2009 at 4:50 pm |