Leilua Lino - Helping Survivors of child abuse to find peace
In September this year the findings of a public inquiry into family violence in Samoa were officially released, and uncovered extremely high levels of violence against women and girls.
Data from the inquiry indicated that 9.5 per cent of the female respondents reported being raped by a family member in their lifetime.
The story of 18-year-old Leilua Lino is of a girl turning tragedy into a cause to empower survivors of sexual violence — having been raped by her own biological father at the age of nine, and being bold to testify against him in Court and later raise awareness in primary schools on child abuse — for the benefit of children across Samoa.
Her testimony in Court — despite her mother’s plea that he was a “good man” — proved crucial in ensuring her father was sentenced to 29 years imprisonment.
Last month Leilua received international recognition for her work at the Samoa Victim Support Group, when she was announced as one of three finalists for the International Children’s Peace Prize 2018, as her primary-school and community-focused awareness has reached over 3000 children and compelled over 100 children to report abuse, according to the Amsterdam-based not-for-profit organisation KidsRights Foundation.
The courage that she is showing and the lives that she is impacting in community schools in Samoa and in the communities makes her a nominee for the Samoa Observer People of the Year 2018.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer recently, Leilua said she came from a poor family and her mother sold cucumbers to raise her and her seven brothers’ school fees.
Her life changed when her father started drinking and would beat her up in rage.
“When I was young, my relationship with my parents was very good, I used to love going to school. My school experience had its ups and downs.
“But everything changed when my father started drinking, it changed his ways. My father was a good man, he always goes to church, but when alcohol was introduced in his life he stopped going to church.
“At the age of nine, my whole life turned upside down. It never crossed my mind that my own biological father could do something like this and that was when he raped me at a young age,” she said.
Her mother did not believe her when she told her of the incident, according to Leilua.
“As I cried myself to sleep every night, the thought of my own mother not helping me tore me apart from within. My mother would always tell me, after it happened, that my father was a good man. But I pleaded with my mother that I needed her help. My cry for help was not heard and I used to wonder if there was a reason for my existence, because no one loved me, even my own blood.”
Leilua’s abusive father eventually stopped her from attending school, and ordered that she stayed home and did the house chores. On Sundays, she found solace in the church’s Sunday school class, and one day opened up on her abuse by her father with best friend Rosalina.
“She (Rosalina) advised me to seek help because I was young and my situation was not something that could happen to me at that age. She told our pastor if he could spare his time to talk to me.
“I then shared with our pastor Lio and he asked me three times if I am really in need of help and I said yes, please help me. Our pastor contacted Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG) who sent a representative to speak to me about what happened,” she added.
Leilua moved to the SVSG — who then helped her to file a police statement that incriminated her father — and opened a new chapter in her life, by becoming an “ambassador for peace” and reaching out to children exposed to abuse through her Peace Garden and raising awareness.
“I created peace gardens in our campus which have helped 200 children to recover from trauma. I was set on becoming an ambassador of peace, to change lives of those that suffered the same fate as mine to convince them in life they are not alone; there is always someone out there that can give a helping hand.
“In life, I want to be a light that is shone upon those that have no voice; I want to dedicate my life in serving God’s purpose and not of my own desires. In the end I had the chance to forgive my own father of what he did to me not for him but for my own peace.
“In the bible it says that if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins your Father will not forgive your sins,” she added.