Oral History 06.2015: Rosemary Sabatino, Supporting Children in Crisis

This is an interview of Rosemary Sabatino. It was conducted by Gloria Hoover on April 30, 2015.

Gloria: Can you begin by telling me a little bit about yourself?

Rosemary: My name is Rosemary Sabatino. I have been living  in Fort Mill, SC for 11 years but spent most of my 37 married years in Florida.. I am 69 years young and I am a widow. I spent most of my working years as a Division Manager for a legislative Research Firm (National Write Your Congressman). However, since 2004, I have been affiliated with Crisis Care Training International, a ministry of WEC International for children in crisis .

G: Can you explain what Crisis Care Training International (CCTI) does?

R: Our mission statement explains that we exist to facilitate, through training and resources, a hope filled tomorrow for children and families in crisis situation. Our task is to equip communities, the local church and caregivers with the training and resources necessary to bring healing and hope to children and families in crisis. Of the 2.2 billion children in the world clearly 2/3 (1.5 billion) are hurting. Although many people have a heart to help these children, they do not have the training and resources to be effective: so CCTI was born out of the desperate cry of caregivers and communities for help and training.

G: What led you to working with CCTI?

R: After my husband passed away, I felt the Lord was leading me to go to Bible college. So, at the age of 59 I enrolled in Columbia International University (CIU). It was at CIU that I learned of the plight of hurting children. When I read that little boys were having their hand severed by the government of Sierra Leone, West Africa in order to prevent them from rebelling against the government later in life, I was greatly impacted. I felt as though the Lord was calling me to help these boys. It was then that I met a lovely Dutch couple working with Rainbows of Hope (a sister organization of WEC to CCTI).They had just come back from Sierra Leone and they invited me to consider going to Senegal, West Africa for a summer to work with rescued street children. I took them up on the offer and spent 3 summers in Dakar, Senegal at House of Hope, a home for rescued street boys. The 2nd summer there I knew the Lord was calling me to work with Rainbows and CCTI full time. I felt compelled to leave my home in Florida and all my belongings with it  to join WEC International and CCTI. But I never dreamed I would work with the woman  who pioneered writing and publishing materials to help those working with children at risk and in crisis; Dr Phyllis Kilbourn. It is unbelievable that someone like me would end up her assistant and then asked to take on the role of director of  CCTI.

G: What are some of the hardest things about your work with CCTI?

R: First and foremost would be the need— to see first-hand the condition of an over-whelming number of hurting children globally due to abuse, neglect, poverty, war, exploitation and abandonment.  Today in a world of chaos, depravity and violence children and families are marinating in trauma and we all have a responsibility to respond.  (Dr. Diane Langman). Second would be the apathy of many people towards the plight of the children. Third would be the responsibility of directing an organization like CCTI—I don't always feel up to the task but the Lord has always provided wisdom, strength and endurance..

G: What are some of the best things about your work with CCTI?

R: First would be the children. To see those who were hurting receive help and respond with hope is such a blessing and reward. Often times it is the children that minister to us rather than the other way around; they bring a joy that is contagious. Second would be to meet and fellowship with those on the front-lines working with families and children. I call them the real deal. They dedicate their lives and give up so much to those who are in need and they are my heroes. To get to help them in some small way is such a privilege and honor!  And thirdly would be the opportunity to visit so many countries. Even though much of what we see is hard, getting to know the people and their cultures is precious.

G: How have you seen CCTI encourage peacebuilding?

R: In so many places the street children, or children or war, or those exploited into prostitution or labor are looked as a threat to the community and often they are ostracized, shunned or even feared . We have opportunity to see communities change their attitude towards the children as they are healed from trauma—they are then seen as people of value to the community and  accepted. Also, part of healing for the children is to try to be reconciled if possible with family —this takes time and often they may not have the opportunity to live with family but wounds are healed and both sides learn to have amicable relationship. 

G: What could be done to encourage more peacebuilding? (with CCTI, between people, and/or just in general)

R: Understanding culture has been an eye opener for me. I have seen more disputes erupt over misunderstandings between differing cultures. If we had more education on cultures we could learn to appreciate the differences instead of fearing or fighting over them.  As part of a faith community we should take the lead in accepting and loving even those whose ideologies are different and opposed to our own.  As far as the children are concerned; more effective advocacy on their behalf is so needed. Educating communities on the value of all children can bring change. Additionally, although most countries have ratified the UN Rights of the Child few countries abide by them. In many countries the girl-child is treated as subservient to the boy child; deprived of health services, education and in some instances equal food. These kinds of prejudices breed contempt and opposition.  Unresolved childhood trauma and feelings of grief and loss that are stuffed down instead of addressed will later on erupt in unhealthy ways; anger, violence etc. We can eliminate actions that disrupt peace by helping the children heal from their emotional  wounds.

G: How do you see yourself as having helped peacebuilding, both with CCTI and in other ways

R: My thinking is that peace begins within the heart then within each community,  family and organization. I believe this is the heart of God—that each person is created in the image of God and is worthy of respect. We have a policy at CCTI: the work we do is secondary to how we treat and value each other. We have an unwritten rule: as soon as misunderstanding takes place go to your colleague and apologize and make things right. This short circuits an atmosphere of disharmony. Through the help of God we take seriously the scripture which  states we should esteem others better than ourselves.  Our mother organization, WEC International, has a protocol for reconciliation that we reacquaint our selves with at scheduled conferences.

G: What are some of the hardest things about being a peacebuilder, in your experience?

R: Unrealistic expectations of others. There is only one person you can manage, and that is yourself. But we can be an example and emanate an atmosphere of peace.  As a peacemaker we  can count on getting hurt but retaliation or revenge is not  the reaction.

G: What are some of the best things about being a peacebuilder, in your experience?

R: First would be the peace within that can pass understanding. Second would be the opportunity to appreciate and have relationship with people different then yourself; this is precious and eye-opening. Third, you may have the opportunity to make positive changes.

G: What advice do you have for anyone that wants to make a difference in the world? 

R: Begin with right where you are and focus on children, they are the future,  You cannot change all the children of the world,  but you can change the world for one child - and that's worth it!

G: What is one of the best memories you have from your work with children?

R: There are so many but this was a turning point for me. There was a drop-in center in Dakar Senegal where street kids could come  to get a bath, something to eat and a change of clothes. I was working there this particular day. There must have been over 50 or 60 boys there waiting for a piece of bread and a cup of milk. While waiting they had the opportunity to play games, draw or just sit and relax. One little boy, about 6 or 7 followed me and finally sat next to me as he drew several pictures. We didn't speak the same language but somehow we communicated. When it was time to handout the bread he motioned for me to come sit next to him again. As I sat down I had one hand on the table - it was my right hand on which I had a burn mark from cooking breakfast. The boy who was tattered and obviously mal- nourished reached out his hand and lightly soothed over the burn, As I looked in his eyes i could see his concern; as if he was saying "I am so sorry you are hurt; I know how it feels."  His compassion for me broke my heart.  Then I heard a voice in my head say "who will help them."  It was then I knew I was to work with CCTI full time.  I never saw that boy again; but his face and eyes are as clear to me today as they were then. I pray that one day he would know how his little hand on my wound resulted in helping little wounded children just like him in many places.

G: Everyone has hard times and their morale lowers. How do you pick yourself back up and continue the work, even if it seems like things are working against you? (in general, but are there any specific examples?)

R: It is easy to get down or discouraged - but for me my strength and refreshment comes from the Lord - His Word is great encouragement to me and when I call on Him He never fails to answer leaving me with joy unspeakable.  Also I have learned to take care of myself. Get good rest etc. The world is not on MY shoulders, that's His job - I just have to be responsible for what is before me that day, And, I laugh a lot - I don't take myself too seriously- I love people and having a good fun time together is great medicine!