May 15, 2016 News
…Abbigale Loncke is a ‘Special Person’
“My heart goes out to them. If you haven’t physically sat and listened to these children you shouldn’t pass off their hurt as normal. These are our children who have been sexually abused or neglected. They weren’t given the opportunity to live a ‘normal’ life from a tender age. That was my push.”
By Jeanna Pearson
“My heart goes out to them. If you haven’t physically sat and listened to these children you shouldn’t pass
off their hurt as normal. These are our children who have been sexually abused or neglected. They weren’t given the opportunity to live a ‘normal’ life from a tender age. That was my push,” the child counsellor said.
At thirty, Abbigale Loncke has been braving a broken social system to help every child that comes in her path. At 19 years old, she dropped her dream to pursue law and followed a burning desire to counsel young children who have been abused, neglected or involved in serious crimes.
“I was given the opportunity to work on some of the most high profile cases with children in London…cases that you might have seen on the BBC or CNN,” she said. “But still my heart was here. I wanted to take all that I had learnt and bring it to Guyana to help our children that are placed in prison facilities, children that are in government homes. I wanted a better social system,” she added.
Loncke was pursuing a law degree at the University of Guyana when she was given an opportunity to study and work in the United Kingdom. Leaving her family behind, she packed and moved. Her passion for law was still burning when she arrived in the foreign land but soon afterward, a group of children in a prison facility in London quickly ousted that vision.
While applying to different colleges in London, Loncke managed to secure a job as a receptionist at the Orchard Lodge, which at the time was London’s only secure facility for housing the highest profile and most dangerous teenagers. She recalled the high security and restricted contact with its residents, who were boys between the ages of 12 and 16.
Some of these boys were there on welfare grounds; others were on temporary stay for remand purposes while the remainder were those sentenced for serious crimes like armed burglary, sexual abuse, rape,
manslaughter and murder.
“The security was tense. I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to interact with them on a regular basis, but something about them sparked an interest in me,” she said. “They were boys that did the worse crimes in London…boys that killed their parents…boys that raped their siblings…boys that were a part of gang wars, and I suddenly wanted to work with them,” she stated.
The horrifying stories that she heard about these children were a far cry from how she grew up.
Born on October 29, 1985 in Essequibo, Loncke grew up with her mother and step-father, along with her two brothers, Kirk Beaton and Ronsford Beaton. She stated that although she did not grow up with her biological father, her stepdad stepped in and filled that void.
Her parents gave her a stable life, grounded in the church and shaped to be humble. Being the eldest, she said she watched her mom and father struggle to give them a good home.
“My mom did odd jobs and my dad who was a contractor worked whenever work was available. That is what I think taught me not to take anything for granted. It made me want to excel academically and professionally.”
Despite the struggles, Loncke said there was a lot of love and friendship in her family. And that was what she wanted to deposit in children that were living in government children homes.
“I had my family…they pushed me…they backed me and we each left a mark on each other,” she reflected with a fond smile, while briefly relating two unfortunate incidents.
“Family is what held me together and so I know the importance of a family.”
The strong bond between her and her family, coupled with a new avid interest in child protection, Loncke applied to work in the units with the boys as a care officer, resulting in her becoming the youngest prison care officer in the entire reformatory.
From that point, her interest was sparked in counselling, psychology, and in why people end up the way they do, “and what was going on in their minds…and what could lead them to kill their father and their mother”.
Studying psychology at the Open University in England, Loncke continued to grasp as much knowledge in child protection, mental health and caring for the elderly as possible.
“All the time I was gathering information to bring back home,” she said, adding that on one visit to Guyana she had seen a young boy roaming the streets of Anna Regina, and it worried her that nothing was being done to remove him from the streets and have him placed into a home.
She highlighted that the social welfare system in England was so rigid it was hard for things like a child roaming the streets to fall through the cracks. “This prompted me to come back home,” she said.
The first thing Loncke did when she returned in 2011 was visit the Human Services Ministry and presented them with her qualifications to work in their social system. She said she did not want anything else than to work in the system and make it better.
It was then she was appointed to work along with the Child Care and Protection Agency to counsel children in government homes and implement strategies to help enhance the child protection arrangement.
What she encountered shocked her emotionally and professionally. She said a lot of things were different and a lot of systems weren’t in place. Instances where she expected two children to work with one staffer were not the norm. Typically, there were 12 children to one staff member.
She said she was accustomed to working in a system where each child had their own counsellor, not in a home with 80 children and only one counsellor.
However, she stated that things gradually began to change and a lot of strategies were integrated into the scheme. She said one of their achievements was to have children re-integrated with their parents.
Children in most of these government homes had been living there for over seven years, she said, adding that that should not be the case. She stated that a child should not be in government care for more than a year or two.
She noted that these children needed special care, since most of them were sexually abused or neglected at a young age. She had a hard road ahead; she needed them to move past the hurt and the pain, push the void aside and focus on building themselves.
“There was always a void to fill and we can’t fill that void, but at least we can help them to see beyond it and the damage.”
Loncke intertwined her life with these children; she still remembers every case, every name. On several occasions she recalled getting out of bed to go and search for children who would have run away from the facility.
“These were most broken of the broken children. Empathy became my tool, along with showing them a lot of love and care. I still remember every detail of their cases and what happened to them…I remember all of their names.”
Apart from counselling the children, she started to get them involved in community work, volunteering at the Palms and engaging in after-school programmes.
Although she has left the Child Care and Protection Agency, Loncke continues to volunteer and work with children in need of special attention. She provides free counselling to both children and adults.
She currently sits on the board of the Community Care Agency as a social consultant for women empowerment and child care. She said she had decided to end her career at Child Care and Protection Agency because she wanted to push herself as an entrepreneur and delve deeper into social work.
Presently, she is engaging the governments of Guyana and Grenada on several proposals to improve the respective social and health care systems. She is also working in providing care for the elderly and aid for single mothers.
Loncke volunteers at elderly homes regularly and offers personal care to the residents.
“I think it is my duty to give back to the society… it is not a burden on my heart to help people who can’t afford certain things. The elderly people have worked their whole lives and now most of them are left alone…so a friendly face and warm afternoon can go a long way to make them happy,” she said.
She is also working on setting up a soup kitchen in Berbice.
She said she lives by a John Bunyan quote that states, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you,” and so she urges her fellow social workers to be dynamic and think outside of the box when dealing with hard cases, especially cases of children being abused and neglected.
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