This film clip (one minute trailer above) details the emotional, sexual, physical and spiritual abuse of Christian missionary children at Mamou Alliance Academy Boarding School in Guinea, West Africa, from the late 1940s through the 1970s. Mamou was the first Christian Boarding School to be investigated for child abuse.
“According to Missionary Kids Safety Net, 21 other Christian denominations have reported child abuse occurring at countless missionary boarding schools.” The Presbyterian Church and the United Methodist Church have both launched investigations. (If you are a reader currently dealing with a similar issue, visit the Missionary Kids Safety Net website to find support and assistance.)
Here are just a few examples of the types of abuse that children at Mamou suffered. The first-grade teacher terrorized the children daily by shrieking at them, and regularly turning over whole desks (with the child in it) when she was displeased. Both adult women and adult men sexually abused children. The school was a perfect set-up for pedophiles, according to the now-adult survivors of this abuse. Children caught whispering in bed after lights were out were beaten until they were bloody.
This abuse of the children was shown in the later investigation to have not just been a few individuals, but a complete systemic problem of abuse of children for four decades. Parents were kept in the dark because all letters home were severely censored and controlled as to include only positive content. Many more precise details of the abuse at Mamou can be read about HERE.
After watching this film, as a teacher, it’s now very clear to me how this abuse could have happened.
The explanation lies in the fact that child care and education of the children was completely devalued. According to the official Grace Report ( p. 10), “the children were viewed as a hindrance to the work of God.“In addition, the adults placed in charge of the children in the school were the adults in the missionary community who were not good at learning languages, or in other ways not suited to “missionary” work. They were put into child care of the other missionaries’ children BY DEFAULT. In other words, it was thought that, “those who cannot DO, will TEACH, or care for the children.”
By definition, it’s clear that caring for the children was also a very low-status job within the missionary community. Not only did these people have no love for their work, but that many of them really did not want to be there (most wanted to be out doing missionary work themselves, not child care). Their work with the children was not valued by the missionary community. In addition, those in child care were isolated with the children 24-hours-a-day and had no respite from their undoubted frustrations, nor outside supervision (or help) in dealing with their frustrations. It appears to me that many of these adults also had multiple psychological problems of their own which were never addressed.
The plain fact is, no one should be actively involved in child care unless they themselves like children. Unfortunately, because children are an economic drain when they are young, often the least competent people are put in charge of caring for children. This seems to be what happened here.
The Christian & Missionary Alliance, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been sending missionaries to Africa since 1884. All missionary parents of the time (early 60’s) were expected to send their children to boarding school the minute they were of school age (at six years old). It was not a choice. The missionary culture impressed upon parents that they were following in the footsteps of God in doing His work, that they were willing to sacrifice their sons and daughters to boarding school so that they would be free and have the time to do “God’s work.”
Furthermore, the school was usually between 500-1000 miles away from where most parents were living, and it was a horrendous journey of several days in each direction in wild country without roads or bridges. The children were taken there at the beginning of the school year and picked up nine months later. The schools encouraged parents to have minimal, or no contact with their children in the meantime. (Although partings were terribly difficult for both parents and children, the parents did NOT know their children were being abused. They thought they were leaving their children with adult friends of theirs in the community.)
This 70-minute documentary is posted on YouTube in several parts. (Each part is between six and eight minutes.) Below are links and short resumés of each part, in case readers want to see only a short part of the documentary.
Part I–Missionary life involves suffering and hardship “in the work of following Christ.” Sacrifice is considered to be an element of this, and this involves “sacrificing” one’s own children to boarding school from the age of 6, for the sake of the “lost.”
Part II–The trip to school was 500-1000 miles with no paved roads, and necessity to cross rivers by ferryboat, or just trying to drive through. Once the children are there, they are there for nine months, and you never saw your parents once. Parents were encouraged not to go there. There was a lot of pressure, “Good parents don’t cry when their kids leave.”
Part III–“Dorothy Adam, the school nurse, ‘ran down to Mexico to get some dental training’ and she was horrific!” She almost always drilled into the gums, and when the children cried, she would scream, “You’re such a baby for crying!” Some children had to have their arms tied down into the dental chair, and an African would have to hold their head while she drilled away without novocaine, not because it wasn’t available, but she chose not to use it “out of being sadistic.”
Part IV – The missionary culture, what children were told, and why they did not report the abuse as young children.
Part V–“While you’re a kid there, you put up with it, and you figure ‘this is the way the world works.’ ” Survivors of Mamou talk about how the experiences have impacted them as adults.
Part VI–Adults who were molested as children began to contact each other on the advice of therapists. They became concerned that some of these individuals involved in the abuse were still out there with children. However, church authorities wanted nothing to do with investigating the allegations, and did their best to ignore the issues and dissuade those who were molested from bringing the charges to light.
Part VII–The only way this issue finally got any attention is when the survivors went to the media and shamed the Christian & Missionary Alliance into paying attention to what had happened at Mamou School over several decades. Finally a group of five investigators was put together. In the end, the report showed it wasn’t just a few bad individuals. It was a “consistent, systemic problem from the late 40’s through the 70’s.” At this point, a retreat was held for Mamou victims. 80 alumni, 50 parents, and 20 spouses attended.
Part VIII–The organization asked for forgiveness at the retreat (after stonewalling all the way up to the retreat). The survivors felt they were just trying to get off the hook by asking for forgiveness. Some of the survivors explain how they are now moving forward with their lives, and getting past the abuses of Mamou.
Part IX–Eight staff, over who the church still had jurisdiction, were now accused of sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, psychological abuse, or physical abuse. Church discipline hearings took place for three, and two had their licenses and credentials removed. Many others were unfortunately no longer under church jurisdiction.
Dorothy Wormley, the first and second grade teacher who had turned over desks with the children sitting in them, was accused of physical, psychological, and spiritual abuse. She denied all charges and refused to cooperate. Dorothy Adam was charged with physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse. She denied all charges and was formally reprimanded. Grace and Larry Wright were charged with physical and psychological abuse. Larry was under the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, and they refused to cooperate. No action was taken against them.
The pedophile who raped Marilyn many times was not formally accused because she was the only person to testify against him, and there was no other evidence. He is still employed by the Christian Missionary Alliance. Others claim privately to have been abused by him, but the others are not willing to come forward publicly. No legal charges were brought against any of the staff members. “All the perpetrators got ‘slaps on the wrist,’ but no one was hauled away and put into handcuffs.”
Part X–When the report came out, many people started to contact them. They have now formed an organization called Missionary Kids Safety Net, which includes a website and forum. Most people who come onto the forum say, “Oh, I thought I was totally alone! I thought I was the only one out there!” They also offer assistance in terms of advice for who to go to, and people to contact.
The group met with church leaders to suggest changes, but the leaders insisted that it be in a closed meeting. They have never released the recommendations, and none of the recommendations have been implemented.
I know what my own recommendations would be. No one should be in teaching or child care unless they feel they are doing the VERY important work of “creating the next generation.” Their work needs to be valued by the entire community, and the people doing it need to prefer that work to being out doing missionary activities.
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