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What Happens When Your Family Tries To Poison You

This brave mum has lived through forced marriage, abandonment and even poisoning.

Nicole Different Path

Warning, some readers may find the content of this blog post distressing

Nicole has been living with her 76-year-old uncle, Philippe, in Glope, a rural community around 60km from Togo’s capital Lomé for nearly two years. Their little enclosure is a peaceful retreat from the busy road outside. But the serenity is a far cry from the situation two years ago when Nicole arrived at the house fighting for her life and the life of her unborn child.

Nicole with family

Married too young

In Togo, you don’t have to look far to hear stories of children orphaned early in life – Nicole was one of them. And, like so many of these children, she was sent to live with a plethora of distant relatives during her childhood.

Without a decent education, a stable background or any sense of the future, Nicole did what many girls do in the search for security – she got ‘married’. She refers to the first man she lived with as her husband, but in reality there was no ceremony, no rings and no promise of commitment. Like many women, she found herself pregnant and hoped for the best.

As a frightened 20-year-old, Nicole gave birth to two sons in consecutive years. Her ‘husband’ was far from supportive.

“When I was pregnant, he would not take me to the hospital for prenatal checkups,” she recalls. She sought help from her aging grandmother who supported Nicole as best she could through her first two pregnancies.

Hidden abuse

Eventually the father of her children lost interest in Nicole and simply left her and her sons. There had been no care or affection in their union, but while she was with this man, she’d had a place to stay and he provided food when he could. Without him, survival became Nicole’s number one priority and the urgency to feed her sons drove her to seek support wherever she could.

She took another husband shortly after, in search of the stability she was craving. She bore this man a daughter, Alice, but he refused to acknowledge the child was his unless Nicole sent her older sons away to be cared for by their father. Genuinely believing that life would be better for everyone, and seeing no other options if she wanted her newborn to eat, Nicole did what her husband asked. 

Although it broke her heart, Nicole felt she had no choice but to send the boys to their father in Lomé and hope that, in time, her new husband would relent.

As Nicole retells the story, tears well up in her eyes. “It’s after the delivery of Alice that I started having problems with her father, because he asked me to take the first two children back to their father.” Far from improving the situation, things got worse. Her husband became increasingly manipulative and abusive. “Sometimes, if he tells me to do something and I don’t do so, he would punish me, and refuse to give me food and other things,” she recalls with evident pain.

Violence against women

Violence against women in the developing world is a greatly under reported issue and there certainly aren’t social systems of support in place to help women like Nicole. According to UN Women, 41% of women in Togo have reported physical abuse at the hands of their partner and many more endure psychological abuse that’s even harder to identify.

Most are unable to do anything to change their situation as high poverty levels, illiteracy and patriarchal traditions prevent women from carving their own future and influencing decisions that shape their lives. On the legal front, the government in Togo have altered domestic laws to combat different forms of violence, but for women like Nicole, who have nowhere else to turn, legal changes make little difference.

Month after month, Nicole was forced to endure the abuse and punishments doled out by her husband. When she discovered she was pregnant with their second child the torment intensified. In a jealous manipulative rage, he forced Nicole to drink a locally brewed concoction with the aim of poisoning her.

“Her own husband spiritually attacked and caused her the sickness she was suffering,” interjects Philippe with a note of paternal protection. “He also admitted that he is the one who caused her that sickness through a drink he gave her and that she would die no matter what they could do.”

In agony, Nicole fled the house, fearing for her life and the life of her unborn child. By this point her grandmother had passed away so Nicole’s last hope was to return to the area in which she was born in search of any distant relatives who might offer some shelter.

Search for help

Had it not been for her daughter and the unborn child, Nicole may well have given up hope altogether, but she mustered what strength she had left to ask the community if they knew any of her family members.

Philippe could barely recognise the frail, weary woman who stumbled into his home. But, familial ties are important to the former primary school teacher and his heart broke for her. He didn’t have much, but what he had he was willing to share with the girl, so she could escape the torment and torture that had marked her life to date.

“I kept her with me and took care of her till she delivered without dying,” he recalls. “I told myself that whatever I get as food we would eat all together.”

The local church and Compassion bringing change

Nicole was angry, she was frightened and she was incredibly sick, but with Philippe she could live free from fear. By now, Nicole was five months pregnant and anxious about the health of her unborn child. She’d heard conversations on the street about the Child Survival project run by the Temple of Faith Church in Glope that supported pregnant women and young babies. She felt she had nothing to lose from seeking support directly.

The project implementer took one look at Nicole and registered her into the programme. In that moment, it was as if the storms that had surrounded Nicole’s life began to abate. The first thing the church did was to get her the medical attention she urgently needed and ensure she received regular food and hygiene kits to sustain the family.

“During Daniella’s pregnancy, I went to the hospital for prenatal checks; I had anaemia. So, I was like always sick because I did not feel well,” she says. “I had an ultrasound scan whereas I never had that opportunity before. I became healthy before giving birth to my child and this made so happy.”

As Nicole’s health improved, so too did her outlook and attitude to life. The hard exterior that Nicole had developed to protect herself began to soften; the anger she had harboured was released and the trust she found so hard to place in people was restored.

Having spent all her life fighting by herself to survive, it gave great comfort to Nicole to know that she had the wider support of the church and the team at the Compassion project. “I imagined and expected my life to be miserable, that has not been the case,” she beams.

For years Nicole lived without the support of a family – now she has a whole church family to care for her. “I believe that it is God who has chosen the project workers to come and work in our community,” says Philippe with pride. “In some organisations, the people who are in charge are arrogant and they despise others. Contrarily, these project workers are so humble, they are like my own children.”

Mum kissing daughter in Togo

You can support a mum like Nicole by donating today.

Save the lives of vulnerable mothers and babies in Togo, by supporting Compassion UK’s Different Path Appeal. Even though our Different Path appeal is now closed you can still donate. Your gift won't be doubled by the UK government, but it will still make a big difference. 

A hope-filled future

Daniella was safely delivered in the hospital and has continued to grow in strength and character from day to day. For the first time in her life, Nicole is now looking to the future with hope and not fear. It’s clear that she still feels the immense pain of being separated from her two eldest children – a union that she hopes will be reconciled.

Nicole Togo mum smiling with daughter

However, she is in a much better position. She no longer has to worry about where the next meal is coming from, she is no longer scared of getting sick, and she no longer fears abuse.
While Nicole’s experiences may be difficult to imagine, her dreams and ambitions for her children are the same as those of mothers across the world.

“My prayer and expectation for them is that they will go to school and end up have a good job. I don’t expect any of them to suffer as I suffered,” she says with a smile. Her prayer is no longer a distant dream, but a reality she is confident will be fulfilled.

WORDS : Compassion UK

PHOTOS : Compassion UK



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