Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Twelve new children move into the village

Children are like flowers. Whenever I watch them playing, laughing and doing any sorts of things I feel good and motivated. I see the SOS contribution through their eyes when they are happily living like children. It’s indeed satisfying and rewarding to see a child who was once deprived of parental love and care feeling good and well taken care of in an SOS family.

Since the children moved into the new village, there is recognisable evidence that their life has changed. When asked, most of them quickly express their happiness and appreciation. They feel good about the adults around them.

June and July were months of real happiness to the SOS families as 12 new children were ‘reborn’ into the village. Old children eagerly wait at the village car park each time new children are admitted into the village. They help with the children’s belongings and warmly accompany them up to their respective new homes. This gives a feeling of being accepted and a sense of belonging to the new children. Mothers organise the reception of the new children, each in a different style.

Surprisingly all the new children have changed and look very healthy and well taken care of after a period of just one month. When a relative of one of the new children came for a visit, the child felt so uneasy that he tried to avoid being nearby. When asked, the child expressed fear of being taken back by his grandmother, a conception that was only corrected by his SOS mother’s intervention. He is not to blame for the action. It goes without saying that his life had changed for the better. Friends, good food, good care, a feeling of being loved and a hopeful future are what he would miss.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Caught in the vicious cycle of the Poverty Trap

On 5 August 2009, a Catholic catechist led me to Oke’s home (not real name), located 20 km away from Gulu town. We went to follow up on the case of three children referred to us by the catechist as being in a worrying and pitiful situation. This is the family of Oke and his wife, who live with their four grown up daughters in two old huts in a former Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp. Three of the four daughters have children. The eldest daughter is mentally unstable. She has had three children: two girls and one boy. The boy, the youngest, is now crawling and still living with the mother. The two girls were taken by the catechist, who, on humanitarian grounds offered to temporarily take care of them while she looks for well-wishers to take over, because she also does not have resources. It’s these three children that concerned me enough to make a follow up.

On reaching Oke’s house, we found all the family members at home. What raised my eyebrows was the situation we found them in. The three babies (grandchildren) were naked and as dirty as all the adults taking care of them. I imagined they had spent a month without bathing for lack of soap. They looked sad, apart from the youngest child, who crawled towards me with a big smile, and kept on smiling until we left. Probably he had seen a father. He does not have a known father, like his two siblings. Unknown abusive men take advantage of his mother’s mental disability and she ends up pregnant.

The mental status of Oke’s eldest daughter is seen as a curse to the family. Even the two other daughters, who seem mentally sound, have fallen into the trap of exploitative and abusive men, who impregnate them and deny responsibility, claiming that they cannot have children with mad people.

I stared at them in disbelief, asked myself how a human being can suffer to that extent without help. I later discovered that a certain NGO had built for them a small hut. But a house without any economic empowerment had little impact on their life. The grass on it is disappearing slowly by slowly without being replaced. They hardly eat two meals a day and the World Food Programme has stopped distributing food. They only rely on handouts given by sympathisers.

The family have a piece of land away from where they live. When asked why they cannot relocate to their land and grow crops, Oke expresses fear that this house in the IDP camp would be taken by other people. The house now becomes a roadblock to positive thinking. Some of their neighbours ‘help’ them by giving them handouts, while others use the daughters to till their land for food. I look at Oke forcefully expressing himself with desperation. Although he is happy to see us concerned, his rage is deep rooted in his heart. Tears roll down his fleshless cheeks during the conversation, which made us change the conversation. He sees no reason to continue living. He prefers death to suffering.

I reflect a little bit and deep in my mind I put the blame on the government and civil societies for not coming to the assistance of such extremely needy families. But why blame the government and the civil societies? We are also a civil society that can take care of Oke’s grandchildren to save their lives. I took courage and soon these children will be in a better home and look forward to a promising future.