‘S.O.S’!! — FROM THE ORPHANAGE AT OBENSU, NEAR POKUASE
By CAMERON DUODU
The Ghanaian Times 17.09.2013
She is five years old. But she stands no taller than my 13-month-old grandson!
I am not qualified to diagnose the causes of her apparent ‘dwarfism’ – whether it is hereditary; or caused by malnutrition; or another disease.
What I do know is that I can foresee a life of struggle for this young child.
She will be laughed at by cruel schoolmates, who will inevitably call her names, such as “adadewa” (a person who never grows up physically.) Unless she’s rescued by intelligent teachers, who can sensitise her schoolmates to the fact that she is not responsible for her size, and that tormenting her with sarcastic remarks, or cheating her out of what is rightly her due (especially at meal-times) or of other possessions and privileges, just because she is simply too small to fight back, will amount to her being subjected to serious ‘victimisation’.
Now, that form of torture is against universal human rights and should be severely punished. But that can only be done by teachers who understand that some children have special needs, including protection from their peers. They also need psychological counselling most of their lives.
I discovered the little girl at an orphanage at Abensu, near Pokuase, in the Accra West district, last week. This orphanage is a special one because it was started for children whose parents have died from HIV/Aids and some of whom are suffering from the disease themselves. Unfortunately, the founder of the orphanage, Mrs Hilda Mensah, an HIV patient herself, has just succumbed to the disease. Her two children one young man called Michael and his younger sister, are doing their best to keep the orphanage alive. But they have very serious problems that need immediate attention. Hence this ‘S.O.S’ call from me, on their behalf.
First of all, they need new premises for the twelve children at the orphanage, since the leasehold for their current home, will expire in December 2013. Even if the leasehold were not to be expiring, they would need to move, for the premises are quite unsuitable. There is no running water, and it is a miracle that the children are not suffering from numerous diseases, given the toilet facilities they are obliged to use.
There are not enough beds, and some children sleep on foam mattresses on the floor. There are not enough of these foam mattresses, either. Finally, the accommodation is absolutely inadequate for sleeping, eating and assembling. Adequate play facilities are out of the question, as can be imagined.
The plight of the orphanage was brought to my attention by my daughter-in-law, Mrs Emese Duodu, who has just arrived in Ghana with her husband, Korieh. Both are great networkers and, of course, dedicated to humanitarian work. They’ve already raised some funds on Facebook to help with feeding the kids, and have also contributed money from their own pockets.
As soon as they made their concerns known to me, I apprised a friend of mine who has recently settled in Ghana from Britain, and who is well versed in religious and humanitarian work, Mr Fred Labi, of the situation.
“Ok”, Fred said. “I shall contact my branch of the Rotary Club and see whether they will be receptive to a presentation on behalf of the orphanage.”
In less than a week, Fred had arranged for Emese to do a ‘Power-point’ presentation of the sort which might have made the Supreme Court’s work on the election petition easier, had the Court been willing to use one!
We went to meet members of the Spintex Road, Accra, branch of the Rotary Club at the N’Joy Hotel at 5p.m. last Sunday.
The meeting was a revelation. Those of us who live abroad are often conditioned by the few people we encounter on our short visits home, into believing that Ghana is full of self-centred, selfish people, who will “cut your throat”, if you make the least mistake and trust them in any transaction. What we don’t often get a chance to find out is that the good old noble spirit of humanitarian communalism, on which many Ghanaians brought up in the rural areas, as well as some sections of the urban areas, were weaned, is still alive and well in Ghanaian society, today.
I met many urbane and generous-spirited people at the Rotary Club on Sunday night.
A nice man in a white outfit rose to greet me: “My name is Dali. I’ve heard of you, of course, but never dreamt of meeting you! You are welcome!”
“Oh, Cameron Duodu of The Gab Boys?” asked the man sitting next to Mr Dali. “So glad to meet you in the flesh!”
I was touched. My novel, “The Gab Boys”, was published as long ago as 1967 and has been out of print for donkey’s years. Yet there are people who still remember it.
“I am Shika, past president of the Rotary Club, Spintex Road branch,” said a beautiful, well-spoken lady. I learnt later that she had worked for the African Union for nearly 30 years, but had now come back home. I also met Serwaa, the vivacious Secretary of the branch. I sat next to a vivacious nd highly-motivated Travel Consultant called Nina Kumi, who works for a go-go-go company whose name betrays the high expectations of its creators with regard to performance: “BESPOKE” .
The long and the short of it is that we had a very pleasant evening with the Club members, discussing the plight of a group of children in our country, none of whom was known to us personally but many of whom can grow up to be of great service to Mother Ghana, if we don’t allow indifference and a lack of imagination to consign them to the back burner of society.
Suggestions for saving the orphanage were plenty – the operators were advised to contact orphanages that also deal with HIV patients, so that in case the threat to the leasehold becomes a reality in December, the kids would have somewhere to go. And efforts should, of course, be made to find a new place for the, should they be temporarily dispersed, so that they can be reunited. All the suggestions were noted down by Michael Mensah, the current caretaker of the orphanage.
The icing on the cake was provided by several pledges of rice, foam mattresses and cash made by individual members of the branch. The branch, as a body, will send a team to Pokuase on Wednesday, 18 September, to make a presentation of these gifts to the children, and also see things for themselves.
Is this Ghana, where it can take a person three months to obtain a driving licence? Is this the Ghana where imported meat and fish can be left in containers to rot at Tema harbour, because officials make it so difficult to clear goods imported from abroad, instead of releasing them quickly to be put on the market to stem inflation?
Yes, in that same Ghana, a group of people, out of the goodness of their hearts, can meet total strangers with a pitiful story to tell, and decide, on the spot, to devote time, money and effort to deal with the problems of which they have just been made aware. And to begin doing it in three days’ time!
Not only that. I was told that there are 28 branches of the Rotary Club in Ghana, and that all the branches would be informed of the plight of the Abensu Orphanage, and invited to share in the task of saving the children from a fate which none of us can imagine, if nothing is done fast.
Me? I pledged to join the Rotary Club! I knew of its existence, of course, but didn’t take much interest in its work. I shall certainly accept an invitation, if one is forthcoming, to join the Spintex Road branch, as I can apparently be transferred later to another nearer to my abode.
I urge people, young and old, with experience in all walks of life, to join such organisations and not waste their time continuing to operate in the self-centred template in which many of us are fixed. For mixing with others and sharing a common purpose with them to serve humanity, can be a most rewarding experience in all sorts of ways.
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I sadly have to inform readers who may not have heard the news, that Henry Ofori, who, for many years, entertained newspaper readers in Ghana with his columns written under the pen name, “Carl Mutt”, has been gathered to his fathers, He was 89.
Henry Ofori also authored “Life Gets Tedious” by Cassius Nimbus, in The Ghanaian Times. I am sure the many readers of this paper, whose days he brightened with his unique sense of humour, will join me in sending our condolences to his family.
I implore the Ghana Journalists Association to honour him, not only for his excellent writing abilities but also because he was the pioneer Secretary of the Ghana Press Club, which grew to become the Ghana Association of Journalists, which is now, the GJA.
May he rest in peace.