By Segun Ogunlade
It was my volunteer activities for December 2 Remember, a gathering of young men and women seeking to feed a million orphans across Africa, that took me to this home in the early hours of Friday, 21st December, 2018. This home is under the supervision of Ministry of Women Affairs, Oyo State. Located along Apete-Eleyele road in Ibadan, it shares a border with The Polytechnic, Ibadan. With children numbering between 50 and 100, it also doubles as an orphanage home. With the poor condition of people living in many of the Internally Displaced Persons camp, I knew many of such stories of hardship are rampant in such homes. They are not just often told.
I was proved right when I entered the home with other volunteers. Immediately we entered, I noticed three young boys walking away from the gate and going towards the home. Two of them, I noticed firsthand, were without shoes on their legs, while one has a worn out shoe. The boy with the worn out shoe was Prince Hope (not real names), I would later find out. It was the way he expressed himself in English language that attracted me to him. Unlike the other two that were with him that appeared timid, Prince Hope (not real names) had a story to tell when we started talking whilst walking farther from the gate and moving closer to the block of buildings that housed the children. I was able to get him to narrate his story before one of the workers, a man that should be in his late fifties, drove him away from me and asked him to enter one of the blocks of buildings. But the little I was able to hear from him before he left me with other children I shall tell below.
Prince Hope (not real names) is a 12-year old boy in Junior Secondary School 2 at a school in Ibadan metropolis. He is a young man that is full of life, not minding the thought that he never had the privilege of knowing his parents. According to him, he was told his father had died and his mother a mad woman. Perhaps the story about his parents was told to placate him and not made him feel as if he was abandoned intentionally by his parents, no one could tell. From when he was born in 2006 up till 2010, he was in the same home that he now find himself again.
In 2010, luck appeared to smile at him when a woman, he said, took him to her house in Ajao, an area in Ibadan, not very far from the University of Ibadan, Ibadan. Whether this was an adoption or not, he was not sure. But what he was sure about was that he was away from the home for eight years. During this time, the woman that took him and enrolled him in school died. This, according to him, was in 2013. That put him in the care of the eldest child of the deceased woman.
Displeased by the way he was being treated, what he described as the treatment given to a house help, he left Ajao and headed for Bodija. With no fixed place to lay his head, Prince Hope (not real names) slept anywhere he found suitable within the vicinity of Bodija, not minding the evil that could befall him on one of those nights. Despite this, he said, he continued his schooling as his fees had already been paid for. He didn’t mention the exact date he left Ajao for Bodija, but it should not be less than a month ago. He mentioned nothing about the eldest child of the deceased woman coming to the school to look for him. If he had been traced to the school when he left Ajao, he could have been found easily during school hours.
After spending days sleeping around Bodija, he decided to move away to where he felt he could be helped. That search for a better treatment took him from Ibadan to Oyo on foot on Sunday, 9th December, 2018, a journey of tens of kilometres. He didn’t mention the number of days he trekked for, but it could not have been less day for a bit of his age. On Wednesday, 19th December, 2018, Hope was found where he was roaming about in Oyo and was returned to Ibadan that same day. He found himself again in the home he was taken away from when he was four.
When asked about what he would do with his life since his continual stay in the home might hamper his education for some time, he said he would think about it as time goes on. With the idea of getting someone to help him complete his education, he said he would use the opportunity to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut because of his love for exploring.
Like other children around him, he bemoaned the way he was being treated. Since he was taken from Oyo to the home on Wednesday, 19th December, 2018, his movements have been restricted for fear he might run away (though he said he had nowhere to run to). He said he was sometimes stopped from playing football with others because he is under watch. Other things he also complained as he rounded his story off include the small ration of food that he and others are served, albeit thrice a day and the lack of clothes and shoes by many of them in the house. In fact, he said he was not given any new shoe in his arrival to the home.
That was all I could get him to tell me about himself before the interruption. After hearing from him, I made an attempt to talk to the man that had told Hope to leave me. According to the man, whose identity could not be identified because I was running out of time and it was appearing as if I had neglected my primary duty of being around the children, he said Hope was a bad child that couldn’t stay in a place for long. He added that Hope had no mother and also corroborated Victor’s story that he was found in Oyo. His countenance as he talked about the young Hope was one full of dislike. The way he talked about him to me reassured me about one of Hope’s claim that he didn’t like the way he was being treated in the home. As we were talking, one of the children that looked very unhealthy was stoned by another. When I told him about it, he waved it off calling the young girl a witch to the chagrin of everyone that was with him. Verily, such a man did not fit for work in such a home.
Prince Hope (not real names) was right about the food and how small they always are. Many of the children in the house aged between 1 and 7 are greatly malnourished. Although they are full of life and often jump at the opportunity to play with any of my co-volunteers, their unhealthy body could not but be noticed. These innocent children need to be taken care of but no help seem to be coming except from few individuals that stop by to drop gifts for them. Besides being greatly malnourished children, many of them go about without shoes, unkept hair and are susceptible to various form of illness. But some of the caregivers seem to care less about some of this. One of them, a pregnant woman, was shouting on top of her voice that the children should not play with her child’s toy. Another woman, a fairly old woman that’s in charge of the toddlers told one of the children that are about ten years old to clean one of the toddlers up when the latter defecated on her body.
Also in the home is a young woman I named Mary’s mom (not real names) because I couldn’t get her name. Besides, she couldn’t speak as she has a clustered tongue, one that puts her at a disadvantage position in the home from all indications. Each time I caught a glimpse of her, she was always sitting alone and wearing a very unhappy face. This young woman is purely not feeding well. Her hair was rough and nobody around that home appear to care about her.
As for the beautiful Mary (not real name), she is full of life as she run around with other kids. I had noticed she and her mother when I saw her eating her rice from the floor. The plate of rice she was given for the afternoon had slipped out of her tiny hands and a good portion of the food was on the floor. Her mother was looking at her, unable to stop her because she couldn’t speak very well and was also weak. Mary (not real name) is a happy child that needs help, alongside other children in the toddler section of the home. Mary (not real name) and her mother need attention, if possible taken away from the home where they could get a better life. Mary (not real name) could talk in English like many of the children in the home, albeit not very well. It was not certain if she had been enrolled in school like some of the children, but she sure has a good heart.
Another child like Mary (not real name) is Jane (not real name). Jane (not real name) is younger and livelier than Mary (not real name). She is one of the toddlers with the worst case of malnutrition in the home. Always smiling and often finding her way to my phone, the joy in her heart and the liveliness of her spirit is what makes an adorable little girl. With her paled face, she couldn’t stop herself from smiling.
It is lugubrious that such a home that should be at the heart of the government is neglected and many of the children left to dabble in malnutrition. The welfare condition of the children in the home needs to be addressed in time. Those children deserve a better life and a better treatment than they are currently being given. Such a home with the way it is run with neglect could be a burial ground for many potentials. This is a call to the general public to give the children in this home a better life. They are one of us. That they are without parents doesn’t mean they should be subjected to degradation of any form. Many of these children need help. They need good education and vocational training too. It is only an eye that had seen that could tell.
Nota bene: Names used in this story are not real names.
Segun Ogunlade writes from University of Ibadan.