Priscilla was already a motherless when her father died in a gold mining accident in western Ghana, recalls James Kotey, pastor of the Shofar Revival Church. He saw her for the first time when she was barely four years old and she lay alone at the entrance to the mine, motionless like those faithful dogs that wait for an owner who will never return. “She was literally lying on the ground,” Kotey recalls. Probably, Priscilla did not understand that she no longer had anyone in this world. Other miners detailed to the religious the misfortune of the girl, to whom a woman gave some food so that she would not die of hunger. The pastor took the little girl in her arms and took her to her orphanage in Accra, the capital of Ghana, which was not yet called the African Street Kids Orphanage (ASKO) at the time.
Not all the street children who live poorly in the African country are lucky enough to come across a good Samaritan. Perhaps because they number in the thousands. They are seen making a living under the scalextric of urban bridges next to Circle Station, where Accra bustles with chaotic and feverish traffic. Also marking territory, in gangs of harsh innocence, along the beaches that dot the Ghanaian coastline, settling in for the night in the markets when the stalls close or begging at traffic lights or at bus stations.
We do the work that the government would have to do
Kwaku Amoah, head of the Victory Foundation
There are no reliable data that quantify this tragedy. The latest estimate dates back to 2010, when the Ministry of Welfare and various NGOs estimated that there were more than 60,000 minors that year —in the Accra region alone— in “street situations”, according to the expression used by the Street Children Empowerment Foundation (SCEF, Foundation for the empowerment of street children). Its director, Paul Semeh, explains that the figures include minors who sleep on the street and those who have a meager roof to spend the night and wander the rest of the day, without school, schedules or an adult to take responsibility for them. them and moved by the mere survival instinct. The causes that explain this drama are several: abandonment, orphanhood, abuse, family dysfunction, exodus from the countryside to the city or little birth control, among others, but they all converge on the common denominator of extreme poverty.
Semeh believes that the absence of statistics reveals the ultimate reason that perpetuates the problem: the lack of political will to solve it. This is an opinion shared by the four organizations visited for this report that, due to the negligence of the highest levels, strive to stop the continuous trickle of minors thrown onto the streets. “The elites have immunized themselves, they have normalized the situation,” laments Semeh. “We do the work that the government should do,” says Kwaku Amoah, of the Victory Foundationwhich welcomes about 60 children in its hostel-school in Namong, a village in Offinso, in central Ghana.
Time is running out
Amoah’s mother, Victoria Addai, the daughter of peasants, slowly walks the kilometer of subtropical vegetation that separates the school from the residence. At 70 years old, Addai has severely swollen legs and suffers from other undiagnosed ailments. She looks fragile and worried, always alert and aware of the children.
Madam Victoria, as everyone in Namong knows her, sleeps with the children and goes to school every day to provide them with education, order and values. On the day of the visit, a boy of about 10 years old, with his rags and his lost air, stands out among the cheerful bustle of green and white school uniforms. “Just arrived. A few months ago his mother lost her mind and he decided it was better to leave home, ”explains Amoah.
25 years ago, Madam Victoria began to take care of dispossessed infants. Her son was six years old at the time and grew up watching her mother adopt homeless children. The young man studied Education and today he wants to “take the foundation to the next level.” A goal that only slows down the shortage of funds.
The organizations try to mobilize donors to obtain funds that finance the studies of the children and prevent them from returning to the streets
In the case of Pastor Kotey, the step into action came about thanks to his own son. On their way to school, they always passed a dump where Kennedy and his sister Pascale, ages five and three respectively, were digging for scraps of food. The boy asked his father how, being a man of God, he could contemplate such a picture every day and continue as if nothing had happened. It was the beginning of ASKO, which currently houses 23 girls and boys (now adolescents) and is looking for sponsors to pay for their studies.
It’s Sunday and at the Shofar Revival Church, west of Accra, a religious service is celebrated with thunderous hallelujahs, gospel singing and spontaneous dancing. After the celebration, Priscilla, now a teenager, says that meeting “dad and mom (that’s what everyone calls Kotey and his wife, Theresa) was a blessing” and declares that in the orphanage “they live like a family.” She has just finished high school and wants to study law “so that she can help disadvantaged women.” Joy, who is 17 years old, says that she would like to continue her excellent academic career in a business school.
But Kotey can’t hold back the tears as he admits that time is running out for kids like Priscilla, Kennedy, and Joy, and the prospect of them continuing to study seems almost utopian. The pastor tries to mobilize donors from the pulpit, from his web and social networks and traveling to Europe occasionally. “There is no money. And soon they will have to leave, look for a job, a place to live, ”he says, anguished.
Kotey’s dream is to build a complex with a residence, a church and a center for learning trades. To do this, she bought a plot of land in Winneba, an hour’s drive from Accra. The project was going from strength to strength until some German donors wanted to separate it from the church. “In Europe they no longer believe that God is important,” he says, with some bitterness. Three brothers who spent time in the orphanage live with his grandmother in Winneba. During a surprise visit, the children hug the pastor, who gives them some money. “Grandma hardly takes care of them, they barely eat,” he slides, in a low voice.
Bed, food and education
The image dreamed by Kotey resembles Hopeland, a Vocational Training complex located in Tema, a squalid suburb on the outskirts of Accra. Its facilities —where 15 kids rescued from the street sleep— belong to Catholic Action for Street Children (Catholic Action for Street Children, CAS).
In 2010, the Ministry of Welfare and various NGOs estimated that there were more than 60,000 children living on the streets of Accra.
The CAS focuses on homeless adolescents, it goes to the hot spots where the boys usually meet and some of them begin to attend their training centers in the capital. “Our problem is the lack of perseverance. It is very difficult to carry out an intervention when there is no regularity”, admits Cosmas Kanmwaa, director of the project. The person in charge adds that “many arrive wild and immersed in the culture of the street, which has its own laws.” Only those who show tenacity and fidelity are offered to enter Hopeland, where they find a bed, food and education.
Pascal, 15, whose constant smile exudes light and mischief, left home at seven. “My parents treated me badly, they didn’t give me enough food,” he recalls. For years, he made a living unloading cargo. He slept under the stalls of the Kantamanto market in the center of Accra. When he met CAS, he envisioned a more dignified existence. For months he made superhuman efforts to complete his tailoring workshops and continue working on the street. “It was clear to me that I wanted to get ahead,” he continues. Today, he wants to become a good tailor while he tries his luck in the world of music. He wants to turn his past into rap and show the world that it is possible to be swallowed by the street and come back to tell it.
Hopeland has also begun to educate children who are called “urban poor”, young people who have some family reference, but “live overcrowded in subhuman conditions and have not been to school for a long time,” explains Kanmwaa. Other organizations such as SCEF are committed to going further. Their goal is to create environments that are as close to normal as possible. “We try to build safety nets for children,” explains its director, Paul Semeh. First, the family nucleus is searched for and tested. If it fails, the effort is focused on getting a foster family or a place in a boarding school. “We do not believe in the idea of refuge, except in extreme cases such as serious physical abuse or rape,” says the person in charge.
Direct financing makes this return to a more or less standard childhood possible. Semeh summarizes the criteria for choosing, among the thousands of children in search of help, the 100 who benefit from his help: “The weakest of the weak.” The example is a girl with a mental disability, a victim of ridicule and stigma, who is looking for a home. At nine years old, Semeh explains, “she only makes unintelligible sounds, but she has shown a great determination to learn, an immense hunger to progress.”
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