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Opinions of Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Columnist: Andoh, Gifty

Osu Children's Home Is Our Home, Where We Belong.

MY LAY POINT OF VIEW: OSU CHILDREN'S HOME IS OUR HOME, WHERE WE BELONG.

When I first saw Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ footage on how children at the Osu Children’s
home were treated by some of the caretakers, I wept. My body trembled and some of
the things that ran through my mind then, were the number of children who may be
going through similar ordeals or worse. Whose homes, Anas cannot walk into with his
camera. Such stories remain untold, until either a “Good Samaritan” stumbles on it
or they die slowly taking along their story. Some grow up very bitter and hardened
with numerous psychological, emotional and other issues to deal with as a result of
countless forms of abuse not to mention the economic hardships that await them
coupled with the “torture” of adulthood. Why is it so easy to identify traces of
child neglect in our part of the world? Why the defenseless and voiceless are always
maltreated?
I was caught up in some kind of “dilemma” (for want of a better word) as I tried to
bear with the children as well as the caretakers somehow. My grandmother woke us up
early when we were very young and made me wash at a very tender age which didn’t
hurt at all. I can recall (without nostalgia) the strokes of her and my uncle’s
canes for one omission or commission after the other. Strokes of teachers at the
community “saito” I attended did not miss my buttock and legs either, since I was
almost always late for school. (Not my fault but who cares?).Ears are pulled once a
while but to mention a few forms of punishment I am familiar with. Sensing some kind
of connection with the experiences of the children at Osu Children’s home (and I’m
sure many others), I couldn’t control the urge to put this write-up together.
My thoughts on what I saw
When Metro TV aired the second part of the footage (which was the part that I
watched) after their prime news, I thought it was not a big deal to wake children up
early in the morning and to teach boys to wash their own clothes. Neither is it to
teach them a sense of communal labour. After all, all play and no work will make
jack lazy and the devil might find a thing or two for Jack’s idle hands. Then again
I don’t think there is harm in making children help out in the kitchen sometimes. As
for some kind of punishment for stealing, it is meant to only ensure that children
don’t pile up that “negative smartness” for “related future endeavors”. I also
thought that caretakers may have been under “economic duress” or other frustrations
to have taken on such job and as such doing it the way I saw them do-without any
emotional attachment to the children, let alone professionalism.
But when Akuamoah, himself a “veteran” orphan decides to insult and slap the kids at
the remand home at will, when in instilling into the children a sense of communal
labour, they are made to work in gutters with their bare hands, when everyone is
whipped for loss of a fish head meant for supper(how were they going to share
that?), when a wooden spatula becomes the replacement for cane,when an oversight if
not carelessness results in the death of a child or more, when children are beaten
for their parents inability to pay school fees, when food and other goodies meant
for these children are not just shared but sold for the benefits of some individuals
whilst the children are inadequately fed, when stealing of a bottle of soft drink is
equivalent to a month in “prison”, when negligence seem to be at its peak at a home
supposed to offer solace, when caretakers seem to believe that the only language
children understand is whipping, slapping and
other forms of abuse, instilling in children the notion that the only thing which
should make a person do what is required of them,(like taking a bath) is some kind
of punishment, then there is a serious fundamental problem.
Why this and what can be done? As I tossed these questions over in my mind, the word
MONITORING kept popping up. The Minister for Employment and Social Welfare, Mr.E.T
Mensah was quick in arriving at the home after the broadcast of the footage. As
expected, he attracted a lot of cameras that portrayed an orderly and well kept
orphanage. Honorable said investigations will be conducted for further necessary
action. For me it was a good start. The morning after, I smiled with discontent when
I overheard him on Joy News questioning the motive behind Anas’ work because he and
some stakeholders did not have prior viewing before the public broadcast. I stand to
be corrected but I honestly do not think such an action was necessary at all. A
public broadcast was a step in the right direction. Ghana and the world must see,
judge and be advised to do what has to be done.
I was almost angry when the headmistress of the orphanage decided to deny whatever
the pictures in that footage was communicating. Maybe she should have apologized for
lack of effective monitoring which seem to be the problem or just held her peace
than to go on and on to the extent of bemoaning the home’s lack of a camera to take
pictures of the state of children when they are brought in. Yes, they might come in
messed up but their betterment is the reason for the Home’s existence and until that
is realized, the Home’s existence is unnecessary.
Suggestion. (What can be done?)
Like we always do, too much time should not be wasted in substantiating the facts
and truths behind the shots and fast track the necessary actions. Obviously there
are many dimensions to this problem and must be tackled wholly. I propose a total
overhaul of the administrative system of the Osu Children’s home from top to bottom.
Caretakers found culpable of any form of abuse should be flushed out to serve as a
deterrent and replaced with the many young products of the School of Social Works.
Those not culpable should be vigorously retrained and given some kind of counseling.

The current monitoring machinery (if there is any) should be given a critical look
and the necessary changes made. The faces in the footage should all step aside as
investigations are carried out. Let the children also receive some council and must
be constantly checked for signs of sodomy, rape and other forms of abuse that they
may be found susceptible to, especially since these things seem to be rampant in
many such Homes. Excess clothing and other donations should at least be given to
other orphanages instead of being set ablaze under the “supervision” of the
children.
Teachers and caretakers should be concientized to replace the “beating and
punishment” notion with reformative and innovative ways of preparing children for
adulthood, thus giving them hope for the future and helping them realize the best of
their abilities as stated in the Home’s mission. Such punishments to a larger
extent, make children hate, curse and in the process, think of smart, mostly
notorious ways of dealing with the punisher you somehow. Where does that leave us?
Nowhere!
CHRAJ has made its stance clear and I think there is the need for concerted efforts
from all such organizations to protect the children at the OSU Children’s home and
all other children. Closure of the home, will be suicidal to the children and I do
not support it. Let’s deal with the systems and the mentality of those who run it,
ensuring that our defenseless children are protected and safe.
I would appeal to Ghanaian women, if we are not ready for children yet, let’s try
control our increasing sexual appetites to spare the babies who usually end up in
children’s Homes the “pleasure” of staying there. To the authorities, let’s save our
children and secure their future. Let’s cover them from the waves they have been
running from. Let’s make them proud to be Ghanaian without resentment. Let’s refuse
the notion that the all children understand is the canes, the slaps, and the verbal
and physical abuse, the involuntary hunger strike. A bit of love, a bit of extra
attention, a bit of warmth and a bit of tolerance can ensure discipline.
“Care for orphans and the vulnerable”, “protection and care for children exposed to
moral and physical danger”, “giving children opportunities to make the best of their
abilities” are a few of the lines I read on the orphanage’s website. Worth noting is
the fact that the home is supposed to have clinical psychologists and counselors
among a host of staff. What do they do?(assuming they really are there) Why not they
give these seemingly frustrated caregivers some kind of council or psychological
advice on dealing with children with unique needs?
Conclusion
They make a lot of noise yet they are misunderstood, ignored or not heard at all.
The foundation of a child is crucial to their future. Children are unique and
orphans for me, are very unique with special needs. They can not speak for
themselves and seem to have very limited choice or say in the affairs of their own
lives. For those at orphanages and children homes, this is home, this is where they
belong. Yet you, I and the authorities know that with this kind of foundation, the
future is not as bright. Lets challenge ourselves to be that glimpse of hope, home
for the future which they so much need.
I would like to recommend Mr. Emil short for the seriousness he has attached to
this issue and remind Zoom Lion of their promise to the Osu Children’s Home. To
UNICEF, Crusading guide seem to be still waiting for your response to their
questionnaire.