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Opinions of Sunday, 14 February 2010

Columnist: Abdul-Korah, Sundong

The Child Is Father Of The Man

‘ By Sundong Abdul-Korah

During those occasional visits to an acquaintance in that architectural triumph towering among Accra’s plush buildings with façades exuding an aura of prosperity, I used to set eyes on innocent but healthy Dong who looked rather habitually hysterical as he played with his elder ‘sister’. Three years ago, handsome-looking Dong was probably a little over a year, barely rescued from the rowdy Osu Children’s Home by a white woman, who, through telephone conversations with a relative of his mother, arranged with this family to take care of him so that she could support them with stipends for his upkeep.

He was taken to the orphanage when his sick mother escaped from the walls of the Accra psychiatric hospital, having been brought there from a distant land for treatment, and left the poor chap lewdly wailing for help. So the young girl Dong had been playing with was indeed not even a half-sister; he was just a familiar stranger whose presence was merely rooted in his personal luck as well as the pure benevolence of an international benefactor and a local host who collaborated to make the dull little star shine a little brighter. But all too soon this newly-found glistering heaven would loom into the light of darkness, and painfully so when he was learning to speak with such remarkably disagreeable mannerisms and magnificent humor, which provoked further excitement and made him even more tolerable. Unlike other children who were/are blessed with sallies of their mothers’ kisses, and light upon their paths from their fathers’ eyes, Dong’s brief but unprecedented happiness clearly showed a prolonged denial of care, only gaining it after having been salvaged from a feminist cloud of total and complete craziness. Liberty and delight, the simple creed of childhood, have for long eluded many, particularly orphans. His host and caretaker would be posted to Washington DC to advance his diplomatic career. My heart leaped over the future of this premature Lilliputian, especially when news got to me that the entire family was to leave for the US. For the immediate passing days and nights, I racked my brains for a solution, eventually settling on myself as the only proximate and appropriate person to bear this crucial burden. But each time I pondered over it, the more I was awakened to the fact that I was still in school, and had indeed settled into an unsettling condition to have acted as a suitable surrogate father. Even with those leveraging thoughts that spring from the suffering of others, with that surging faith which defies death, I simply failed to salvage him. Yet experts on family-based care for children assert that Africa's orphans will experience a richer, more wholesome childhood if they are raised within a family rather than in a childcare institution. Unfortunately, Dong and his mother’s trajectory are but a misery sprawling and drowning in the ugliest depths of the silver waters of our glorious earth. Shouldn’t we dare ask: just who are the fathers to children from the wombs of madwomen who together storm the dumps for crumps of decaying bread? How nice it would be if all babies leap up on sane mothers’ arms so that we feel the fullness of their bliss! Yet the African continent is so plagued by a myriad of problems such as poverty, hunger, diseases and intractable conflicts that often unleash untold hardships on the lumpen populace. According to the UN, there are more than 34 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa today, 11 million of whom lost parents to the AIDS pandemic. Thus the stakes are expectedly and exceedingly high-- bizarre and disgusting— the millions that either perish or get maimed in wars, provoking widespread refugee crisis; all giving birth to orphans who sprawl and wander about in despicable worlds not yet realized. A recent research report published by Save Our Children, a reputable charitable organization, has hugely indicted irresponsible parents and proprietors of orphanages particularly in Africa. The report concludes that four-out-of-every-five children in orphanages have at least a parent who, perhaps, for the very reasons outlined above, has either lost or abandoned the child to the streets simmering in perpetual violence. Sometimes they eventually find places in orphanages. The report also posits the grossly appalling nature with which childcare institutions manage aid on behalf of the orphans, labeling them as mere profiteers and predators who unpardonably pilfer huge sums of donations to the sheer neglect of the rightful beneficiaries—caged orphans. Such festering scenarios often remind me of the agonizing dilemma Mohammed Amin faced while covering the Ethiopian famine in the mid 1980s. After painfully observing and carefully avoiding to capture the captured hands of starving children by their parents who ungraciously ate away the relief food-- relief that was particularly meant for these little ones—freeing them only when there was virtually nothing left in the bowl-- Africa’s most celebrated television news cameraman (peace be upon him) could no longer keep his lens away from such a tragic drama, even if those pictures were to discourage donors from offering more relief. After all, the camera is a tool for liberation and the advancement of society, and it is only on such rare situations that its essence is felt most. Just recently, the UK Department for overseas development is withdrawing a fund it gave to Kenya to build schools and acquire textbooks for children because over USD I million cannot be accounted for by the Kenyan officials in charge of the project. How sickening it is to abandon children! How weird it is to mobilize funds for the sole purpose of helping the vulnerable and the dispossessed in society only for those who are already better off to willfully deprive them. As reasonable as we claim to be, what else can we do to invoke a sense of belonging in them? Is the future not always the future of children and young people? Only wise people remember that though the sunshine is a glorious birth, there is a time when that glory passes away. That’s why our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting---for the soul that rises with us, our life star, has elsewhere its setting. And whenever it does set, it is nobody else but the youth who rest ‘thee in thy’ lonely tomb. Let’s now turn our waxed ears to Marian W. Eldelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund: “A nation that doesn’t stand up for its children is a nation that is falling. I think we’re going to hell because a child drops out of school every nine seconds; a child is arrested every fourteen seconds, every twenty-five seconds a child is born to an unmarried mother, and in the richest nation on earth….we let a child to be born into poverty every thirty-two seconds. And the worst thing of all is, we have become numb.” Eldelman was crying out to her fellow Americans to critically reexamine their ways and relations with children in order to ensure their welfare. True, we aren’t Americans, but same shame dangles and tangles on our necks. Save Our Children has just sounded the alarm bell, and its frank acoustics ought to tantalize and exasperate even the most carefree and unwise in our midst. Will Ross of the BBC, who recently visited Kenya and conducted interviews with some street children and their counterparts in orphanages, has confirmed their predicament as contained in the report, revealing more horrendous afflictions they went through and are still experiencing. How horrible it is for modern children to lick glue just to soften the pain from hunger in a world so blessed with such sophisticated technologies in many fields including agriculture! Sure and sadly, shades of the prison-house are beginning to close upon the growing youth. In this radio documentary, Ross quotes an official of Save Our Children as saying that parents should rather be empowered by charitable organizations so that they are able to take proper care of their children instead of channeling huge resources to childcare institutions that neither provide enough care nor apply funds for the very purpose it was raised--- uplifting vulnerable children. There are indeed plenty of studies which show that raising children in institutions as opposed to families affects their cognitive, social, emotional and even intellectual development. Clearly, the report does not only warn organizations that run orphanages to be more honest and loving to children or fold up altogether, but has fortified Eldelman’s earlier foundation. Hence all agencies which have a stake in the well-being of children and the youth—UNICEF, Social Welfare Department, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, DOVSU, WAJU etc, all organizations responsible for poverty reduction and human development and those charged to guarantee children’s rights, as well as individuals, in particular parents—should exercise their respective responsibilities with due diligence for the general advancement of humanity. Why should abandoned children be in abundance even as we preach love and mercy daily? In a continent where religions of all forms are bourgeoning, and where libations are poured and oratories said at naming ceremonies well in advance for the well-being of its progeny, is this phenomenon not degrading? Barely a year now had Ghanaians waked up to traumatizing media reports of a case of defilement involving in-mates of a particular orphanage whose license to operate had expired. What was irritating is that the founder of the said orphanage is a popular politician and actress who many had expected to display outstanding statesmanship. The victim had to go through major surgery after doctors discovered that her womb was completely destroyed. Philista Onyango, regional director of the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN), says that in Africa people are not trained to work with these children and often don't know what they are doing, so orphaned children in institutions can wind up being physically or sexually abused. “Many are not even registered and those that are, are not properly regulated,” she bemoans.

Thus violent storms and stony rains are irrefutably taking their combined toll on the most recent in our midst-- souls who are yet to appreciate humanity or condemn it. All those who take delight in making these throbbing souls (ulcers of society) to race through haze should at once know that they have been committing the worst offenses on God’s altar. In order to attain a fair level of decency at this front, job losses or mass unemployment, careless casual sex, divorce and separation rates, and similar developments which have the propensity to destabilize families and scatter children will have to be minimized at all cost. This is so because when parents (family) have the financial capacity and social support to raise children, a family is the best place for a child. So those who are blessed with affluence and are therefore capable of adopting abandoned children shouldn’t hesitate to do so because the heavens will laugh with them in their jubilee. Just imagine the present fate and state of our world if our great teachers— Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, William James, Benjamin Lee Whorf, Niels Bohr-- were orphaned and abandoned? Once more, let’s be guided by the scriptures too: “To those whom much is given, much is expected of them. It is only thoughtfully appropriate that the great poet, William Wordsworth, has the final lines of his ‘My Heart Leap Up’ celebrating the beauty of childhood: The child is father of the man; And I could wish my days to be bound each to each by natural piety.

Yes, natural piety, and not evil that blossoms and luxuriates in the years of maturity and decay.

If indeed we really care about the future of humanity, then considerable condemnation of such barefaced cruelty against children is crucial and should decisively and punitively express itself lyrically and boldly in our communities, nation-states and all definable maps so dear to us.