Planting Apple Trees

“Oporto, Oporto” – the shouts follow his footsteps like shadows. Their greetings allude to the notably pale skin of this white man. He walks across runlets of rain through tiny streets, passing tin huts, closely crowded in an unorganized way and past wooden market booths. Finally he reaches his destination: the yellowish building with four floors on 2 Hagan Street. Right in the center of Freetown’s largest slum, Cap Anamur runs a project for street children, Pikin Paddy (creole for “friend of children”). It is the new workplace of twenty-six-year-old Ole Hengelbrock. His greatest wish is to accompany these “lost souls” into a better future, to build a home for them and to support them with their reintegration into family and school.

 “It has been almost a year,” says the graduated social worker who has advanced many things since but also had to learn a lot. “If I had just counted on the theoretical tools of my work I would have failed.”  However, he can fully count on his intuition. His committed and authentic way made it possible to welcome 326 street children between 5 to 14 years of age at Pink Paddy. “None of these children left their homes voluntarily, often violence and poverty, carelessness and misunderstandings played a role,” explains the young man from the city of Borgloh. “Therefore, it is even nicer to see the children thriving after having spent only a short while in our care. Living together, they build up critical faculties and learn how to deal with failures. They discover their hopes, their courage and their self-esteem.” A lot of patience and understanding, many discussions with the children, their parents, relatives and teachers are needed to mediate and to reconcile. There are major setbacks as well – but today 214 children live with their families again. That is a great success.

 “Of course I am worried about the 112 children whose fate has drawn them back on the streets. More importantly, thanks to our confidence, we do not give up and keep our doors and arms open. Our pleasure about the children who, because of our work, could find their way home, outweighs our mourning about those who failed”, Ole states. “This stubborn optimism was described metaphorically by Martin Luther: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant an apple tree today“. This agrees with me. Even though it’s not always easy, my work in Sierra Leone fills me with joy. And I am sure: As long as we are planting apple trees with Cap Anamur, the world will not go to pieces.”