Being a social worker in Pikin Paddy, our shelter for street children in Freetown, requires strong nerves and patience. It also requires a huge amount of strengths, seeing that even our most experienced colleagues are still shaken by the disturbing stories they hear. Street children in Sierra Leone lead a life filled with hardship and danger, most of them have been exposed to violence all their young lives. Thus, prostitution and theft oftentimes seem the only way to afford just a little bit of food. It is hard to imagine what these children must have gone through before choosing a life on the streets.
Stories from Pikin Paddy
Abandoned from home
Our colleagues found 16-year old Ibrahim during their so-called night tracking. Ibrahim’s father had passed away and his mother had found a new partner with whom she now has a small child. Talking to us about his home, Ibrahim hardly showed any sentiments and his face went completely stiff. He was not wanted in his family anymore; their home was too tiny and cramped and his mother and stepfather just wanted him out as soon as possible. Ibrahim felt like a burden, he was disturbing their new family life. Him and his mom were fighting a lot, his stepfather kept hitting him with a belt – always on the same spot, preventing the wounds from healing. Also, the situation at home and an incredibly long way to school made his grades drop. Then one day Ibrahim just had enough of all the beating and fighting. He ran away.
Ibrahim had been roaming the streets of Freetown’s slums, begging and sleeping outside until Cap Anamur’s team met him and invited him to Pikin Paddy. At the shelter, he found a temporary place to stay until our social workers managed to locate one of his uncles, who welcomed him into his home. The uncle had just built a new room in his house and even lived close to Ibrahim’s school. The only challenge: There was no money to buy any furniture. Also in this case we could help: We provided Ibrahim with some furniture, so that he could move into the new room, find some distance from his mother and start going to school again regularly.
Our social workers still visit Ibrahim frequently and they are not only glad to see that he has settled in at his uncle’s very well – but also that his school grades are improving again.
Fled from home
Our social workers found the ten-year-old Hawa sleeping on the street during the so-called Night Tracking. She ran away from home because her aunt had beaten her and forced her to hard physical labour. She told the Pikin Paddy team that she did not live with her parents because they were very poor and had many other children. Children growing up with their grandparents are nothing unusual in Sierra Leone. The understanding of family and upbringing there is different from ours and occasionally very pragmatic.
Our team found another aunt who happily let little Hawa live with her. When we arrived there as part of the follow-up care, it turned out that an uncle had picked up the girl, as this Aunt had also severely abused Hawa. Thus her uncle had brought her back to her parents and our team resumed their search. Hawa’s parents lived in the middle of the jungle – 40 kilometres further away than initially presumed. So there was a not harmless night drive pending through the jungle, over bumpy, half broken, narrow paths covered with high grass. After our social workers had passed through many small villages, they found a very surprised, happy girl, who in the end, despite the very cramped conditions, found shelter with her parents once again. The mattress that was brought along for her was a blessing for the haggard child as she was sleeping on a wooden board up until then. She was visibly touched by the fact that someone had taken the trouble to take on such an arduous journey on her behalf. Particularly through the courageous eagerness of our social worker Samuel, who absolutely wanted to find the child’s place of residence, the child has not only gained a mattress, but perhaps also some confidence for her own future.
Forgotten by home
The 15-year-old Kadijah was also found by our social workers sleeping on the street and, after a couple of conversations, was brought to her uncle. When she ran away from there and moved back in with her parents, who lived in the middle of the jungle without transport connections and far away from suitable schools, our team became suspicious and sought a conversation with the family. The mood in the small hut was extremely bad when our team arrived. Her parents seemed to despise Kadijah for running away from her uncle. Especially her mother ignored her outright. Only when our social workers asked most of the relatives to step out of the room and our social worker Aminata spoke to Kadijah in her mother tongue – Mende – did she dare to tell them that her uncle had not given her any food and had regularly beaten her with sticks, belts and whips. In addition he had hinted that he wanted to marry her later. After that she ran away.
The parents had not listened to their daughter and Kadijah had not dared to explain her situation to them. But now that everyone could understand the girl’s motives for running away, there was a dialogue between Kadijah, her parents and our social workers. Kadijah now lives with an aunt in the city, so that she can finally go to a suitable school as that was her wish all along.