Dear VIMA Family,
We would like to extend our sincere thanks to all of our supporters and donors for trusting us and helping us to care for society's vulnerable, our orphans. For July e-newsletter, I want to share a profound encounter that I had involving one of our orphans, Gifty, and how her desire to get a better life for her younger and disabled sister, Awoenam, helped us to discover Awoenam and subsequently changed her life for the better.
Gifty is a very quiet but cheerful girl that has been at VIMA Home Annex since mid 2017. She is happily being sponsored by Janie Bleach, Gabe's grandma whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Reno last year. During my normal visits to Ghana, I usually will alternate between the two orphanage locations. On this particular day last June, I paid a visit to VIMA Home Annex in my hometown of Amedzofe. It was a wonderful day where the kids and I had a good play and discussion time. As the night began to fall, I got ready to return to Ho due to a meeting I had the next morning with my staff member, Eben. As I sat in the car, getting ready to travel back to Ho, I heard a knock on the car window and was startled as I was not paying attention. I turned and saw Gifty standing by the door looking a bit sad and also nervous, perhaps because she did not know what my response would be to her request. Gifty turned to me and said in the local Amedzofe language, "Oker, mesi misiwor liboetor" meaning “father, I want to tell you something.” I quickly replied, “Always feel free to talk to me anytime.” She then went on to say, “Please, I have a sister,” and then tears started running down her face. Even though I was running late to Ho, and the weather was getting foggy, my instincts told me I needed to further learn more about her concern. I also knew I needed to act because whatever she wanted to tell me, it’s most certainly not a very good news.As Gifty kept wiping her tears,all I could think to ask her next was where is your sister? She said she was at her grandmother’s house on the outskirts of the village, so I said let's go see your sister. I,and another staff member, Robert, hurried and walked with Gifty towards her grandmother’s house. When we got there, it appeared as though no one was home because the Grandma was sick and bedridden. Gifty then told me to come this way, and as we walked towards the clay mini house on the far end, the building looked as if it would fall if a strong wind came through. I saw a little girl who was all skin and bone looking dazed. As I got closer, I realized she could not walk as she made a quick turn by crawling to face our direction. She appeared to have a well formed upper body physique, but paralyzed legs. It became clear, without further questioning, that she was Gifty’s younger sister; they looked so much alike. I asked the little girl of her name, and she said “Awoenam.” I then asked her how old she was, and she told me that she was seven years old. I observed her surroundings and realized she was trying to cook green (unripe) bananas but did not have anything to use for stew or sauce. The situation was heartbreaking as I could tell she was also soaked in urine, very dirty, and there was a bad odor, probably from not taking showers. I turned to Gifty and asked how long her sister had been living there, and she said ever since their mother died. By this time, I had many more questions to ask, such as: how did the VIMA staff not know about Awoenam? Why did we rescued Gifty, but not her sister? How had she survived this long as a paraplegic with no proper care? Did she attend school? Along with so many more questions, but the more I wanted to ask, the more I came to the realization of how children born with deformities are sometimes treated in my part of the world. They are treated as outcasts, they are considered cursed children, and in some instances, they are left to die by starvation. It was clear that Awoenam was even lucky to be alive.
“When Awoenam was born, her family and relatives thought she was a curse. This thought is common in rural Africa when a disabled child is born. They tried to convince her mother to stop breastfeeding her so that she would die of hunger. They said that nothing like this had ever happened in their family before and that as soon as she was born, a tree with deep roots fell in the town on a windy day, a sign of bad luck,” said a neighbor by name Kudzo, who I knew growing up in Amedzofe.
But according to Kudzo, Gifty’s late mother thought she was beautiful from the moment she laid eyes on her, so she decided to protect her daughter from harm. It then became clear why Awoenam was never brought to VIMA Home Annex, the stigma of not being accepted.
This is why Gifty did not want to expose her sister at first, but it was apparent that my presence at her home means a new day for Awoenam.
After hearing Awoenam’s story, my heart was filled with sorrow and sympathy towards her,so I decided VIMA must help. Awoenam was brought to VIMA Annex the next day. She arrived tiny and extremely malnourished; she was in horrible condition. I was overbearingly joyful when Awoenam could finally experience the love and safety she deserved, to experience a childhood free from the fear of being labeled a “cursed child.” I told Gifty that, there was nothing wrong with her sister, and that disability was not inability. Since moving to VIMA Home, Awoenam began to make new friends in addition to her sister. She has a beautiful smile, and she is now fed three times a day without crawling to cook by herself.
At VIMA, we would like to use this case to educate our communities that being disabled does not mean you cannot make it. We are so glad to rescue Awoenam, and I feel downhearted for many more of such cases that we may never know about in the nearby villages. I want to use this story to be a lesson for the community that treating a disabled child in a negative way is just awful.
Just a few days after meeting Awoenam, just as faith will have it, I got a call from one of our recent volunteers, Jade Rowe, who came to Ghana to volunteer at VIMA Home. She wrote me saying she wanted to sponsor two children at VIMA Home, I smiled and wrote her back saying, “Jade, I know for sure one of the children that I will recommend for you.” Jade fell in love with Awoenam story and decided to sponsor her. Today for the first time in her life, Awoenam has been enrolled in school just like the other children at VIMA Annex. However, there is one more setback for now. Awoenam cannot walk;she, therefore, has to be carried shoulder high to school and back every day. We managed to get used wheelchair, but we realized the road to school was not pliable by the wheelchair.Due to the rocky terrain at Amedzofe, the chair broke within a short time. It appears we need an electric wheelchair with bigger front tires (and yes, there is electricity in the village). We do not have a reliable means of getting Awoenam to school yet, but one thing I know for sure is Awoenam will continue to be carried shoulder high in the meantime until we find a permanent means of transporting her to school. If you feel touched enough by Awoenam story and want to assist us in getting a commercial type motorised chair for her, then I’ll encourage you to click here to DONATE and help us get Awoenam a customised wheelchair. Upon enquiries, prices of customised durable chairs in Accra ranges from $950 to $1,200. Please remember to state in the memo section the purpose of your donation.
Stories such as Awoenam's is why our work in rural Volta is so very critical, and I have no doubts she can grow to become a lawyer, a teacher, or an advocate for the disabled, especially children like herself. We cannot stop, but rather push on in our efforts to rescue and educate more so as to change the cycle of poverty that exists in Sub-Saharan Africa. We can do this, one child at a time.
I thank you all once again for your love towards our VIMA children, and it is our hope that we can educate our local people that indeed “Disable children are still able children. Afterall, the name Awoenam in the local Ewe language means “God will make a way.”