The Bridge Back to Life

21 May 2013

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Children of the home in one of the male hostels

Chineme Okafor spent time with some of the 56 residents of the Abuja Children’s Home in Karu to discover the resilience in their spirit to become useful in a society that once rejected them

In the words of Hajia Bilikisu Ajagun, who currently serves as the resident matron of Abuja Children’s Home in Karu, every of the 56 children taken in and being nursed in the home have got peculiar tales of injustices committed against them. Their stories include teenage sexual abuse, child abuse, human trafficking and other criminal cases committed against children.

Although, their cheerless accounts are firmly Children of the home in one of the male hostels kept confidential even amongst themselves, these 56 children, by providence, have come to walk through the same bridge to get to their destination.

They all live in the Abuja Children’s Home which was established in 1986 to defend and provide shelter for the less privileged such as
orphans, abandoned babies and children of unfit parents in the society. To them, they must come against the obstacles to lead dignified lives amongst society’s fortunate. Signs of contentment, freedom and hope were all there when THISDAY made a return visit to the home. It was an occasion for donation to the home by a member of a non-governmental organisation, Better World Initiative (BWI), who was celebrating 25th wedding anniversary.

Thus, the visit then became an opportunity for a journey into the lives of the children. Walking through the various sections of the home, Ajagun who is a professional nurse told THISDAY that the home and its staff have continued to function solely for the lives of the children. She emphasised that a dignified future for the children remains top on the priority of the management of the home, hence, the practise of zero tolerance for further abuse of the children on the basis of their past by just anybody.

“We keep files of the children cautiously and confidentially to avoid unnecessary issues; we counsel the children according to their conditions to help them get out of the situation and even amongst the nannies, we counsel them on how best to handle the children to achieve the overall aim of bringing them up to become whole beings.

“We do not tolerate any form of abuse of these children, because when discovered it will be penalised accordingly, but generally, it has been about passion for the job. The passion drives us to want to do the right things for the growth of these children,” Ajagun who recently resumed duties at the home after years of existence without an official matron explained.

Managing the Home Ajagun explained that the home caters for children that are abandoned or abused, adding that such children eventually end up staying amongst peers that need care and protection at the expense of the state in particular and good spirited individuals.

Narrating the management structure and processes involved in remoulding the young lives that had once been battered, Ajagun said, “We also have children that have criminal cases but are thought to need care for rehabilitation. I took over 55 children when I assumed office but right now I have 56 because I have admitted one more child.

The Social Welfare Department of the FCDA (Federal Capital Development Authority) sends children on referral after examining the case of a child, and sometimes we pick up a child abandoned to us by unknown people but with such case, we have to get approval from the Social Welfare Department to accommodate such a child. Some of them here are involved because the parents cannot cope with the responsibility of taking them up and so we step in such situation through the Social Welfare Department.” Continuing, she said: “The home is a non-governmental orphanage home, though the government partakes in its management because the wife of any minister of the FCT automatically assumes responsibility of chairing the management board of the home.

We also have other members that include the Director of Social Welfare Department, religious leaders as well as other ministries of government that are considered fit to be on the Board.” Funding Challenge When asked about how the home manages to cope with the financing of its operations Ajagun said, “that is one of our big challenges here, like I said that this is an NGO that government
partakes in its management, they give us an allocation every month but that is not sufficient to manage the home.

We get N700,000 in a month but salaries of the staff here takes about N500,000; so we have a few left to take care of the children who also have to go to school. People donate to us and often mark their birthday with the children. They come for the sake of sharing their joy with the children and that is how we raise backup funds.” She also explained that all except two children in the home attend schools at various levels of nursery, primary and secondary, adding that some have gone on to graduate from universities and moved on in life with their absorption into the wider society.

“Out of all the children here, just about two are not in school and that is because they are not of school age. We have them as day and boarding house students. Some of the children have graduated from secondary schools and willing to get into the university. They are in pockets like that and it is out of the help of people that we achieve all these.

Some come here to offer scholarships to the children and somehow, someone will take up the responsibility to help the children with
tertiary education and most times we call on our chairperson to help us out at occasions like this. We also have one of our children who graduated from the university, married and settled back into life with a new family,” she stated. While the home maintains a decent clinic but with very limited stock of drugs, Ajagun disclosed that funds for complex medical situations are usually sourced through the administrator of the home and other forms of external help available to the home.

Making reference to one of the children that was scheduled to undergo surgical corrections on her limbs at the time she said: “The case of the child you referred to has been on before my resumption and some people from the UK were willing to help out with the home collaborating with them, they took up the case and raised fund to help the child who is scheduled to undergo the surgery.”

She explained that external helps from such organisations like BWI has greatly added to the chest of the home, adding that more of such gesture will be appreciated by the home.

Coping with the Children She said further that “ confidentiality is very important in this vocation of taking care of children, even amongst our biological children, there are times when they keep certain things from us but as parents, it is our responsibility to counsel and help them out of the situation.

We keep the situation of the children very confidential but I can only open up a little here for people to help us with our situation. We have cases of abused children that the social welfare takes up and bring to us but it is not everybody that knows about such and all the children do not know their various situations; they are only aware of the collective growth within the home but do not know about the past of each other.” She noted that the process of rehabilitating a child in the home usually starts with counselling sessions and observation of environmental behaviour of such child, saying, “We counsel the children according to their conditions to
help them get out of the situation and even amongst the nannies, we counsel them on how best to handle the children to achieve the overall aim of bringing them to become whole beings.

And in a home with that number of children, perhaps hygiene could be a problem, Ajagun told THISDAY that “the children are always involved in cleaning the environment while we have two gardeners that are employed to clean the environment.” Yet, she acknowledged that disposing the refuse has been a problem because the agency responsible has not been responsive for sometime.

“Our refuse disposal site has been overflowing with dirt for months now and from my assessment, we use to have the Abuja Environmental Management Board come here to clear the refuse regularly but for a very long time now they have stopped from coming and I learnt they last came here about six months ago even before my resumption and that was before I resumed here. I can tell you that constitute serious health danger to these children and it is an immediate source of infection to the children. So we will really appreciate that they help us clear the refuse even if it is just once in a week, that will do us a whole lot of good,” she said.

Seeking more personnel, she said: “We have two cooks here that run shifts. I believe that is not enough but due to lack of fund, we may not be able to get additional hands to employ and so when I discovered on resumption that the cooking was not particularly done hygienically, I initiated measures to salvage the situation. I join in doing the cooking and they all think it is abnormal but that is part of the responsibilities of a matron in such a home and with such measures, our level of hygiene is improving. “The children are also involved in the cooking of their food. We now have duty schedules for them because they have to be trained in all facets of life, so that when they leave here they can become somebody in life.

Life After the Home “The children do turn out good depending on how you handle them, it is the kind of growth and behavioural attributes they pick from home that they will present in the larger society and that is why we make sure that they are brought up with strict compliance in accordance with set of rules within the home.

“We have grown up girls that we take extreme care to handle considering their level of understanding, we make sure that we have an impartial judgement of their actions but teach them the right values such that when they get out here, they are seen by the society as complete humans capable of doing things rightly. “Passion for children has propelled me to do this. I have always wanted to adopt children outside of my own biological children but hadn’t been successful at it, but you can see how it turned out for me after all these years of trying to adopt. I am now saddled with the job of taking care of 56 children at once, how much of fulfillment do I want again,” she said.

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