Toddler at 14 needs help

When a mother realizes her child may be disabled she feels compelled to keep that child under lock and key. In the following feature, Joy News’ Gifty Andoh Appiah brings you the story of a 14-year-old girl who has been a ‘toddler’ since she was born.

The Family is in dire need of support for further medical checks to ascertain what is exactly wrong with her as well as’the appropriate diagnosis.

Wusuta is a clean looking community near Kpando in the Volta region.’In the belly of this town, a girl of about 14 years of age is kept all by herself under lock and key; Cobwebs and dust dominate the interior of her room.

The corner of a stuffy floor is Bless’ part of the single bedroom where she has been kept almost all her life. She is suffering from an unknown ailment.

Bless’ mother Stella was impregnated by a stranger who visited Wusuta over a decade ago. His family reported his death and refused responsibility for the child.

Stella’s account about Bless’ situation was laced with confusing loose’ends I tried to knit together.

For many years, once again her mother is unable to confirm, Bless was kept indoors until one Emefa and her friend decided to follow up on her on one of many occasions when her mother had travelled and left her behind all by herself.

Emefa tells me, Bless used to feed on her own faeces.

‘I witnessed it myself; eating the ‘poopoo’. She eased and then she was eating” Emefa stressed’

An allegation Bless’ mother refutes.
“When I return from the farm and realize she has eased on herself, I change her clothes and clean up the place. I have never seen her eating the faeces” Stella told me.

Perhaps the allegation is true because Food is another major issue for this household as Bless is left many times not just lonely but on an empty stomach.’

Stella frequents her family house to beg for food. On one occasion, she was met with anger and accusations of diverting food meant for her daughter. Thankfully, there is still some food’to spare except it came with stern instructions.

The family blames’the girl’s incapacitation on the mother’s refusal to comply with a herbalist who they brought in to heal Bless. None of them is willing to take her in.

“I am not stationary’ she said ‘if Bless could move, I would have taken her [along]” she said through an interpreter.

They are even willing to give her up to any interested individual or institution.

Stella’s main occupation is farming. She has two other children besides Bless and any food or income is shared among them all.

Physically, Bless looks incapacitated although she can move her upper body around. Her mother has to do practically everything for her; she even has to feed her.

But Bless can still interact with other children if only they will come closer. She even giggles and laughs when she hears her name.

It is this interaction she has missed most of her life until she was discovered.’ Her medical reports show she was a normal child from the beginning until a series of convulsions attacked her.

In a referral note and the only documents that discuss her condition, the consulting physician writes ‘the sickness has affected her brain’. Her mother cannot state for a fact but it seems nothing was done from the day the referral was issued.

Edem is co-founder of Hardthaven Children’s home where neglected and orphaned children are catered for. He was the first contact made by those who discovered Bless. Edem believes the extended family has contributed greatly to Bless’ incapacitation

‘I think the family members should be ashamed, I think that they should be more responsible, more proactive than they are now. I don’t think the mother should be blamed for this.’

But Edem says giving up Bless to any institution is not the way forward.

Edem works with medical students and volunteers from abroad. One of them has been re-examining “the outcome of the examination; the doctor told me she is physically able but mentally disabled so that’s what we need to look at what kind of mental disability she has and see the way forward for her”.’

Edem is seeking financial support for Stella so she can take care of Bless but the fact that some of Bless’ rights have been violated still remains. What happens to her right to education? The freedom of movement, the rights to clothing, shelter and food all of which culminates into compromising’the right to life besides the bigger socio-economic issues associated with Bless’ story.

To ensure that these rights are respected at least, Edem has employed neighbours to police the regular care for Bless. Grace is one of them. She lives adjacent to the building where Bless has been caged all these years.

Grace tells me Stella has no help and that is what pushed her to neglect the child.

Her account questions strongly the strength of the Ghanaian social protection system which could have been there for Bless in the absence of able parents.

Francisca is about 5 feet tall. She was born the same week as Bless. That is how Bless should perhaps look.

She narrates a story her mother told her indicating, they were both attacked by a strange disease. The difference was the care given on both sides.

It seems obvious that the period of isolation has aggravated the mental situation prescribed earlier in her life by doctors.

Thanks to concerned persons in the community, Bless can once again feel the soothing touch of water on her head, face and body. Her decade-old coiled up feet now stretched, her reaction tells it all. Bless now looks forward to brighter days when her rights shall remain intact and healing.

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