General News of Monday, 2 February 2015
Source: Graphic Online
When benevolent organisations and individuals donate to orphanages, they expect that their donation, both in kind and in cash, will be put to good use.
But this appears not to be the case at the Countryside Children’s Welfare Home, an orphanage with more than 100 children, at Awutu Bawjiase in the Central Region.
At the orphanage, the children are forced to fast, even in the midst of plenty.
It is a sad tale of poor feeding and forced fasting, open sale of donated items, abuse and neglect, wanton pregnancy and abortion and lack of proper health care.
In his latest undercover investigations at the orphanage, the ace investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, and his team, after living in the home for six months, uncovered a home that has been turned into a business venture by its Founder, Mrs Emma Boafo Yeboah, affectionately referred to as Auntie Emma or Mummy in the home.
At the home, the children are made to pose for photo opportunities to receive items from donors, only to be starved behind the walls of the orphanage.
The devil in the orphanage
The investigations, which were carried out in collaboration with the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL) and titled: “‘Care’ less: the devil and the orphanage”, brings back to mind a similar expose at the Osu Children’s Home where abuse and neglect of the children and the looting of donated items were the order of the day.
After the food items donated to the Countryside Children’s Welfare Home have been sold to the public, the children are made to live on a cup of gari, which is poured into their shirts, and uncooked noodles.
Through their own ingenuity, some of the children ground pepper and tomatoes, which they eat with the gari for lunch. For supper, the meal is just a plate of soup, without fish or meat, shared by four children.
The situation is so bad that at one point the investigative team had to buy food for some of the children who were crying because of hunger.
Even worse, some days are declared fasting days and the children are given mango and water at the end of the fast.
“Today is fasting day and everybody is fasting — the whole house,” a caregiver who identified himself as Sylvester announced on one of the fasting days.
However, Auntie Emma painted a picture of the children living in luxury with choices.
“The children are well fed. They eat and we ensure that they are satisfied,” she said.
Sale of items
While the children go hungry in the midst of abundance, Auntie Emma has been accused by some employees of the orphanage of using the home as a money-making machine.
“One day, someone will come to know the truth and it will be dangerous,” an aggrieved employee said.
The Countryside Home has, over the years, benefited from the generosity of individuals and organisations, including Prophet T.B. Joshua of the Synagogue Church of All Nations; the Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra, the Most Rev Charles Gabriel Palmer-Buckle; a former Black Stars player, John Mensah; Becca, a musician, and the Kumasi Metropolitan Chief Executive, Mr Kojo Bonsu.
Key buildings at the orphanage were put up by institutions such as Regimanuel Gray Estates, the World Health Organisation, Balast Nedam Company Limited and Wirbelwind, a German organisation.
Several of the items donated by those individuals and organisations were sold openly, as Auntie Emma turned the orphanage into a retail shop. She sold almost everything, including bags of rice, gallons of cooking oil, cartons of milk, bales of used clothing, shoes and bags, toothpaste and brushes, biscuits, drinks and toiletries.
In an instance, she gave out some of the shoes and bags out for free to a client, claiming they were not new to entice the client to buy more.
The prices of the items were also reduced to encourage the clients to buy more.
However, to cover her tracks, she claimed what she was doing was barter trade, saying, “Maybe I would need okra, so if you have okra, you bring it. If I need garden eggs, then I barter.”
Pregnancy and abortion
In rather horrifying revelations, students of the Countryside Basic School, which is the educational wing of the home, told the story of how girls were made to undergo abortion after they had been impregnated by their male schoolmates.
A son of Aunty Emma’s was accused of impregnating one of the girls, while a cobbler from Bawjiase was said to have gone to the school to sleep with some of the girls and impregnate them, after which the pregnancies were aborted.
One girl was alleged to have undergone three abortions. In one instance, she was said to have aborted the pregnancy with the help of the female teachers who were referred to as ‘mothers’ in the home.
There were also alleged instances of homosexuality involving some male workers and male students of the home.
“At that time sex was like water. Abortion is rampant and more so because just one drug can do it,” a student told the investigating team.
A teacher at the school confirms that with GHc1, the teenage girls in the school will willingly go to bed with any man.
“‘Orphanage cedi cedi’; that is how those girls are referred to,” the teacher said, creating humour out of the situation.
In some instances, two of the children who were caught having sex received 24 lashes each on the orders of Auntie Emma’s husband, Captain Yeboah (retd), who has turned the home into a jungle by teaching the children to use guns.
Responding to some of the allegations, Auntie Emma said the only girl who got pregnant was a needy child who had been sent home for vacation but returned to the home pregnant and was sent back to her family.
High school graduate works as medical doctor
Healthcare at the home is administered by a senior high school graduate who describes himself as Dr Isaac Nsiebi.
He is mentoring an inmate, ‘Dr Bernard’, to take over the duty of diagnosing, prescribing, dispensing and administering injections in the home as he prepares to further his education.
Commenting on the health care situation in the home, Dr Alex Dodoo, a Director of the WHO collaborating centre, Ghana, said, “It is unacceptable. The orphanage must be shut down.”
“There must be high-quality health care for people, regardless of where they are, whether it is an orphanage, church, convent or mosque. This must be stopped and those behind it must be brought to book,##” he added.
Neglect and assault
In the home, it is a crime for a child to defecate on himself or herself.
A toddler who defecated in her diapers was left to her fate while houseflies had a field day on her soiled diapers.
As if there were no caregivers in the home, a boy who defecated was left unattended to, while both employees and volunteers by-passed him until two of his peers, aged about six and three, helped him to clean up.
The most heart-breaking scenario was played out when a hungry boy of about three years was offered an empty cup by caregivers, ostensibly to make fun of him.
In defence, the caregivers claimed they had neglected the children who had soiled themselves because they (caregivers) had not been assigned specific responsibilities by Auntie Emma.
Even worse than the neglect was the fact that the children were asked to undertake odd jobs, such as scrubbing the washrooms with stones, fetching water at odd hours and working in the farms of the orphanage.
Acts of extreme cruelty such as abuse and assault of the children, including those with disabilities, were commonplace.
One of the teachers at the home, identified as Sylvester, was feared for his powers of kicking, slapping, spanking and thrashing the children with a long stick for minor offences.
A child with bloodstains all over her face walked about without care, while others with blistered hands, as well as disabled children, were left to cater for themselves.
A rather intriguing twist to the moving tale at the orphanage was the issue of some parents paying for their children to live there.
Such children are then added to the number of inmates to swell it.
Although those children are referred to as ‘boarders’ internally, to outsiders they are presented as orphans.
Martha, a volunteer in the home, told the story of how her picture which was displayed in the home became an item of scorn and ridicule when her schoolmates visited the home.
“My friends hooted at me. They called me an orphan who has been adopted. I felt bad, I actually felt bad,” she said.
Following the investigations, about 40 of the children in the home have been transferred and are now temporarily being sheltered at the Osu Children’s Home in Accra.
The rescue was done by the Department of Social Welfare, in collaboration with the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service.
The National Coordinator of DOVVSU, Chief?Superintendent of Police Ms Lawrencia Akorli, explained that her unit had no choice but to step in to do something about the situation.
The Countryside Children’s Welfare Home was established with six children in Winneba in the Central Region in 1981 and relocated to Bawjiase two years later.
The founder of the home and some other actors accused of violating the rights of the children are yet to be arrested.