Careless 1: The Devil and the Orphanage

2nd February 2015 News

Mother and Founder of Home Selling Donations, Orphans Physically Abused at Home and in School, Poor Feeding and Forced Fasting, a ‘doctor’ who got his license after SHS education.

Anas Aremeyaw Anas reports from Bawjiase.

Children are angels sent to earth
To bring to mankind contentment and mirth
They are from the Creator fresh
Descended as spirits in mortal flesh
To be treated therefore with reverent sympathy
And tended with care tender, full of empathy
Child cruelty is only entrenched due to society’s apathy

Unfortunately, however, the plight of children is not so serene in Ghana….talk of orphans! Orphans are most often subjected to unspeakable cruelty and unconscionable exploitation in this country. Most of the cruelty takes place in established and recognized orphanage homes.

Unto herself she took the task of being a surrogate parent to many children
And people the world over believed and relieved her with support
She had a lot of imports that she more often than not, exported for financial exchange.
Under the guise of a barter whiles kids were battered
Girls therein become pregnant as easily as catching a cold and evacuate the contents with adult connivance
And so does the glittering façade on the outside, make nonsense of the nauseous creepiness on the inside
Where kids hang on to survival when before their very eyes so much is deposited always.
The reality is dire here and the conditions are undoubtedly depressing.

Our reporter goes undercover as a volunteer in an Orphanage home in Bawjiase, to expose the mistreatment of orphans in one of Ghana’s biggest private run orphanages.

On one hand are children in their best clothes and beaming with smiles. Yet beyond those smiles, they look on with fading hope. A usually transient hope that the donations for which they are constantly assembled and always received by their ‘mother’ would be appropriately channeled for their benefit.

Children playing in a dangerous area.

Children playing in a dangerous area.

On the other hand; there are the very benevolent and cheerful givers who gleefully donate in cash and kind to the home, believing that their little tokens would keep the ‘smiles’ on the faces of these orphans for a while longer.

Even though these kids are the reason for which people (cognizant of God’s blessings on whoever caters for the orphan child) donate in cash and kind, there is a problem of constant breach of trust.

On the blind side of the donor’s benevolence and to the chagrin of children in the house, most donations are sold out thanks to the money making ingenuity and enterprise of the woman they refer to affectionately as; “Auntie Emma.”

Local and international Institutions have been at the forefront of the infrastructural development of this orphanage; from the Regimanuel Gray Estate block to the World Health Organization (WHO) funded bath house and the Ballast Nedam structure, through to the donation of a mini bus by Prophet T. B. Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) and also the kitchen house constructed by Wirbelwind, it is clear that the home has benefited from a lot of goodwill.

These structures combine with the home’s school, the Countryside Basic School and the crop and animal farms to give the house a semblance of self subsistence. But the months of undercover work we undertook showed that there was much more to the self subsistence veil.

THE TRIGGER

The need to investigate the Countryside Children’s Welfare Home in Bawjiase came as a result of a citizen’s report from a former volunteer in the home. Following that, an investigator joined the home as a volunteer; and for close to six months gathered hardcore evidence of issues such as;

  • Sale of Donated Items
  • Lack of Proper Health Care
  • Gross Physical Abuse
  • Poor Feeding and Forced Fasting
  • Sex, Pregnancy and Abortion

FIVE YEARS AGO…….SAME STORY
After the publication of “Orphans Home of Hell” exposé in September 2010, which exposed mistreatment of orphans and other vulnerable children under the care of the state-run Osu Children’s Home, an 11-member ministerial Committee of Enquiry was set up by the then Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare (MESW).

The report of the committee culminated in an 85 page document that gave detailed findings and recommendations on the issues raised in the investigative piece. It also proffered measures to curtail the horrid occurrences and experiences that kids in Osu went through. The overriding aim of that paper was to forestall similar situations elsewhere.

If recommendations thereof were followed through and thoroughly implemented, one would have thought that orphans in other parts of the country would be shielded from the vagaries and mistreatment of surrogate parents.

Nothing has improved. People cash in on poor orphans, deceive the unsuspecting public to throw money and resources at them while they enjoy the bounty. This raises the bigger debate; should we continue to permit orphanages to run and hope that one day they would actually exist for the benefit of orphans or society should sit up and acknowledge that it would be best to begin absorbing our orphans into our homes?

Children scrubbing bathroom with stones.

Children scrubbing bathroom with stones.

‘’It beats my mind that a small country like Ghana has so many orphanage homes which dubious characters are using as an avenue for business whilst maltreating these children. This tarnishes the image of the country as they mostly fabricate stories and pictures of such ‘’orphans’’ in abject poverty in order to raise funds from international organizations thereby making us look irresponsible as a country. If we were a serious country, all these orphanages should have been closed down…..more than 70% of them are simply scams. Let us rather take steps to close many of them down and educate society to integrate such orphans into our everyday homes and shame these sham characters’’…said Mr. Samuel Djanmah, a caregiver in Washington DC in a telephone conversation with this paper two days ago.

SELL OUT

Auntie Emma is a very powerful personality here in the home. She has over the years been in charge of running the activities of the home and is the very important point-of-contact between outsiders and the home. Auntie Emma is the liaison officer between the children and the donors, volunteers and social workers etc.

Our investigations however found that Auntie Emma had taken to selling donations that kept pouring into the home. We saw her sell on several occasions most of the donated items and clothing. Nothing was off limit to her. She sold food, clothing and even tooth paste at retail prices to those who were willing to buy. She even sold some of these items to us.

The list of groups and institutions who donate in cash and kind to the orphanage is very long. This is aside the very tall list of individuals who donate on a weekly basis to the home. The home was one that enjoyed a lot of inflows –both in cash and in kind.

It is a big occasion whenever visitors/donors came in, and every child and the caretakers in the home must be present. The cameras roll and the pictures snap with delighted donors and giggling children; and finally donations are made.

But when the donors drive off with the satisfaction that they have lit the faces of orphans with smiles, the kids settle back into reality; their role is to smile and sing for the donors so that the goods would keep coming in order for Aunty Emma to keep making profits. The goods were not for their benefit!
We negotiated and paid cash to Auntie Emma to buy some of the donated items. We also witnessed on several occasions how traders came into the house to negotiate for and pay for the supply of all kinds of goods.

Bags of rice, gallons of oil, cartons of milk, boxes of indomie, milo, fruit drinks, tooth brushes, sanitary pads, biscuits, clothing, etc.
And insofar as these items were available, and customers were willing to pay Auntie Emma’s asking price, she was ever ready to sell out.

The situation is so bad that some staff and even children of the home openly attested to the fact that donations were being sold and the proceeds go to Auntie Emma.

“She used to sell it secretly but not anymore, she now sells these items openly, yet she is the first to claim that there isn’t enough money to pay workers” one worker here at the home lamented.

One child spoke to us undercover.

Tiger: So they sell the rice and all that people donate?
Boy: Yes.

Tiger: Do you know the store?
Boy: Now they have closed down the store

Tiger: So how do they sell it with the store closed?
Boy: Now, (they do it) illegally, now if some of the mothers (those living outside the orphanage) are going home, they send it and supply it to the buyers. They have been selling it all the time.

PROFIT MAKING IN A CASH AND CARRY SYSTEM

In a conversation with Auntie Emma during one of our negotiations to buy donated items, she revealed that she was selling most of these items by barter trading. She adds that all items are sold out at a retail price in order to allow the buyer/her customers to also add their profit margins before selling.

A transcript of the conversation is produced below:

Auntie Emma: Everything would be sold to you at retail prices; most retailers in Kasoa and other places come here to buy their goods. What you must do is go round and find out how much these goods are sold.

If they are sold for instance at one cedi, you price it at 90 pesewas, so that the goods can be bought quickly. That is why the prices I sell at are reduced, so that you can sell quickly and make profits.

What I do here is called bartering. For instance I basically exchange what you need for what I have. If I need garden eggs and I barter I can give you firewood, so that is bartering,” she concluded.

Her explanation as to barter was quite baffling. She was selling the goods for cash and not in exchange for any other goods. The cash went into her pocket. What was she bartering?

ORPHANAGE OR BOARDING FACILITY

The money making depth of Auntie Emma had resulted in her running the home as a boarding facility. She has only a handful of orphans but their numbers are increased because of the presence of boarders.

As one worker puts it, she suspected that there were far less orphans than Auntie Emma wanted the world to believe. This is what ensued in our interaction with the worker

Tiger: A girl insisted she was a boarder and Auntie Emma, confronted her.
Woman: What did she expect the girl to say, she is not a boarder. You are using the name of orphans to make money meanwhile the orphans here are not up to ten, not even five.

And it’s not good, let’s be truthful. Truth is good. Let’s admit that these kids are needy.

Tiger: Yes, and anyone will support that
Woman: One day someone may come to know the truth and it will be very dangerous.

Tiger: Because there are many of them with parents
Woman: Indeed, there are a lot of them, others also pay. But what did she expect the girl to say, she pays school fees and all other charges and you expect her to say she is an orphan? You take school fees and everything. If you were catering for her for free, then you can be justified but she pays …

The plan was that the home would admit children as boarding students and parents of such parents pay fees for their wards stay in the orphanage and also provide them with food. Yet Auntie Emma classifies all such children as orphans and needy and insists they accept that label.

We witnessed an instance where Auntie Emma went as far as to threaten a girl who refused to be called an orphan because as far as the girl was concerned, she was a boarding student.

Martha is a young girl who suffered ridicule at the hands of her friends when Auntie Emma presented her name in an exams registration process as an orphan. She narrated that ordeal to us:

Martha: … and some of my school juniors (our home economics students) they went for practical there and they saw the picture, when they came to school, they hooted at me, laughed at me that I’m an orphan … that I’ve been adopted. Really I felt bad. I actually felt bad.

So when she said I should go and talk, I wasn’t ready to go and talk and she still insisted so when my dad came I was here and they drew me there. But when they questioned me, I said I’m just a volunteer.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN WITH EMMA BOAFO YEBOAH

Auntie Emma (real name Emma Boafo Yeboah) is the founder and mother of the Countryside Children’s Welfare Home in Bawjiase, where our investigations uncovered topical issues of gross child rights infractions and corruption.

On the outside; the Countryside Children’s Welfare Home, popularly referred to as the Bawjiase Orphanage looks the ideal place where orphans could get a holistic upbringing.

One of the aims of the home is; “… to provide parental care and training for the needy children to prepare them for the challenges of life with confidence.”

But what we found when our investigative team led by Anas Aremeyaw Anas went undercover in the orphanage was far different from what most people would term as parental care and training aimed at preparing children for life’s challenges.

Investigators joined the kids on many occasions that they were summoned (sometimes during school hours but predominantly on the weekends) to sing to welcome and entertain donors.

The founder and owner sold most of these items to outsiders whiles children were given little to eat and sometimes made to fast! It was normal for the orphans to chew indomie….uncooked.

The mission of the home is stated thus; “to make our children useful assets as God provides the resources through mankind.” And that underlined the basis for Auntie Emma’s plea to donors to always give and not tire of giving.

Keeping with the mission, Auntie Emma in later interviews stated that the home always did its best to raise 40% of funds needed to run it, and depended on benevolence of people and organizations to contribute towards the remaining 60%. She is a good talker…if only her words were the truth.

In the next installment of this story, we delve deeper into issues of physical abuse of these children, at home and in school. We also tell the story of the Senior High School graduate who works as a dispensary boy and doctor, administering injection to sick children in the home.

Meanwhile the documentary of children of the countryside titled “CARE”less will be airing exclusively on TV3 today; Monday 2nd February, 2015. We shall subsequently announce dates and times it will be showing on all other networks.