Stella Damasus: The Orphanage Business

Stella Damasus

Stella Damasus

Stella Damasus

Forgive me if this article offends or affects you, I am just speaking from the heart, thoughts, experience and research.

Phew! Since that is settled, let me proceed into this world of business which has become very lucrative, though this side of it is being swept under the carpet.

I remember vividly a few years ago during Christmas, my kids and I were at home. Later that day, my  first daughter walked up to me and asked why we were home just eating, watching movies, praying and playing dress up as usual. I told her that we had fun the previous day and the day before that, so I wondered what she wanted. She stylishly reminded me that most of her cousins had travelled, others were at a resort, some friends were at the park, some have gone swimming and the list was long. I turned and told her that she should be grateful that she has a roof over her head, she has more than enough to eat and drink, she had family and a parent who loves her to bits. I saw the look on her face and an idea popped up in my head. You see, I learnt that with children, words don’t work for them all the time, they do better with pictures and experiences.

I remembered that during one of our sessions at the Project Alert Shelter, I was introduced to three young girls who were abused by their own father and could not be saved by their mother who was a foreigner. I remembered that as the court battle raged, the three girls were taken to an orphanage, even though I had volunteered to take care of them till the end of the court case.

Anyway, I decided that to teach my children more about appreciation, I will take them to an orphanage so they can see other kids who have nothing but appreciate what little they have. I also wanted an opportunity to see the three lovely girls again.

We went out to a nearby market and bought rice, oil, packed up clothes that we could give out and other things we didn’t need anymore and drove to the orphanage. When we got there, we asked one of the matrons who we could see and where we could drop the things we brought. She quickly asked me to bring out everything and follow her; then she called other women who were working there to assist us.

As we got to the store, I was overwhelmed, because there was no space to even stand. The room looked like a warehouse filled with goods that a whole city could feast on. It really made me happy because I began to love Nigerians more for their love and care for the less-privileged, seeing all they had been contributing.

There was no space to put the gifts we had brought, so they took me to the back of the store where there were other things on the floor that could not fit in there.

I was filled with so much joy, and in the excitement I told them my children would love to see the kids there and share some pencils and erasers themselves. But they said it was not possible and asked me to go and come back some other time.  So I threatened to report them to the appropriate authorities; it was a festive season and people should be allowed to show love and spend time with these children. After some minutes of really causing a scene, we were finally allowed to see the children. I would not normally do that if I had not noticed two children who had peeped when we were walking in, and kept  waving at us. I just could not stop thinking about them, so I had to insist.

Well, this is where my story begins and I am sure some of you have the same story to tell.

They then suggested that we stayed in front of the hostels so that they can call everybody out to receive the gifts. For some reason, I insisted that they should allow me into the rooms, but my children could stay out with my cousin and give out the gifts.

As I walked into the boys ward, I immediately understood why they had been reluctant to let us see them. The odour oozing out of that room was enough to make a pig run mad. I saw some of the boys looking really skinny and unkempt, their sheets were old and dirty, no books nor toys around them, especially the little ones. My heart broke and my throat began to hurt as I struggled to hold back the tears. In anger, I stormed out and walked straight into the girls accomodations. Oh, trust me, this time my head was spinning, I thought I was going to pass out. In order not to offend sensitive people reading this, I will restrain from giving a vivid picture of what I saw, smelt and experienced. Only God knows what would have happened if I had entered their toilets.

I came out to where the kids had gathered and there I spotted my three lovely girls. I hugged them so tight to the point that the matron started wondering what the connection was. From wondering, it turned to obvious unease because she was not sure what I would find out. I took the oldest of them aside and asked her what was going on, and why they were all looking sick and funny. She said they were only given food when their caretakers were satisfied. I didn’t understand that, so I told her that I could not accept her story because of the overfilled warehouse I saw. She laughed and  said, “aunty you don’t know that you people have been bringing gifts and food for their own homes and children. We see the amount of things people bring regularly, especially during festive periods but at night when they are going home, they share most of these things and take them home”.

She added that, “aunty if you want me to be alive, please don’t say I told you anything”. I promised her and went to see the matron, and before I opened my mouth to talk, she started telling me how difficult the job can be, how the work takes them away from their families and other things, how tasking it can be to take care of other people’s children. I got so angry that I said: “Madam, did anyone force you to sign up for this job?” She could not answer me, so I told her that I didn’t really understand why people donate so much but it does not reflect on these children.

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It’s amazing how we create wrong impressions of ourselves in this country. Nigerians actually give, especially to orphans but go to some of these orphanages, year-in-year-out they are the same, and it then seems like nobody cares, not realising that the people who run some of these homes are just greedy.

I  took my kids and we got into the car, as we drove out of there, they were both crying and talking about some of the kids they interacted with. My second daughter actually said: “Mummy, can’t we take them out of that terrible place and bring them to our house? I can sleep on the floor so some of them can take my bed, I can also share my toys with them.” I told her that if it were possible, I would gladly do it. Then she asked me why I can’t take, even if it’s just one or two at least.  I laughed it off but it got me thinking. So, I called Aunty Josephine of Project Alert and lamented bitterly about my experience at the orphanage. She was so upset and we both agreed that at the next hearing, we would tell the judge that we want to take care of them till they reached a final verdict.

I spoke to a lawyer who said I may not get the court to allow me to temporarily take care of the two younger girls, but the older girl was old enough to decide where she wants to go. So, I quickly went to the orphanage again and told the matron I needed to discuss the girls’ case, so she should let me see her. They gave me ten minutes to speak with her, and I asked her what she wanted. She replied that she would love to stay with her siblings, but she also knows that her being in there would not help her case. She was the only one who could testify against her father and so she had to be safe and healthy in order to win the case so that another family can take care of them.

I went to meet the matron to discuss adoption, and that was where part two of my story began.

She said: “Madam, I hope you are ready for this and not give up because you know that you might be on this adoption process for two years”. I asked why she said that, and when she started telling me what I had to do just to adopt a child and not to build a church with three hundred naira only, I knew something was wrong somewhere. That was when I decided to start investigating some of these orphanages.

In a week, I discovered over 20 orphanages in Ikeja and they had plenty of children. Every other street has one hidden orphanage. Then, I wondered  why people didn’t like adopting children, because I know a lot of people who really want to adopt kids. I asked a few people whom I knew wanted children why they have not thought of adoption. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just about the society and the stigma, it’s the fact that these orphanages make it humanly impossible for you to adopt the kids. And they make sure you get frustrated. This is what I found out: Orphanages are entitled to grants from foreign organisations and most of them have offices in Ghana, South Africa and Kenya. Once you are a registered orphanage, you can apply for funds that they will sent monthly. In Nigeria too, the government makes sure that they adopt some of these orphanages, thereby sending them money for school, food and other basic amenities. At least, I know of one in Lekki that the former Governor of the State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu adopted, and all the children there started bearing his name.

The catch is that you must have a certain number of children that you are taking care of to qualify for the grants, and to be adopted.

I never would have believed it if I had not gone there to try and adopt, I have also sent other people to go and try, and they all have different stories to tell.

However, I must point out here that not all of them are the same. There are some credible ones that I have visited personally, and it gave me hope that there are still a group of people who really do care, places like Heritage Homes, SOS Children’s Village and others. I also give kudos to Mr and Mrs Femi Akintunde Johnson who set up Angel of Hope. They have shown so much love and support for these children.

I went to Heritage Homes some years ago and I was so happy with the quality of life and attention the kids were getting. Merely seeing the pictures of when the kids were brought in and how transformed they now are, proved that they are for real.

The next phase of my story will be in another article, but just to give you a small idea: I also discovered that some of these women who carry two to three children at the same time under the sun to beg for money actually rent these children from some orphanages and they split the proceeds at the end of the day. More gist later o.

Truth is, I know that I will face a lot or criticisms, insults, threats and what have you. I have to speak the truth from what I have experienced and I advise that the government should send people to check out most of these orphanages  because we are talking about the lives of children here, most of whom have been deprived of love, affection and attention.


Quote: The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of challenges. —Martin Luther King

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