No matter where you go in Ghana, the poor seem to be with us. Here's the untold story of the little hands that beg to feed a family.
No matter where you go in Ghana, the poor seem to be with us. Poverty-stricken and deprived men, women and children on the streets are an inherent part of the cityscape.
Adults who migrated from the rural areas to the big city in hopes of finding better-paid work soon realize that the cities are overflowing with unskilled workers, and so they end up begging in the streets to survive.
Unfortunately, children are not left out. These future leaders who may be running away from home to escape abuse or because there simply isn’t enough money to feed everyone also end up on the streets.
Emerge from your bus or cab in major cities across the country and you would see them: little kids with big, pleading eyes who approach with hands outstretched and palms upturned, carrying weary looks to beg for alms.
They linger at major road intersections, bus stops and outside major shopping centers. You will find them in dusty clothing, often barefoot and frequently skinny and undernourished.
And if they happen to pass you, be you foreigner or native, they stop and hold out a hand. Some people ignore them; some shove them away; some treat them with disdain; a few hand out coins, some food.
Little Araba Eshun’s plight may read a little different, and yet her story is no less heart-rending.
She is seven, but through no fault of hers, she has to feed her entire family.
And this, as painful and as bizarre as it may sound, she manages to do successfully through begging on the streets for change.
Her future reeks of hopelessness, and her current appearance leaves much to be desired. With her unkempt hair, dirty face, blistered lips, tainted teeth, crusty skin and bare feet, she is not the kind of person you would expect on a university campus.
And yet, wearing a weird, distinctive look, armed with stretched arms and decorated with shabby attire, she approaches anyone who happens to be on the expansive main University of Cape Coast grounds. Her lines are rehearsed: “we are poor and destitute; please give me money so I can feed my younger siblings and grandmother.”
Fidelis Atubiga, a final year Bachelor of Education in Arts student of the university who regularly gives Araba money and visits the family, admits that due to poverty and a lack of education, the scrounger is left with no choice but to beg for a living, despite the risks involved.
“It became a little disturbing for some of us seeing this little girl always begging for money on campus. And when she was asked why she always begs for money, she admitted that it was to help feed her family. That was a little mystifying. One day, a lecturer asked me to follow her to the house to verify what she was saying. So I followed her to her home and found out that everything she had said to us was actually true.”
For a seven-year old girl, it’s unsettling that she’s not being catered for by her parents. “The grandmother told me that the father, after giving birth to the girl (Araba), left for Tarkwa, promising to come back and take care of them but never did. And Araba’s mother, after giving birth to an additional sibling, also bolted away to an unknown location, thereby leaving the grandmother with two grandchildren to cater for”, Fidelis explains.
In a generation where people have become skeptical about giving out money to beggars, it’s a difficult situation to imagine Araba living in. She’s begging out of duress. She’s not one of those kids who belong to well-organized gangs who run begging rackets; she’s not even one of those that are clever enough to play and prey on the sympathy of unsuspecting alms givers; she just needs to feed her family.
“The one thing that made me believe that she was actually getting money to feed the family was when I went to have a chat with her grandmother. I sat there and saw Araba’s younger siblings run to her to ask how much she had brought home that day from her begging voyage. She instantly dipped her right hand into her pocket and brought out what she had made for the day. She gave them parts of it to go and buy food. I was stunned by what I had just seen”, Fidelis said, in a broken voice.
One would ask why her grandmother hasn’t tried to stop her grand-daughter from begging. Fidelis offers a much worrying insight. “Her grandmother who was supposed to take care of her was very old and as such couldn’t work. The grandmother, at the time I was speaking with her, also had a very serious leg problem which couldn’t permit her to work. So Araba was the one who had to go out and beg for alms to feed the family. She’d also go and help people with their house chores to get some food for the family.”
If you thought these were the worst of Araba’s problems, how wrong you’d be. “Two days after speaking to the grandmother, I found out she has passed on. I got there that morning to find out how they were doing, and a fellow tenant, who was on very cordial terms with Araba’s family, told me the grandmother died that morning. I was very surprised and heartbroken.”
For the next eight months or so, Araba and her sisters have a place to lay their heads: their grandmother’s lease won’t run out until December or so.
For a child of her age, Araba should be in school. But Fidelis says, almost like a theme in the little girl’s life, certain circumstances have prevented her from doing so. “Araba told me she was in primary school but had to drop out because of financial problems.”
Though, confronted with the pains of run-away parents and a deceased grandmother, Araba’s desire to get herself out of the begging lifestyle seems to be very obvious, as she told Fidelis that she does laundry for people, and they pay peanuts, which is why she can’t to go back to school. “I want to go back to school to become a lawyer”, Araba says.
If she is able to unravel her fate out of this hopeless maze, her story would indeed be such an inspirational one.