Paul Smith Sr. faced a desperate decision in the fall of 2012. The 35 year old disabled single father was struggling to provide for his elderly mother and two young children, Hannah, age 8, and Paul Jr, age 4. Negotiating the pitted streets of Bo in his handmade wheelchair, Paul tried to support his family by working part-time as a blacksmith, but the work was brutal and he could never make enough money to make ends meet.
Paul paid school fees for Hannah when he could, but she was frequently sent home when the family fell behind on payments. Both children worked; Hannah babysat for neighbors, and even little Paul Jr. cleared tables at a local restaurant. They were exhausted and chronically sick with colds and fever. The family’s meager income was slightly supplemented by their grandmother’s garden plot, but there was never enough to eat.
Believing there was no way he could adequately care for his children, and determined for them to attend school, Paul appealed to the Child Reintegration Centre (formerly Child Rescue Centre) for help. The difficult decision was made to bring the children into the residential program until Paul could stabilize his situation. Paul Sr. frequently visited Hannah and Paul at the residential home, and anyone could see how he doted on his children, and how much they loved their father. He eventually remarried and had another child, named Mary.
In July of 2015, the Child Rescue Centre staff participated in a training for caregivers of extremely vulnerable children. As a result of that training, and in response to a global shift in the care of orphaned and vulnerable children, the CRC started the Family Strengthening Program to help families address the problems that made it difficult for them to care for their children. Plans began forming to phase out the residential program so that children could live with family or loving foster homes, in the firm belief that children belong in families.
The CRC began providing opportunities for the parents of children who had been placed in residential care to participate in workshops, devotions, and activities to strengthen their relationship and prepare them to be reunited. The children began visiting their families on weekends and holidays to get reconnected with their homes and communities.
The biggest obstacle the parents face is simply their inability to make enough money to support their children, so the CRC launched a micro finance program to teach parents budgeting and small business skills. Most of the parents of CRC students are subsistence farmers or petty traders, and many did not attend school beyond primary level. The skills they learn in the micro finance classes enable them to keep the money they earn and reinvest in their businesses, helping them become self-sufficient and stable.
The CRC staff urged Paul to participate in the microfinance class, where he learned budgeting, saving, and simple business concepts. He received a small loan for a startup, which he used to launch a home-based cinema where patrons pay to watch football matches. He continues to work part-time as a blacksmith. “I learned how to make a budget for my family,” Paul says proudly. “It’s helping me to save money, which I wasn’t doing before.”
With his newfound skills, increased income, and the continued support of the CRC for his children’s education and health care, Paul was ready to welcome Hannah and Paul Jr. home. The children are so happy to be reunited with their father. They both attend UMC-supported schools near their home. Paul Jr. helps his father with his blacksmithing business after school. Hannah teaches the family what she learned from morning prayers and evening devotions at the Child Rescue Centre.
“At first it was only father that was praying alone. Now we are praying as a family,” Hannah says happily. Paul Sr. is proud and grateful to be a father to his children again. “I thank God that the children are reunified with me, and we are living as a happy family,” he says. “We are now living an average life.”
(This story was originally published in the Helping Children Worldwide Fall 2018 magazine.)
“I thank God that the children are reunified with me, and we are living as a happy family,” Paul says. “We are now living an average life."