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."
Reported by Victor Kanu, CRC Case Manager
Hannah Smith has been named Senior Prefect of Methodist Girls High School in Bo. We are so proud of this Child Reintegration Centre student, and how she has overcome insurmountable obstacles in her young life.
Senior prefect is a big honor, but also a huge responsibility, roughly equivalent to being the president of the student body in a US high school. As senior prefect, Hannah represents the students before the administration, organizes events, helps maintain discipline and academic performance, and mentors other students. Hannah was selected on the basis of a written examination, a verbal interview with the school administration, and her excellent academic performance.
"I am very happy for this position," Hannah says. "I can now talk to my colleagues in school on issues affecting their education and other related activities. This has motivated me to study more to maintain my performance in school.
Hannah comes from a very vulnerable family, and her childhood was not easy. For several years, she and her brother Paul were separated from their handicapped father, who was unable to care for them until his situation was stabilized with the help of the Child Reintegration Centre's family strengthening program. Hannah and Paul were reunited with their father Paul Sr after living for several years in the residential centre during a very precarious time for their family. You can read more about their story in our Fall 2018 magazine.
Hannah has always wanted to be a leader in her home, community, church and school. "My aim is to be president of Sierra Leone," she says. Her best friend Elizabeth is proud of her friend. "I am blessed to have a friend like Hannah," Elizabeth says. "She has helped me change my negative behavior to a positive one. She is like a mentor to me."
While the Child Reintegration Centre continues to provide vital education support, medical access, and family mentoring to nearly 600 children and youth and their families, the busy staff is also rescuing unaccompanied children from the streets of Bo. CRC Director Olivia Fonnie spent some time getting to know these boys, while their situation is assessed. The Child Reintegration Centre is collaborating with local organization Street Child UK, which estimates there are as many as 6,500 children living on the streets of Bo.
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